Former Shlicha in Montreal
My tenth grade students at the Hebrew Academy of Montreal and I are currently studying the topic of tzniut (loosely, modesty). I find that I have as much to gain from these lessons as the girls themselves do.
Tzniut, which applies to both men and women, does not only mean wearing modest clothing. Rather, tzniut also refers to possessing an inner midah (trait) of modesty and humility.
This week’s parsha alludes to tzniut. Parshat Tzav discusses the kohanim and their avodah (their duties and responsibilities in the Beit HaMikdash) – such as the daily korbanot (sacrificial offerings) and the assorted tasks on the Jewish festivals.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the avodah occurs once a year on Yom Kippur. As the entire Am Yisrael stands reverently in the Azarah (the Beit HaMikdash’s courtyard), the kohen gadol slowly makes his way into the Kodesh HaKodashim (the Innermost Sanctuary). For one brief moment, he achieves a unique proximity to Hashem.
Everything about this incredible experience is hidden. For instance, the ketoret (the incense), which the kohen lights in the Kodesh HaKodashim, is based on a “secret recipe” which is passed down from generation to generation within one specific family. Also, the event is not broadcast live to the whole world in prime time. Instead, the kohen gadol is secluded with the Divine Presence within the small chamber.
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabah) states that a modest woman will merit raising kohanim gedolim. After all, only a kohen who grew up in a modest home has the ability to enter the world’s most hidden, tzanua (modest) spot.
This year, we will read Parshat Tzav on Shabbat HaGadol, in the midst of our preparations for the Seder. Generally, by this point, much of the house is kosher for Pesach, and we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel of dust, bread crumbs and Cheerios. Hence, we can turn our attention to the spiritual aspect of removing chametz from our homes.
The Zohar teaches that chametz represents the yetzer hara (the evil inclination) in general and the midah of ga’avah (arrogance) in particular. When dough rises, it resembles an arrogant and boastful person. Matzah, in contrast, retains its original, humble size. Why, then, are we allowed to eat chametz throughout the year? The answer is that chametz also symbolizes a person’s inherent talents, and Hashem encourages us to express our individual talents and to develop the world He created.
There are two types of arrogance. The first is exemplified by one who thinks he or she is the smartest, the best, and so on. Meanwhile, the second kind of arrogance is displayed by one who does not acknowledge Hashem’s involvement in the world and takes credit for one’s own successes and achievements.
The latter form of arrogance is particularly problematic on Pesach, when we recall that HaKadosh Baruch Hu took us out of Egypt, gave us the Torah, chose us as a nation, and brought us to Eretz Yisrael. Thus, on Pesach, we must ensure that there is not a trace of chametz left in our souls
A person should walk modestly with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. As the navi states:
“What does Hashem demand of you, but to do justice, to love lovingkindness, and to walk humbly (hatznei’a lechet) with your God?” (Michah 6:8)
We must employ our talents to develop the world. But at the same time, we must humbly recall the One Who gave us these talents and commanded us to use them wisely and modestly.
Chag kasher v’same’ach!