The Robert Y. Love was the little towboat that could. It spent its time merrily chugging up and down the Arkansas River, pushing barges loaded with asphalt, construction debris, coal, or oil. While it was only 104 feet long and 30 feet wide, the Robert Y. Love could push up to 9 barges at a time, which would have a combined size of 900 feet long by 162 feet wide. The Robert Y. Love was no youngster, it had been huffing and puffing around American waterways from 1955, although it did need some surgery in 1992 to upgrade its twin-engines, from 1800 horsepower to 2400 horsepower.
Joe Dedmon, the captain of the Robert Y. Love, had a lot of similarities to his boat. He had been working on towboats since 1957, starting as a deckhand and working his way up to pilot, relief captain and eventually captain. Like his boat, he spent over forty-five years put-putting up and down American waterways. Unfortunately, he never got any surgery, and his abnormal heart rhythms went undetected. That all changed on May 26, 2002.
At 7:45 a.m. as the Robert Y. Love neared the bridge that carried the I-40 Interstate highway over the Arkansas River, Joe blacked out, hitting the steering wheel as he fell to the floor. The boat veered wildly to the left, and moments later the barges it was pushing slammed into the support beams of the bridge. The bridge collapsed and five hundred and three feet of the I-40 fell into the river. Traffic on the bridge was not heavy, and only a few vehicles fell with the bridge, but the vehicles behind them were traveling at 70 mph, and in the fifteen seconds after the bridge came down a few more vehicles leapt off the bridge into the water. By the time traffic came to a halt, eleven cars and trucks were in the drink. Fourteen people died that morning.
During the ensuing chaos, one heroic figure appeared out of nowhere as the saving grace in the tragic disaster. Captain William James Clark, of the Green Beret special forces who happened to be in the area, saw the bumbling attempts of rescue workers and volunteers, and quickly dove into the waters, dragging a mother and daughter from their car to safety. He was about to go back in when a state trooper forced him to turn around because the undercurrents were too strong even for trained divers.
After climbing back up the riverbank, and changing into his army fatigues, Captain Clark assumed control of the disaster scene on behalf of the US Army. He directed the flow of emergency responders, coordinated the teams of rescue divers, directed the local and state police, and instructed the FBI on proper investigation protocols. He was in touch with the governor, even going so far as blocking him from making a press conference at the scene of the disaster or anywhere near the fallen bridge. He even personally contacted the next of kin for many of the deceased. He spoke to all the TV reporters, giving regular updates on the progress of rescue operations. He was a cool and collected presence in the face of so much pain and turmoil.
Captain Clark went to bat for the emergency responders, making a deal with a local Arkansas hotel to give him and the other emergency responders rooms for as long as they would need. He got supplies from the local hardware stores, and even commandeered a brand new pickup truck from the local car dealership to aid him in getting around to take care of his duties. He had local restaurants send copious amounts of food for the emergency responders. All the bills would be covered by the US Army once order was established.
By the third day of Captain Clark’s command and control of the disaster scene, some people began to harbor suspicions as to the nature of their hero. For starters, no one could find the mother and daughter he claimed to have pulled out of the water, they seemed to be non-existent people. Secondly, Captain Clark cut a strange figure for someone wearing the uniform of the Green Beret special forces. The Green Berets, one of the US military’s most elite fighting forces, is solely made up of seasoned and highly trained warriors. Captain Clark was morbidly obese, well over 300 lbs. The only thing he seemed to be fighting was the urge to tear through another dozen of those delicious donuts he kept ordering from Mary Beth’s Homestyle Donuts.
There was no coherent reason why a member of the Green Berets should be coordinating rescue operations for a downed bridge, the US Army Corps of Engineers should be doing that. And while Captain Clark used a lot of technical terms, it was becoming evident that he didn’t really know much about rescue protocols. Most strange of all, was the way he would often get stuck in middle of a sentence and just stop with a confused look on his face. After about ten seconds, he would continue, as if he had just rebooted his brain.
