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Forward Thinking

Friday, 30 March, 2012 - 2:00 pm

One of the items that stands out the most on the Seder plate at Pesach is the zero’ah, the shank bone. A nicely roasted piece of meat stares at us all night long, yet we do not eat from it. True to the theme of the evening, it invites the question: Why do we have it if we are not permitted to consume it?

The reason for the zero’ah is to remind us of the Pesach offering in which every Jew was obligated to participate when the Beit HaMikdash stood in Jerusalem. Since we cannot offer the Pesach sacrifice today (due to the destruction of the Temple), we are not permitted to eat any roasted meat, so as not to mimic the offering.

There are many peculiar rituals performed at the Seder simply to pique our (children’s) curiosity. However, only the zero’ah gets the distinction of remaining – untouched – on the Seder plate when we are finished with the Seder. This always struck me as odd. If we are not to mimic the Paschal offering then why put it there in the first place?

***

In this week’s parsha Tzav we read about many of the sacrifices offered in the Temple. Some were optional peace offerings; others were mandatory sacrifices for transgressions or thanksgiving.

The Talmud relates that the great scholar Rabbi Yishmael had written in his notebook that when Moshiach will come and the Beit HaMikdash will be rebuilt, he will bring a sin offering (which is mandatory for an unintentional sin).

Many commentaries have observed the great piety of Rabbi Yishmael, being so scrupulous of his own deeds.

A most powerful perspective was shared by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn OBM, whose birthday is on Tuesday, 11 Nissan. The Rebbe notes that Rabbi Yishmael’s greatness was not merely his introspection. Rather, incorporating his certainty in Moshiach’s imminent arrival into practice is the more meaningful contribution of Rabbi Yishmael. To this outstanding sage, it was a real-life scenario, not a hypothetical.

This, I believe, is also the way the Rebbe lived his life. Moshiach is not merely symbolism. It is a fervent belief and hope. It is something we must act upon in a tangible way.

***

The zero’ah is not on the table to serve simply as a lonely reminder of times bygone. It is there to transform our thinking and help us relive the theme of Pesach: “In every generation one must look upon himself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt.” This instruction enjoins us to look at ourselves as leaving Egypt, which personifies all forms of exile.

The zero’ah is a stark reminder of the faith we proclaim at the conclusion of the Seder: “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Amen!

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