Tzav 5782 – Spiritual Connection

By: Michael Carr

Parshah Tzav begins with priestly instructions for sacrifices as a sanctification and ritual to spiritually connect with G-d. Details with what to wear, time of day and who can consume the sacrifice are outlined. The parshah includes instructions for kosher eating and sanctification of priests.

As Rabbi Eve Posen points out in a 2020 message to her congregants entitled ‘It Takes All Kinds’, the entire book of Vayikra is about how our ‘spiritual’ actions connect us to G-d. Parshat Tzav encourages us to find that ‘spiritual connection’ and actually use it.

It’s important to realize that the idea of spiritual connection was reciprocal – after all G-d wanted to assure a vulnerable Israelite community of the need to connect with his spirit as well, rather than say idolatry.

It was about being ‘seen’. G-d to see and provide guidance to the Israelite people and the Israelite people to ‘see’ and follow a path that G-d provided for the Chosen People. We remember and read in today’s parshah that it was G-d who instructed the Israelites and Kohanim on the ‘best’ or ‘right’ way to perform ritual sacrifices which were carried out in a specific way by the Israelites to spiritually connect with G-d.

Obviously the Parshah points to ritual sacrifices as a connection or inflection point for a primary proscribed way to connect with G-d to perhaps reinforce fidelity to one-G-d as a means of a ‘spiritual connection’ of the day.

Connecting with G-d is a centuries old challenge different than or, perhaps for some, similar too connecting with a loved one, friend, relative or just about anyone. How do we know if we have been successful in connecting with G-d? The Torah provides examples of prophetic connection.

Some spiritual connection examples that come from Torah are not all pleasant. For example there were the punishments such as the plagues levied upon the Pharaoh and Egypt, or Israelites fleeing Egypt and crossing the Sea of Reeds and of course receiving the Torah at Mt Sinai, and as we have read, the commandments were delivered verbally, through a dark storm cloud with a booming voice that echoed commandments that are with us today.

Of course experiences of spiritual connection from Torah also point to patriarchs and matriarchs who successfully and prophetically connected to G-d and G-d with them through ‘conversation’ or ‘physicality’. Take Moses speaking to the ‘burning bush’. In one of the most blatant physical connection experiences of a patriarch, we recall Jacob. Ah yes – Jacob.

You know, Jacob (whose name means to supplant, circumvent, deceive, assail or overreach) who was born grabbing the heal of his brother Esau-now there’s a connection point!

Another connection point for Jacob was when he sought G-d’s blessing and he wrestles all night with G-d, described in Genesis as an ‘Angel’ or ‘man-like’ figure, on the shore of the Jabbok River. He also receives a broken hip (that he will keep through his life) but during his spiritual connection and physical struggle Jacob get’s his blessing from G-d. Another bonus for Jacob: he was renamed by G-d as Israel which means one who struggles with G-d. Talk about spiritual connection!

While we were not created a perfect people, Jacob is a reminder that we can always improve.

Why did we seek out connection with G-d centuries ago and still today? Were we seeking G-d’s blessing? Do some of us today still seek G-d’s blessing? Perhaps, centuries ago, it was our vulnerable position as slaves and the ‘word’ that spread about the evils of idolatry and a guy named Moses. At the time many held a myopic connection to idols and slavery – no real spirituality there to speak of.

There was however a connection through Moses to one G-D and G-d to the Israelites that provided a spiritual glimpse of hope for freedom of oppression. For us, connecting with one G-d that provided freedom in return for fidelity, belief and commitment turns out was a significant improvement over idolatry and slavery.

Why do some choose to connect with G-d today? That may depend on what ones ‘relationship’ to spirituality is all about. Today, daily prayers, Shacharit, Minhah and Maariv have replaced ritual sacrifices that provided a ritualistic spiritual connection to G-d in pre-Babylonian times.

For others, spirituality is found at Shabbat services. It can be a very peaceful and meditative experience. It is a predictable ritual that provides an opportunity to think and consider for example what we are grateful for or how to improve in coming days, weeks and months.

For others, spiritual connection can be found in day to day relationships and interactions. While spiritual connection maybe experienced simply through communicating the right words at the right time, the conversation may feel like a holy experience itself. For example, some may have a fear of connecting with say death, dying, illness or other emotional circumstances. We may discover a spiritual connection through the compassionate and empathetic words of a relative or care-giver which may appear divinely as guidance from G-d.

So how do we connect spiritually with G-d today?

Humility, gratitude, respect and a belief that we are all worthy of love and belonging are a gateway to connecting spiritually with G-d.

Every Shabbos we are fortunate to tell our story of evolution as a community of people that started on a journey with G-d centuries ago. We are reminded and learn weekly from Torah stories and Mitzvot of who we are and where we came from as a community.

Spiritual connection begins with our ‘compassionate-selves’. We need to have compassion and be kind to ourselves first in order to have ‘prayers heard’ by G-d and treat others with kindness (how can connect and be among others with compassion if we can’t treat ourselves kindly?). It is our compassion for others that can bring us closer to G-d.

Author and philosopher Sam Keen’s quote serves as a reminder of our capacity for spiritual connection with G-d and of G-d’s connection with our imperfection:
“You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.”

Good Shabbos!