Double Mitzvah – Tzav

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by David Bookbinder. David is an educator and part of the amazing Leadership Team of Jewrotica. Check out last week’s column, Double Mitzvah – Vayikra.

Rated PG-13

“It’s just supposed to happen.”
For many people, sex is an act of spontaneous physical combustion. In truth, human sexuality exists on physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels.

Google “spontaneous sex myth” and you will see a myriad of blogs, academic papers, and health websites that discuss this phenomenon. In Western culture, through TV and movies, we are told that ideal sex should be spontaneous sex. Rarely in popular culture do we see two people pencil in some time for sex, or any kind of intimacy, in their calendars. But if there is one thing that the parasha this week, Tzav, can teach us, it’s that real intimacy often requires forethought and planning.

Tzav continues where Vayikra left off, with a discussion of the sacrifices. The entire section seems to be endless lists of procedural details for each particular kind of sacrifice. There are also detailed instructions for the priests, including what they wear, a brief section prohibiting tamei (impure) persons from partaking of the sacrifice, and an induction ceremony for Aharon and his sons as kohen gadol (High Priest) and kohanim (priests) respectively.

What does any of this have to do with spontaneous sex? Well, there are a couple steps to take before we get there. First, we leave the details behind and focus on the larger concepts of our parasha: korbanot (sacrifices) and people’s interaction with them. Once we understand those concepts and how they relate to us now, we can apply the wisdom of our parasha to our current dilemma.

The word korbanot, sacrifices, appears a few times in our parasha. The root of this word is karav which means to bring close. There is a literal, physical closeness to the korban. It is not described here, but the donor physically lays his/her hands on the korban before handing it over to the priests, and there is the physical act of the priest bringing the offering to the altar. There is also a symbolic, emotional closeness to God. Whether you are the donor, giving up something precious, or the priest performing the actual ritual, there is a profound effect on the individual.

My teacher, Rabbi Katz, puts it beautifully:

“Temple life cultivated psychological self-awareness, offering people the opportunity to give full expression to an elaborate array of feelings. Each korban (sacrifice) corresponds to a different emotion, serving as a mood enhancer for that particular state of mind. To express remorse one brought an Asham; to express regret one brought a Chatat; to express joy one brought a Todah; to express elation one brought a Shelamim; and, finally, when experiencing inner turmoil, one brought an Olah. Temple life, consequently, forced its participants to walk in this world with an incredible degree of emotional alertness.”

The sacrificial system is about people expressing their complex feelings towards God, whether thankful, regretful, or otherwise. One would think that emotional expression, especially when directed towards omniscient and omnipresent God, would not need such detailed descriptions. But there can be a lot of anxiety around our feelings. “What do I do, how do I do it, when do I do it, when can I not do it…” These are all questions which arise out of the desire to have the best possible connection we can – with God, or with another human being. For something as simple as an emotional connection between two people, it seems there is a lot of thought and planning that needs to go into it.

So…sex. Sex, on one level, is the physical manifestation of a couple’s emotional expression. Yes, sex involves physical desire and lust as well, but in a relationship, of any sort, there is that additional element of emotional lust, the desire to be so close to someone that two people simply become one. If just giving simple vocal expression to our feelings requires thought and planning on our part, how much more so does giving physical expression to them? Oftentimes in our modern life, if we don’t do schedule something, we don’t do it – including sex. A National Health Service clinic in Britain says it quite succinctly in one of their publications.

Spontaneous is just one way to have sex, just as fast food is just one way to eat. It’s fine sometimes; but most people also enjoy planning and looking forward to a special meal: looking through a recipe book, buying and cooking the ingredients, making the table look nice, dressing for dinner … you get the picture! It’s also nonsense to think that having to work at something makes it less valuable. Tell that to the person who has just run a marathon!

Offering a korban seems to be an almost mundane act, with lists and list of detailed rules and instructions. But if we look beyond those, we can see the beautiful connection which a person makes with God in that act. Scheduling sex might seem to be a mundane act, like scheduling a doctor’s appointment or a teeth cleaning. But if we look beyond the mundane, if we look at the emotional and physical fires which bring people together, we can see just how powerful, meaningful, and fulfilling penciling in this appointment can truly be.

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