Nechama Leibowitz compared the description of the sacrifices detailed in last week’s parasha with the order and wording in Tzav.She wrote that the details were repeated for the benefit of the priests, in the order of degrees of holiness. Previously, the order for the benefit of the Israelites was the voluntary offerings followed by the obligatory ones.She went beyond this logical explanation to discuss the link with the words of the prophets, that sacrifices unaccompanied by pure intentions and good deeds are worthless.
Nechama Leibowitz then discussed the link with carrying out the ashes of the previous day in old garments before conducting the sacrifices of the day in clean priestly garments. She quoted Bahya who taught that this action would remind the priest of his humility despite the loftiness of his position. She moved on to quote R’SR Hirsch who wrote that this action symbolised the need to observe the mitzvot with a fresh approach as if each time it were the first occasion we were performing the mitzvah.The relics of the previous day’s work had to be cleared away before the new day’s work could begin in a clean place. This could equally apply to the mitzvot of Pesach, and the Seder nights in the next few days.
R’ D Freilich wrote in The Maccabean that we should approach Pesach with joy, and not make the preparations too onerous. In preparing for the Seder, we might look for a fresh interpretation or new understanding from reading the Haggadah.
There are interesting essays and commentaries in the recent Haggadah of R’ Jonathan Sacks(1). In an essay on History and memory, he wrote that the revolution of ancient Israel was to see G-d not in nature, but above and transcendant, and revealing Himself to mankind in the form of a call to build a different kind of society than any which had existed before. In addition, rather than seeing religion as the flight from history into a world without time, Judaism saw time as the arena where G-d and mankind met. R’ Sacks makes the point that there is actually no biblical Hebrew word for time,and the key word of the bible is not history but memory -“zachor”. He wrote that history is about events which happened to someone else at another time, whereas memory is something which happened to me and is part of who I am. History is about the past, memory is the past as it lives on in me. R’ Sacks wrote that a nation has a continuing identity to the extent that it can remember where it came from and who its ancestors were. He then asked “how can I remember what did not happen to me?”. The answer given by the seder service is by re-enactment, by living again the events of ancient times as if they were happening now. He concluded ”Pesach is where the past does not die but lives, in the chapter we write in our own lives and in the story we tell our children”.
(1) The Chief Rabbi’s Haggadah, Essays and Commentary by R’ Jonathan Sacks. 2003.