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Then and Now

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“Slaughter it, take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. Then splash blood against the sides of the altar.” — Exodus 29:20

The Torah portion for this week is Tetzaveh, which means “command” or “connect,” from Exodus 27:20–30:10, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 43:10–27.

After reading about the clothing and service of the kohanim, or priests, we read about their inauguration. During the ceremony, Aaron and his sons were commanded to sacrifice a ram and place its blood on their ear, thumb, and toe. The Jewish sages ask: What is the meaning of this unusual ritual?

They explain that the ear symbolizes everything that we have heard in the past. The thumb represents everything we are doing in the present. The toe represents where we are going in the future. As the priests prepared themselves for service, they had to remember three things: the past, present, and future. Only in that context would they be able to fully serve God.

This was true of the kohanim then, and it is just as true when we serve God today. In order to serve God fully we must be deeply connected to our past, cognizant of the future, and most importantly, rooted in the present. Only through that lens can our service be complete.

Remembering our past is important because it gives context to our present actions. We understand that we are another link in a long chain going all the way back to Abraham. We can learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and be inspired by their successes. And we can appreciate the privilege that we have in continuing their legacy. How much more meaningful is our service when it’s not just about us, but includes generations before us!

Considering the future is critical as well. What might we do differently if we truly considered the consequences of our actions? On one hand, we might be extra careful to avoid sin when we consider how it may harm others, including ourselves, further down the line. On the other hand, we might be more enthusiastic about doing good deeds when we appreciate the value they will have long after we do them.

When serving God, we need to have a long-term view. The full impact of our actions is not felt immediately, but has lasting repercussions for eternity.

Finally, when we serve God, we must be fully rooted in the present. The sages teach that the most important time is now. The most important people are the ones in front of you. And the most important thing to do is the task before you. We believe in a God Who is involved in every detail in our lives. So whatever He has placed in our lives now is there so that we can serve Him best.

Take a moment to consider where we have come from, where we are going, and where we are right now. With that perspective, we then can ask ourselves: How can we best serve God today?

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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