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Shabbat Hagadol: Tzav

“Anything that touches these [offerings by fire] shall become holy” Leviticus 6:11

    The notion of what is impure and what is holy is a powerful concept in Judaism. In general, especially in Jewish law, the focus lies on those things that render something impure, such as contact with the dead or a menstruating woman. What is remarkable in the verse above from Parashat Tzav is that this is an example of the transference of holiness rather than impurity.

    As I was writing this, I reflected on the death of two incredible teachers. One is well-known in British Jewry: Maureen Kendler. So many have already described her legacy so beautifully that I am at a loss about what could I add. 

    The other is Rabbi Lynne Landsberg from the United States. Lynne was first and foremost an activist. She dedicated her career to fighting for justice and regularly spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to thousands of cheering people. After a terrible car accident and a hard fight for recovery, she was left with traumatic brain injury and focused her energies on the cause of disability rights, knowing first-hand what it meant to be disabled. 

    Political change is about relationships, she would say; it is not about emails or calling into meetings, it is about showing up. Lynne always showed up, as did Maureen. 

    In an age without temple sacrifices, I think this is the perfect example of holiness transferring: for all the lives that were touched by Lynne and Maureen have certainly become a little holier. 

    Years ago, Lynne gave me a copy of The Torah — A Women’s Commentary with the inscription “please keep the women’s commentary alive”. And so it is my privilege to dedicate this column to two remarkable women teachers.

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