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An Unexpected Lesson from This Week’s Torah Portion

Posted on March 11, 2020

By Hazzan Barbara Barnett

This week’s Torah portion Ki Tisa is rich in mitzvot, lessons, and famous for the episode with the Golden Calf—and Moses’s (and G-d’s) reaction to it. I’ve read and taught this portion dozens of times over the years, but this week, as I was reviewing the portion to read it from the Torah, my eyes lit upon two verse that I confess I hadn’t really thought a lot about in the grand scheme of Golden Calf idols, smashed tablets and the vivid image of Moses appearance returning from his encounter with G-d, his countenance glowing:

“When they enter the Tent of Meeting they shall wash with water, that they may not die; or when they approach the altar to serve, to turn into smoke an offering by fire to the LORD, they shall wash their hands and feet, that they may not die. It shall be a law for all time for them—for him and his offspring—throughout the ages.” (Ex. 30: 20-21)

Instructions to the priests before entering the place where they offer sacrifices and approaching the altar to make sacrifice to G-d. An arcane directive about a practice we no longer…practice. But this week in the context of twenty-second handwashing (“Happy Birthday to You, two times through!), hand sanitizers and masks (Okay, that’s more of a Purim reference), the verses seem like good common sense instructions, obvious to our ears and very good advice. And coming from the Torah, handed down for thousands of years to our very contemporary situation this very week when we read these words in synagogue. (Who knew!?)

The verses remind me of the notice hanging in most restaurant and shop restrooms: “Employees, wash your hand before returning to work!” Basic hygiene 101, right (well, except for the feet part!). Except it’s not only employees and the Kohanim, it’s everyone. Let’s all be like Aharon and his sons as we protect ourselves against COVID-19. Practice good hygiene and stay safe, everyone.