It all started with carpal tunnel. In the modern world, where more people spend their days typing on a keyboard than wielding a hammer or ax, our bodies are being subjected to pressures and repetitive motions that they are not used to. Carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the National Institutes of Health, “is a common neurological disorder that occurs when the median nerve, which runs from your forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist,” and it is most commonly found in people like me who type more hours each day than sleep. 

It often can be treated with over the counter painkillers and rest, but I don’t have the luxury of rest, so the pain just got sharper and more frequent. I was slowly losing my mind, when I noticed an advertisement for a “bionic implant,” promising to swap the worn out bone, sinew, and ligaments for a brand new titanium and silicon wrist, with 4thgeneration actuators guaranteed to move smoothly and silently for 30 years. At first it sounded outlandish, inserting a robotic organ into my body, but the pain was approaching unbearable, and 30 years of silent smooth wrist activity did seem like a dream!

When I woke up from the surgery on my left wrist, I started wriggling both of my wrists excitedly in front of me. Surprisingly, my real wrist exhibited the sharp pain I was so used to, while my bionic implant wrist was absolutely pain free! It shook and glided and even flapped back and forth without a sound, and without any discomfort whatsoever. 

The bionic wrist took zero time getting used to, my regular nerves had all been threaded into the silicon chips, so the bionic wrist responded to my thoughts just like my old human wrist. Excited to have a pain free wrist, I pulled out my laptop and started writing an article immediately, marveling at how awesome it felt to type for an hour without any pain! By the time the doctor came to check up on me, the first words out of my mouth were, “So Doc, when can you do my other wrist?”

The next few weeks were full of surprises. Besides my wrists being pain free for the first time in years, I was a much better tennis player; my new wrists snapped the racquet with shocking strength. I could carry much more groceries from the car to my house, and I could easily twist open any bottle caps even those sealed shut with sticky grime! But I did notice that my feet were hurting an awful lot, especially in the hips and knees…

In 2031 the medical establishment coined a name for my addiction, bioreplacement addiction, but when I started down this path, it was not a concern at all. Even my doctor encouraged me to march down this path; bionic wrists, then bionic hips, bionic knees, and not long after, we surgically removed both of my legs entirely, from the hip on down. He fused titanium legs to my pelvis and within a week I was running a three minute mile. After the legs we did my arms, and soon I could throw a 110 MPH pitch without breaking a sweat. 

I wasn’t the only one doing surgery more frequently than most people get a haircut. People all over the world were waking up to the reality that science could provide us with upgrades to our bodies that were painless, strong, and far superior to the old flesh and bones organs. A few months after switching out my arms, I got a brand new titanium rib cage, switched my kidneys for new ones (the new ones came with a 50 year guarantee), and replaced my neck bones with ceramic and polymer ones. No more neck massages needed after a long day at work. 

Six months later I took the plunge and replaced 20 feet of intestines with a much smaller 3 foot artificial digestion sleeve, that fed nutrients into my bloodstream. I wasn’t really using regular food for nutrition anyway, at this point I had different nutritional needs than most people. I had a port in my shoulder into which I injected solutions that contained robotic organ coolant and electrically charged micro particles that gave my bionic organs the energy they needed. While I did have to plug my body into an electric outlet each night, if I wanted a burst of super energy in middle of the day without having to connect to an outlet or carry a battery pack on my back, I just used the solutions. 

I didn’t want to give up on the deliciousness of food, so I kept my human mouth and tongue, and the food I ate went into an artificial stomach where it would cook into biowaste which went into a pouch. Every night, I just switched out the pouch, and threw away the old one. The hardcore Bionies used a new celluloid implant which connected to the nerves that controlled your palette and could make you think you were tasting all sorts of food, but I doubted the texture would be as good as natural food, so I skipped that surgery. 

Of course, fierce debated ensued about playing in sports leagues with bionic organs, but eventually the difference between normies and Bionies were so great that they just made separate leagues for natural people and BOREPs (Bionic Organs Robotically Adjusted People). Sure the basket was 20 feet high instead of 10, the home run fence at least 600 feet away from home plate, and the football field 300 yards long, but the games were filled with unbelievable action. Players could leap fifteen feet vertically to dunk the ball, baseballs were practically being hit into the stratosphere, and football players were throwing each other around the field instead of the ball! 

On the fifth anniversary of my first surgery, I was a full 82% bionic. My new eyes could see regular colors as well as infrared and ultraviolet, and had perfect night vision. My new heart had six chambers, four for blood and two for biofluids, and my new ears could hear sounds up to two miles away, and could be adjusted down when I wanted some quiet time. The only things that were still made out of my old organic body were my brain, nose, skull, and my skin. Of course there was bionic skin that could change colors and have temporary tattoos that changed each day, but there was something a little too fake about that. I still wanted to look human even if I didn’t want to feel human. 

