Alex White, Math and Computer Science Teacher

It’s time for spring cleaning! As we pass into spring, it’s time to breathe deep, smell the pleasing fragrance in the air, and approach the coming year with a good spirit and a pure heart.

This week’s portion, parashat Tsav, is about ancient purification and sacrificial practices: instructions for Moses to pass to Aaron about how he and the other Kohanim, the high priests of Judaism, should cleanse themselves and prepare burnt offerings.

In the days of the Temple, ritual sacrifice and burnt offerings were a more common part of people’s lives than they are today, but this is a time of year when we reflect on how to make this idea of purification and the burnt offering personal. Often we think of Passover traditions: whether you’re a Seder plate traditionalist, or enjoy starting new traditions, the zeroah (shankbone) and beitzah (egg) remind us of ancient sacrificial practices at the Temple, and the burning of chametz is a literal and metaphorical call to purify our homes and selves for the year.

The Torah tells us that priests should make multiple offerings to the Lord: the finest flour, and the blood and organs from two rams. All of these are to be the best, the choicest and most delicious possible, to create a pleasing aroma for the Lord.

This reminds us of the connection between breath and the spirit. Many languages share this idea: ruach, anima, qi, spiritus, henki, duch, lélek, ånd… The beautiful, pleasant fragrance of the burnt offering is a holy reminder of the hard work of the past year, as the harvest begins and the community reaps what it has sown. We offer the Lord, our families, and our community the best of the best as a sign of respect and generosity.

What is the purpose of sacrifice? It isn’t a burden: a sacrifice is a joyful, holy practice. We should give the best of ourselves, whether that be the finest sheep, the choicest flour, or our love, time, and effort.

The festival of Pesach begins in this coming week, and we are commanded to tell the story as if for the first time, passing the wisdom of the Jewish community l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. Although in ancient times, the Kohanim kept the rituals, the Diaspora means that there are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to celebrate this time of year.

Passover has always been a special holiday for me, probably my favorite in the Jewish year. During the lockdown year, I took over as the family seder leader: I wrote a new Haggadah, I sent out the Zoom invitations to family and friends, and I take great joy in welcoming people into the rituals. I love preparing for seder — cleaning the house, rewriting the Haggadah, cooking as many dishes as I can find time for. I can’t wait to teach my children about these rituals, and what they mean to me and my family.

Just as Aaron and the priests cleansed themselves and prepared the burnt offering,  many JCHS community members are cleansing and purifying their homes for the coming year. As we do so, we reflect on what we are burning for the Lord, and what we are sweeping out into the street. How will we approach this year with spirit and lovingkindness? How can we sacrifice the best of ourselves for the good of the community? Take a deep breath, and reflect on what you have to give.

Shabbat Shalom! I hope you and your family have a joyous Pesach.