As suspicions mounted, Captain Clark got into his commandeered pickup and fled to Canada. As was later revealed, Captain William James Clark was not a captain, had never been in the military, and was actually a twice convicted con artist. He hadn’t saved anyone from the river, and he had basically stolen the pickup truck, the hotel rooms, the food, and the hardware supplies. He was captured by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and deported to the US, where he was pled guilty to the felony offenses of impersonating a federal office, theft of a pickup truck and hotel rooms, and illegal firearm possession. He was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he served five years.
Two months after his release in 2007, William James Clark, found himself back in federal custody and on his way back to federally funded vacation behind bars. This time, he had information on a US plot to kill then Russian President Vladimir Putin. After being in touch with the Russian Embassy, where he gave over the secret information in hushed meetings at local high-end restaurants, he found himself in touch with US federal investigators, who put him in touch with the closest federal penitentiary.
He got out in 2010, and made his way across the country, this time again wearing his army uniform. Decked out with various insignias and patches, most notable the lightning crossed swords of the 10th Special Forces Group, and the double silver bars marking him as a captain. From Iowa to Washington state, he left a trail of fraudulent checks, paying vendors for his “military travel” with US Army checks that were not checks and not from the US Army.
He made his way all the way to Juneau, AL, where he ended up at an Outdoorsman Convention. He ignored the many tables laden with various firearms, and made his was way to the Polaris booth, where he started talking to the salesman about buying a number of ATV’s for “his guys.” He caught the eye of Louis Brandwein, a locally stationed US Army Sergeant. Bradnwein immediately knew that something was not right. Why was this “ridiculously obese” Green Beret in Juneau, AL when his unit was stationed in Fort Carlson, CO? And why was he talking to the Polaris salesman about buying ATV’s for “his guys?” The Green Berets don’t roll on ATV’s, they either drop out of the sky or roll in on armored halftracks.
Brandwein confronted Captain William James Clark in the parking lot, and made him take all the patches off his uniform. It was there that he noticed that Clark had counterfeit Travis Air Force Base vehicle identification on his car, and he called up to his superiors. The FBI came looking again, and this time Clark pled guilty to impersonating a federal officer, as well as to writing $66,892.52 in fraudulent checks, which he used to rip off 224 people. As you can imagine, William James Clark was sent back to the clink, where he still sits to this day.
We look at the story of Captain Clark with a bit of incredulity, what makes someone try to pull off the same game again and again, each time with terrible results? Why does he have this need to pass himself off as someone he is not? Who does he think he’s fooling when he shows up in his Special Forces uniforms? How long does he think he can keep his con going? How many times does he need to end up in prison before he finally gives up his charade?
Captain Clark is the Egyptian inside of every one of us. When our forefathers were in Egypt, the Pharaoh passed himself off as a god, he was worshipped by his people, who thought him to be part of the Special Divine Forces. He had no real powers but people wanted to believe in him, because believing in him gave them the comfort of not having to make tough decisions in times of crisis. Just listen to what the Special Forces Pharaoh says, and everything will be OK. You need a pickup truck? Sure thing. Send more donuts? You got it. Enslave a few million Jews? No problem. Kill their sweet innocent babies? If you say so… What next Boss?
Pharoah got caught up in his own charade as well. When Moses and Aaron came to him with miracles and signs, he failed to see the obvious right move, to let the Jews go serve G-d in the desert. Instead, he just doubled down, and even though plague after plague slammed his nation, he was not just ready to step down from his Special Divine Force role. Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Animals, more and more, but every time after the dust settled, there’s Pharaoh sitting on his stolen pickup truck throne, saying, “I’m in charge here. You Jews will go nowhere…” How many times do you and your people need to be thrown in the slammer before you give up your insanity?
The truth is that there is a little bit of Pharoah in each and every one of us. The word Pharaoh can be seen as a conjugation of two Hebrew words, Peh Ra, the bad mouth. Each one of has a bad mouth in our head that always talks to us, always tries to convince us to follow its self-aggrandized voices.
“C’mon, spill that gossip, no one knows about it yet, and you will be the one who broke the news! It’s OK for you to get angry and yell, people need to know that you’re the kind of person who means business! Yes, you can have more of __________, you deserve it, you’re part of the Special Forces! You don’t need to change, you are just fine the way you are! No one knows what you went through, but if they did, they would understand that you just need to do this…”.
