Being a Priest (kohen) wasn’t for wimps.
It was a really difficult, physically demanding job. He takes ashes to the fire and back to the altar. He carries ashes outside the camp. He keeps the fire in the Tabernacle burning. He chops. He cleans. He slaughters. He handles large animals, wrestling them and lifting them and sprinkling their blood and carrying their carcasses. The holy space was smelly and smoky. He changes clothes throughout the day, so he can do his job, and he keeps track of everyone’s status between pure and impure, so he can bring them back to the state of purity. This week’s parasha, Tzav, details it all pretty clearly, and it’s almost exhausting to read.
Like I said, it wasn’t a job for wimps. This time of year doesn’t call for wimps, either. All I can do, or even think about, is cleaning , shopping, cooking, preparing for Passover, which begins in just a few days.
Judaism is often described as “a way of life.” It’s a verb-faith. We are a community of doing. We have a Torah of verbs. We have a history of action, both within our community and with the outside world. To be a Jew is to do Jewish. The late Reb Zalman Shachter Shalomi, founder of the Renewal denomination, used to ask, “How do you Jew?” How do you actively live a Jewish life, not just with protestations of faith or quiet, personal belief, but through doing. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is known for his statement that, while marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights fight, he was praying with his feet.
Did the Priestly verbs make them better priests? Do my verbs make for a better Pesach, or make me a “better Jew?” No. Simply no, not by the idea that if you follow a certain tradition, you’re a better Jew than someone who follows (or creates) different tradition. But in terms of taking action, then well, yes, because to “Jew is to do.” By sitting around a table, telling a story, dipping, eating, making sandwiches, washing, singing, and all the other Passover verbs – yes, you align yourself with both history and future.
Being a Jew isn’t for wimps, because it’s something that takes our engagement, our involvement, on a daily basis. The Priests may not be with us anymore, but their legacy is a life of action words. To honor their legacy, it’s up to us to keep acting on our Jewish lives, acting in our Jewish lives.
Wishing you all a sweet (and active) Passover.