I suppose you could call the ner tamid a “nightlight” for the Israelites. Funny how such a small light is such a huge reminder that we’re not alone. This too is Torah.
As a newcomer to Portland, I was warned several times about the “gray days” and the feeling of gloom that accompanies them. I thought I was at an advantage going in because I do love the rain, and I was assured I’d still be able to go outside and walk nearly every day, even with the drizzle. While that has been mostly true, the usual lull that starts midwinter and precedes the spring is only made drearier by the frequently gray skies.
Interestingly, it is during this lull in the year that we read a section of Torah text that lacks in narrative drive and excitement. Sefer Vayikra, the third book of the Torah, is mostly filled with ritual sacrifices and laws pertaining to the priests. It can be difficult to relate to this book, as we no longer engage in sacrifices and the “high priest” no longer has this prominent role.
Parshat Tzav begins with the instructions for the priests with regard to the different sacrifices. After discussing the need for the eternal flame, the text continues by teaching the prohibition against eating milk and meat together and then offers up a final review of the sanctification ceremony of the priests and their roles.
In chapter 7, verse 37 of this parshah, we read the words “zot HaTorah.” Literally translated, this section of text tells us “this is the instruction,” specifically referring to the work of the priests and their obligations in the world. However, these words are more broadly interpreted by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk to read, “this is the Torah.” The entire Torah can be summed up within the rules and laws of sacrifices.
Taking this understanding further, the Kotzker rebbe comments that each of the root words of the Hebrew offerings sheds light onto how these offerings are relevant today. “The Torah leads some people to olah (rising higher) and minchah (generosity), but leads other people to hattat and asham (feelings of guilt). The summary list concludes with shlamim, even as so many Jewish prayers, including the Amidah, the priestly benediction, and the Kaddish, conclude with shalom, peace, the ultimate blessing.”
The saying goes “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” Presumably this helps us cope with the lull we might be feeling in between a gray winter and a vibrant spring. As we read parshat Tzav and this list of sacrifices, we are encouraged to find the ways in which Torah can lift us up even in the drearier times and offer opportunities for healing, generosity, and love. On gray days we have prayers for sun; on sunny days, we remember the beauty of the rain. This is the Torah, the mundane and the extraordinary.