That Pharaoh that has built some sort of justification for us and what we want to do based on our unique experiences. The bad voice that has kept us chained to the unsuccessful side of our personality for so long. We’ve tried it his way so many times, and we’ve just ended up in the personal slammer. It has really not worked for us, yet we keep going back out there, putting on the same Special Forces uniform and doing the same thing again and again. How long will the insanity continue?
Pesach is not simply a time to commemorate the Exodus. We Jews are not big on commemoration, we are big on reliving things. Every holiday is an opportunity to tap into the spiritual power of that time of the year, and use it to better our lives. It’s not enough for us to talk about the Jews getting out from under the rule of the megalomaniacal Pharaoh of 3,329 years ago, we need to get out from under the Pharaoh inside our heads.
Just as Pesach was the time that G-d took the Jews out from under the rule of the original Pharaoh, so to every year on Pesach we have the opportunity to break free from whatever is holding us back. We just need to be ready to slaughter that Pascal Offering, we need to be ready to destroy that which is comfortable and easy, to make room for that which is challenging but liberating.
This year, we can ask G-d to help us have our own Exodus , to make it out from slavery to freedom, from our own subjugation to redemption, from personal darkness to great light.
Chag Kasher V’sameach!
This Shabbos (the one directly preceding Pesach) is called Shabbos Hagadol, the Big Shabbos. There are many different reasons for this title, including the fact that the Rabbi usually delivers a BIG pre-holiday sermon on this Shabbos.
However, the primary reason given is that back in Egypt it was on this day that all the Jews selected sheep for their Pesach offerings. When the Egyptians queried the Jews about this sudden strange behavior (on one day thousands of Jews selected sheep and tied them to the bedposts) the Jews explained that they were going to offer these sheep, which the Egyptians worshipped as gods, as sacrifices. This would be the equivalent of Jews preparing stacks of Korans for burning in the middle of Islamabad, yet miraculously no Jews were hurt. This BIG miracle is what gave Shabbos Hagadol its name. Let’s see if we can find some connection between Shabbos Hagadol and this week’s Parsha, Parshat Tzav.
This Parsha follows the previous Parsha in dealing with the Temple offerings. Let’s focus on one offering discussed in this Parsha, the Thanksgiving Offering. If a person survives a very dangerous experiences, such as severe illness or perilous travel, they are required to bring a special offering called a todah, an offering that is quite unique.
There are two general levels of holiness to offerings. The higher level called kodshei kodashim can only be eaten by Kohanim in the confines of the temple. The lower level, called Kodshim Kalim, can be eaten by almost any Jew in the whole city of Jerusalem. The higher level offerings are generally allowed to be eaten for just one day and one night while the lower level offerings may be eaten for two days and one night. The todah is an anomaly. It is from the lower level, which means that we should be allowed to eat it for two days and one night, but it can only be eaten for one day and night like the higher level offerings. Additionally, the person bringing the todah brings 40 loaves of bread (ten each of four different kinds of bread). Four are given to the Kohen, and the rest are returned to him to eat in that one day and night period. Why is the todah different from all the other sacrifices in its class (yep, I’m in that “why is this different from all the rest…” mode)?
The Sages tell us that the whole purpose of this offering is to give thanks to G-d for His salvation and to praise His name. Therefore, the more people partaking in this offering the better. How sad it would be for a person to celebrate his salvation by himself. Gratitude and joy are feelings that are intensified when they are shared. (This is why we invite so many people to join our simchas such as weddings and bar mitzvahs!) Therefore, the Torah tells you to bring a full animal and 40 loaves of bread, but only gives you a day and night to eat it. This ensures that you will invite others to partake of your thanksgiving meal, making it a big event with many guests, and the name of G-d is glorified even more!
From here, we can make a direct connection to Shabbos Hagadol. This is the day we celebrate the Jew’s first experience with the Pesach offering, and lo and behold, the two offerings share some very similar characteristics. The Pesach offering is also in the category of the lower level of offerings but it can only be eaten from nightfall of Pesach until midnight of the seder night (approx. 6 hours total, to eat an entire sheep! Oh, how I miss the days of yore!) Additionally there is a mitzvah to count together a group of family and friends to make the Pesach offering together. The Talmud in Tractate Pesachim estimates that there was no Pesach offering that had less than ten people partaking in it!