The problems started somewhere around year nine in my journey. Those kidneys that were guaranteed for 50 years? They started failing and the company that made them was long out of business. The silicon chip in one of my legs started shorting, making my bionic leg twitch and jerk around uncontrollably. One of my eyes overheated, leaving me half blind, and causing brain damage, memory loss, and frequent migraines. I began hearing static in my right ear, and while at first it was just a little bit and quite infrequently, it became more common and now the static is there about 25% of the time, an entirely maddening experience. Even my left wrist, the very first surgery I did, failed on me, and one hand is stuck forever open. At this point, I couldn’t care less how I look, I just want to feel human. 


Pesach is rapidly approaching, the Festival of Redemption. The time when we sit around our Seder tables and tell our children about what made us into who we are, and what colors our life to this very day. It is a time of enormous spiritual potency. The whole world bursts into a rebirth, the trees and ground come alive with green, a physical representation echoing what is happening in the inside world, where we can burst out of our personal Mitzrayim, our winters, our boundaries and borders, with a rebirth of spiritual power, as our forefathers did at this time 3335 years ago. 

The focal point of this holiday is quite surprising and unassuming, a small flat round piece of dry bread called Matzah. In preparing ourselves for this Matzah, we first have to turn our houses upside down, chasing out every last crumb of its nemesis, Chametz. And while those names are relatively benign, the secondary names given to Chametz and Matzah are much more intense. The Chametz is called Se’or Shebe’isa, the Leaven in the Dough, the same exact name used to describe the Evil Inclination! And the Matzah is called Michla Meheimnusa, the Food of Faith by the Zohar, as quoted by the Sfas Emess, and the Ba’al HaTanya, and many others. What is the significance of these breads that take front and center all Pesach?

The Maharal of Prague gives us a deeper understanding (Chidushei Aggados, Brachos 17A) into what matzah and chametz represent. The chametz inside of us is what pushes us away from who we are to an extreme place of arrogance and lust. It’s what lifts the dough and makes it look much bigger than it truly is, by filling it with hot air. It’s not authentically who we are, chametz is a bloated caricature of who we truly are, like a human being made of robotic parts. It may look good, run fast, carry a lot of weight, and have what looks like all sorts of upgrades, but they are not who we are, and they won’t keep us feeling good for long. 

I may be the guy in my shul who knows everything about everyone. I know that the Berg’s are going to be getting divorced this summer, and I know why. I can tell you why Rabbi Berger is leaving his congregation suddenly after 12 years, and I can tell you exactly what’s going on with the Bergstein’s son who everyone knows is going through something, but I know what and why. I’m the king of gossip, and I’m only too happy to share my kompromat with you during shul services, along with all the other people who cluster around me in the back row. But is that really who I am? The arrogant cynical blowhard in the back of the shul? Or is that just a bunch of robotic pieces I picked up a long the way, and deep inside I’m a sensitive and caring neshama? 

I may be the guy who can tell you every stat about every sport, “except for golf, I hate golf,” but I can talk authoritatively about whether Gronkowski would have been better if he had been paired with Joe Montana than Brady. I can talk James Harden vs Kevin Durant, Crosby vs Ovechkin, and Scherzer vs Verlander. But is that really who I am? Am I the guy who knows all the latest shows, movies, and video games? Is that who I am? Am I the guy who has sharp lines for everyone, and can make fun of everybody, but in such a passive aggressive way that no one can take me to task for it, “c’mon man, I’m just kidding around!” Am I the guy who spends so much time at the office chasing the Benjamins that I almost forget what my kids look like? Those may look like me, but they’re a bloated caricature of my true self. 

I’m a neshama. I love to make cookies for people going through a tough time, and I love to go to classes that inspire me. I love to be authentically fully there for my wife and children, and I love to remain calm and serene even when challenged. I love Shabbos, and I love Succos and Pesach, Shavuos, Purim, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, even Yom Kippur. I love going out of my way to welcome a new person to our shul and I love to stay after services to put the chairs back in their proper place. I love to speak about ideas, not about people. I love to talk about the great qualities I see in others, and the incredible beauty of our Jewish community. That’s the real me. Don’t see the bionic me, that picked up artificial pieces over the years, see the real me. Don’t see my Chametz, see my Matzah!

May Hashem give us all a Pesach where we rediscover our own Matzah, because there can be no greater redemption, than being freed of all our bloat and getting back to the joy of living our authentic beautiful selves!

Dvar Torah

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 todahis 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!

Parsha Summary

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: Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. ~ A. Gambiner

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

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