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Tzav, Purim and Jewish Power

This week we read more laws about sacrifices in Parshat Tzav. For the ancients the sacrificing of animals and the offering of grains was how they prayed. They brought to God physical gifts. While we find these details foreign, and even disgusting, they did provide what today’s services lack. You could literally hold your prayer in your hands. Sacrifice was as well an attempt to reorder the chaos of the world. Life’s vicissitudes can often be frightening. Offer a sacrifice. And some counsel, Say a prayer. Gain power over your life. And thus sacrifices, and prayers, can be seen as an attempt to address these feelings of powerlessness.

So too is the story of Purim, the holiday which begins on Saturday evening. In the beginning the Jews, and women, are powerless. Queen Vashti is kicked out of the palace by the drunken king. Our heroine Esther gains entry to the palace by hiding her Jewish identity and then winning a beauty pageant. She gains power by concealing her Jewishness. She saves the Jewish people from the wicked Haman (make some noise to drown out his name!) by revealing her identity.

This story raises many questions about power and powerlessness....