BAC – Tzav- Parah March 30, 2024 

This Shabbat is one of four special Shabbatot that come before
Passover. It is called Parshat Parah, the Parsha of a sacred cow.

We’ve recently red (read) quite a lot about cows lately in our liturgy.
There was the Golden Calf episode.

Last week, we learned about sacrificing bullocks in the Korban Olah that
were brought to the Priest for sacrifice, and this week, we’re reading
about a mysterious red Heifer!

It sort of answers the question: “Where’s the beef?”

It was that great Yankee sportscaster and former star shortstop, Phil
Rizzutto, who constantly talked on the air about Vayikra. A gazillion
times he used to say: “Holy Cow!”

So…The Shabbat of Parah occurs on the Shabbat following Purim and
marks the beginning of formal preparations for Pesach.

The special additional Torah reading is from Numbers 19:1-22, and
discusses a ritual of purification involving a red heifer (in Hebrew, a
Parah Adumah). Specifically, the ritual purifies people from the ritual
impurity that comes from contact with the dead. At the end of the ritual,
the people are purified, but the person who performed the ritual becomes
temporarily impure.

The rabbis speak of the ritual of Parah Adumah as the greatest of
mysteries; it makes the impure pure, and makes the pure impure. The
passage is chosen for this time because of the need to purify oneself for
Pesach, in preparation for pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple. The
corresponding haftarah portion is from Ezekiel, which also talks about

This week’s parsha, Tzav, covers Chapters 6-8 of the third book of the
Pentateuch, Leviticus. On the face of it, it’s about as boring as you can
get. The specifics of which sacrifices to bring for which occurrences is
delineated here in exact detail. So we have the burnt offering, the meal
offering which was for people of more meager means, the peace
offering, a sin offering, and a guilt offering. This is how we used to pray.

We’d bring the appropriate animals to the Priest at the Temple altar,
he’d sacrifice them on our behalf, and by this act of “giving up” of some
of our flocks and cattle, we were showing a subservience to the
Almighty which is similar to what we now do in direct prayers.

A key commandment in this week’s parsha comes from Chapter 6, verse
6: “Aish tamid tookad al hamizbeach Lo Tichbeh”- “Fire shall be kept
burning upon the Altar Continually-it shall not go out”.

From this sentence, all synagogues have a Ner Tamid- an eternal light –
above the Ark. This perpetual fire serves as a witness of Israel’s
unremitting zeal in the service of God which is translated by the
Rabbinic codes into terms of everyday duty.

All of these rituals, all of these different sacrifices, were meant to show
our faith in God. That brings up an interesting question- What is faith?

We all use that term rather widely. For some of us, having faith in God
means being “religious’ in some way. Faith can do a lot for us.

I’ve learned a lot from my teachers over the years. Like many of you,
I’ve had many moments in my life when I simply lost faith. Bad things
happen and we look for someone to blame. Today’s Parsha gives me an
opportunity to spend a few moments today with you, my friends, in
discussing briefly, this thing called faith.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years that might be helpful to us
is what faith can not do.

The first thing that faith can not do for us is exempt us from thinking. To
believe does not mean to suspend our critical faculties. True faith, in my
opinion, does not require us to believe the absurd or to shut our eyes to
the realities of life. Albert Einstein put it this way: “Science without
religion is lame: religion without science is blind”. Those who believe
absurdities will practice atrocities.

One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the power of reason, and when we
use it properly, we pay highest tribute to Him who, in the words of our
prayer book, “mercifully endows the human being with understanding.”

My teacher, Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, in talking about faith, states that
“faith cannot exempt us from toil”. To believe in God, he says, does not
mean to sit back and wait for Him to do for us what we must do for

An old adage says it best:” Trust in God but row away from
the rocks.”

If we don’t want to get hit by a bus, we have to look both
ways before crossing onto the street! We’ve got to do some work there.

Faith is not meant to be a narcotic but a stimulant; it is a call to action,
not a substitute for it. Faith does not mean “God’s in his Heaven, all’s
right with the world.” It does mean God, who is in Heaven, urges us to
work with Him in righting what is wrong with the world.

Lastly, faith cannot exempt us from trouble.

It does not shield us against sorrow or suffering. Our belief in God
grants us no immunity against cancer or heart disease or death on the

As a pulpit Rabbi, I’ve often heard people say to me: “When my mother
died, I stopped believing in God. She was such a good person. Why did
this tragedy happen to her?”

Many of us have a faith that shrinks when it is washed in the waters
of adversity. We forget that trouble and sorrow have a pass key to
every home in the land – no one is exempt from suffering.

To believe in God does not mean that we and those who are dear to us
will be spared those burdens that are the common lot of all of us.

Our faith, hopefully, should give us strength to go on in the face of
adversity and the understanding that we may even emerge from our trials
wiser and more humane because of what we have endured.

Four centuries after the giving of the Torah, precisely in 608 BCE,
The Prophet Jeremiah denounces mere mechanical performances of acts
of worship; of the superstition that the Temple ritual could be a
guarantee of security, while the people were divorced from Moral Law.

I can tell you that Jeremiah was not a very popular guy! He ended up
dying in a jail in Egypt, turned over to the authorities by his own people.
Very unpopular message: repent, sacrifice, discard the unholy practices,
do acts of kindness toward one another.

If we can take one thing away from our hearing of the Torah this week
in Parshat Tzav, let’s focus on the Ner Tamid that is described here.

The next time we happen to be in a synagogue, ant synagogue, let’s take
a look at the Ner Tamid-the Eternal light. It’s a symbol of who we are as
a people dating back three thousand years to the mobile Sanctuary we
carried with us in the desert on the way to becoming a distinct people.

Think of it as a symbol that has inspired our people to serve God for all
these centuries. And it’s still here, my friends, inside of each of us who
is here this morning. We’re keeping the flame going, each in our own

Yes, my friends, a boring Parsha can actually lead us to consider where
we are in relation to Faith. If it can do that, it’s a good thing!

Shabbat Shalom