Tzav. Isolation, Insulation, and the Power of Immersive Environments
I am, quite naturally, thinking about the nature of social isolation.
In this week's parsha we find Aharon and his sons unable to leave the house for 7 days and nights! :-) (Actually it is not their own private dwelling; it is the Tent of Meeting!)
"You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, keeping the Lord’s charge—that you may not die—for so I have been commanded." (Lev. 8:35)
This is part of the seven day Milu'im ritual which inaugurates the Tabernacle and the priests themselves.
But why are the priests restricted to the Tabernacle for seven days and nights?
What does this achieve?
One way to explain confinement is that it functions to protect a person from danger lurking "out there", in the streets. The paradigm of this model is the night of the Exodus:
None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning when the Lord goes through the land to strike Egypt. (Ex.12:23-24)
One stays indoors because danger lurks outside. In the case of the priests the danger is ritual impurity by pollutants outside the sanctuary. There is a need to confine the priests lest they become impure, just like the seclusion of the High Priest before Yom Kippur:
Seven days before Yom Kippur they separate the high priest from his house to the chamber of the counselors ... lest something should occur to him to disqualify him. (Yoma 1:1)
Just as the High Priest needs a 7-day quarantine in the lead-up to Yom Kippur, the family of Aharon need to remain pure in our parsha for the 7-day Milu'im inauguration ritual and for the auspicious 8th day - the Yom Hashemini - on which God will reveal His presence to the nation, in the Sanctuary.
[Some commentators assert that the restriction on the priests was only to leave during the time of the Temple service, but that they did leave at night when no ritual service was going on. In that case, this command is about the priest staying absolutely focused, on-mission, while engaged in the Temple service. See Ramban.]
But here is another model that could be applied here regarding the confinement of the Kohanim. Seclusion does not only protect you FROM the outside; it creates something INSIDE. Possibly one can gain a certain sanctity or focus by being totally immersed, by being enveloped by the Tent of meeting for an entire week's cycle.
Rav Hirsch comments:
"Happy are those who dwell in Your house; they forever praise You. Selah! ...Better one day in Your courts than a thousand [elsewhere]; I would rather stand at the threshold of God’s house than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (Ps. 84:5,11)
"...to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, to frequent His temple..." (ps.27:4)
Quite clearly the "dwelling; tarrying in the House of God" implies that one gives oneself over to the idea that the House of God represents, becoming suffused by the thoughts and decisions taught by it; only so can the "living in the House of the Lord" be an object of great yearning.
...living at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting ...for seven days long, giving oneself up entirely to grappling, accepting, and adapting oneself to the whole abundance of thoughts, ideas and ideals represented by the Tent of Meeting, and internalizing these ideas becomes the very essence of the priestly service."
Rav Hirsch is interestingly using Tehillim as the basis, the model for his understanding of this "indwelling". He understands that being in an environment, immersing oneself in it, has an effect on the person.
THE CALENDAR AS AN IMMERSIVE ENVIRONMENT
I have always felt that that is what our 7-day chagim do to us. On Pesach, for 7 days, just like the priests, we transform our kitchens and our diets. On Sukkot, for 7 days we alter our living room, our dining room, and for some, even our bedroom. Living out in the Sukka does something to us, as we abandon the experience of our protective walls and air-conditioning, and expose ourselves to the night air, the rain, and the sounds coming from the neighbor's Sukka. I find that this is a sort of "Reality game" where we are meant to be transformed a little, certainly provoked into standing outside, and reconsidering our familiar lives. This is intensified further in other periods of the Jewish calendar with a more extended timespan: the 3 weeks, the 40 days of Elul and the 10 days of penitence.
Have you every been immersed in an environment that has profoundly changed you? Summer camp? A period in a yeshiva or seminary? Another intense all-encompassing experience?
Do we expect that our festivals/holidays act as immersive, transformative experiences?
OUR CORONAVIRUS LIFE
At some level this is the total inverse of what we are doing during these weeks of Corona. Aharon and his sons were segregated from their families, away from their homes, confined to God's House, relegated to a sacred zone, where we have been thrust deeply into our homes, into the family.
These weeks, WE are also immersed in OUR homes.
How are we changing our homes?
How are our homes affecting us?
Are we growing or shrinking? ascending or descending
What values, ideas and ideals are we absorbing?
What values, temperaments, mindset, are we emitting?
Many have pointed out that this time of "social distancing" is precious time. It is time with the family, time in which our environment has been changed and latered. Can we use it to create something special, sacred? Can we use this immersive time to take us higher?
This is our challenge!