The Pesach offering is very similar to the Thanksgiving offering, on a conceptual level as well, because the Pesach offering is a way of expressing our thanks to G-d for the salvation we experienced as a nation! We were in a situation that was far more dangerous than a single person’s illness or travels; we were facing national identicide (that’s a term I made up, it means our entire nation almost lost its identity and would have been swallowed up by the greater Egyptian culture, as the identities of so many other nations have been lost over the years)!
Therefore, when we thank G-d for taking us out, we make sure to do it in a public fashion, at a seder with all of our family and as many guests as possible because, as we said above, gratitude and joy are feelings that intensify the more they are shared! So this year, when we sit at our seder, let’s take a moment to step back from the hustle and bustle to simply thank G-d for delivering us from the Egyptians, and giving us a unique national identity, one that is fused with the Torah, the guidebook that has led us through the Ages. (Maimonides actually includes this thanksgiving and praise of G-d as one of the things one must do to fulfill the obligations of the seder night!) May we merit seeing Mashiach right now, so that this year we can bring a real Pesach offering in a rebuilt Jerusalem!
Parshat Tzav continues with the listing of the Temple services/sacrifices begun in last week’s parsha. The first mitzvah mentioned is the removal of the ash from the Altar which was done daily before the offering of the first sacrifices of the day were sacrificed. The Torah mentions that the Kohen doing this job wears different vestments in order not to dirty his regular vestment, as Rashi explains “The clothing worn while cooking a dish for one’s master are not the same ones worn while serving him his cup of wine.” (This is one of the ideas behind why people have a custom to put on a jacket before entering the synagogue to pray. Our direct service of G-d should be something special for which we dress up. If you have to wear a jacket to get into your country club, you should certainly wear one while standing before G-d!)
The Torah then mentions the three pyres on the altar, one of which burned perpetually, 24/7, 365. When the Jews would travel in the desert a vessel was placed over it, but it kept on burning underneath the vessel, and when the Tabernacle was set up, they would take off the vessel and the fire was waiting for them. After this, the laws of the meal offerings are detailed, with an emphasis on a special meal offering brought by Kohanim on the inaugural day of their service and by the Kohen Gadol every day.
Then the Torah discusses some details of the sin offering and the guilt offering, with a short paragraph in the middle that teaches us the laws of Koshering (rendering usable) utensils that are not acceptable for some reason (e.g. a meat knife that was dipped in a boiling cheese fondue). Following this are the laws of some of the gifts given to the Kohen from the sacrifices, and the laws of the Thanksgiving offering (see above for more detail).
Next is a law called piggul which is interesting in that it refers to a sacrifice that is invalidated even though every action was performed properly, because the thoughts the Kohen had while bringing it were bad ones (this reinforces the idea that sacrifices are not just physical acts but mind-body experiences).
The Torah then prohibits the eating of sacrifices while one is contaminated, or eating sacrificial parts that have been contaminated even though one is pure. It also enumerates certain fats which we are forbidden to eat and the prohibition of drinking (or tasting in our food) the blood of an animal. After that, there is a description of the order in which parts of sacrifices are brought up on the Altar, and which portions among them are given to the Kohen.
Finally, the Torah describes the consecration of the Kohanim for service. For seven days, Moshe dressed them in their vestments and offered sacrifices before them. This helped prepare them for the eight day, when the inauguration of the Tebaernacle took place and they began their service in the temple. This is also a great lesson, as it indicates that service of G-d is not something we can expect to be able to just “jump right in to.” It connects the human and the divine, and requires preparation, sincerity, humility, and an earnest building process. That’s all folks!
Quote of the Week: He who dates nothing, needs hope for nothing. J.C. F. von Schiller
Random Fact of the Week: Roughly 12% of all workers in the US have at some point worked for McDonalds.
Funny Line of the Week: An optimist is someone who falls off the Empire State Building, and after 50 floors says, “So far so good!”
Have a Spotless Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham