Tzav: Getting Messy

By Ilana Grinblat

Published March 26, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Recently, when I was finishing up the dishes after dinner, my son Jeremy came to me and said, “Mom, we have a surprise for you.” I followed him to his room wondering what the surprise was. Had the kids drawn me a picture or built a tall LEGO tower? He opened the door to his room to show me that my two-year old daughter had taken all the clothes from her bureau and spread them across the floor. Oy Vey!

I am continually amazed by how untidy children are. My friend, Rabbi Sherre Hirsch put it well: “Being born is messy, and it only gets worse from there.” I remember on one of my first days back to work after maternity leave, I got all dressed in my suit in the morning. Then my infant son promptly spit up all over me. At that moment, I knew I was in a whole new ballgame.

At such times, I often think of a teaching from this week’s Torah portion. The parasha is called Tzav (which means command), as it contains the instructions to the priests on how to offer sacrifices. The directions begin with the burnt offering which remains on the altar all night. God explained that the first thing the priest should do each morning is put on ordinary clothes, clear out the ashes from the altar and carry them outside the camp.

I read once that Julia Roberts cleans her own home. Even though she can obviously afford help, she instead does the cleaning herself. She was quoted as saying simply: ‘If you mess it up, you should clean it up.’ I imagine that this practice has helped keep the actress grounded in an environment where fame and fortune can easily degrade one’s soul.

Cleaning the ashes each morning must have had a similar affect on the priest. He couldn’t become arrogant and think himself above this mundane task. Rabbi Simhah Bunem (of eighteenth century Poland) noted that this habit would keep the priest connected to ordinary people who likewise do such tasks.

In our day, the messier jobs (like garbage collecting or child-rearing) tend to be less well paid and respected than neater office jobs. People with financial means often delegate unpleasant tasks to housekeepers or personal assistants. In this context, the Torah sends the opposite message.

This week, Jews around the world gear up for the arduous task of cleaning our homes for Passover. The preparation often feels like coming down with a collective case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder — as every nook and cranny of the house is searched for any trace of chametz (bread, grain or leavened product).

Yet, this week’s Torah portion reminds us that there’s a deeper, spiritual lesson to be found in all the scrubbing. If you want to be free, you have to get your hands dirty.

On that note, I better go do the laundry.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.