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Torah Sparks

March 26, 2005 - 15 Adar II 5765

Annual: Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36 (Etz Hayim, p. 613; Hertz p. 429)
Triennial: Leviticus 6:1 - 7:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 613; Hertz p. 429)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21 - 8:3; 9:22 - 23 (Etz Hayim, p. 627; Hertz p. 439)

Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick
Assistant Director, USCJ KOACH/College Outreach

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


The description of the sacrificial system continues in Parashat Tzav. Where Parashat Vayikra gives us the reasoning behind the sacrifices, Tzav is our handbook for how those sacrifices are to be offered up.

The olah, which is to be consumed entirely by flame, remains on the altar all night long. The priest changes his garments to remove the ashes in the morning and then returns to feed fresh wood to the fire. The fire burns continuously.

The minhah, or grain offering, is divided into a smaller portion mixed with frankincense which is placed on the altar and burnt in its entirety, its fragrant smoke rising up. The remainder is formed into unleavened cakes and eaten by the priests in the confines of the sanctuary (in this case, the sacred domain of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary in the desert).

A separate grain offering marks the anointing of the High Priest. In this case, the grain is a combination of choice flour and oil, baked in slices and then burnt in its entirety on the altar.

The hattat (purification offering - Parashat Vayikra for the specifics of the individual offerings) has an elevated level of holiness. A portion of the offering is to be consumed by the priest there in the inner confines of the Mishkan and the rest is completely burned. The place at which the offering is slaughtered (the northern side of the altar) is sacred and that status is required of anything which comes in contact with either the flesh or the blood of the offering.

The asham or reparation offering is prepared precisely as the hattat. The zevah hashelamim, by contrast, is offered in two ways. If the zevah is a thanksgiving offering, the animal sacrifice is accompanied by unleavened cakes, unleavened wafers and leavened loaves. The one who brings the zevah eats the sacrifice and must consume it on the day in which it is offered. On the other hand, if the zevah is offered in association with a vow, or simply as a voluntary contribution, it may be eaten over the course of two days (including the day of the sacrifice) and whatever remains is returned to the altar on the third day. Like the blood, the organ fat of sacrificial animals was considered holy and for God alone. The consumption of either was grounds for banishment.

While the zevah offerings could only be placed upon the altar by the priests (indeed, only the priests were even permitted to enter area in which the altar stood), the one who brought the sacrifice was required to present it directly to the priest. In this way, they were afforded nominal participation in the experience, rather than delegating Divine contact exclusively to the priestly class.

Having presented Moses with the full set of sacrificial instructions to be shared with Aaron and his sons, the initiation of the system is ready to begin. Moses first prepares Aaron and his sons for priestly duty, purifying them with water and dressing them in priestly garments. Then the tabernacle and all of its accoutrements were sanctified, first through anointing with oil, then with the blood of a sacrificial animal. Even Aaron and his sons are anointed in this way. This joint consecration prepares the ritual structure through which the Children of Israel will communicate with God.

Discussion Topic 1: "Can Separate Be Equal?"

"All the males in the priestly line will eat of it; it shall be eaten in the sacred precinct: it is most holy." (Leviticus 7:6)

Derash: Study

  • The Etz Hayyim humash (along with most contemporary versions) translates this verse as "'Only the males….' The Korin Bible says "Every male."
  • "The woman of valor - a priceless find, a treasure more precious than pearls." (Proverbs 31:1)
  • "Our masters taught that women are said to have four traits; they are gluttonous, eavesdropping, slothful and envious. R. Judah son of R. Nehemiah said: They are also querulous and talkative. R. Levi said: They are also pilferers and gadabouts" (Bereshit Rabbah 45:5)
  • "May it be your will that our dough be blessed through the work of our hands, just as blessings attended the handiwork of our mothers Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. May the words of Torah be true for us, as it is written: 'The finest of your baking will you give to the priest, so that your house may be blessed' (Ezekiel 44:30). Amen. So may it be your will" (prayer on taking hallah, excerpted from Out of the Depths I Call to You, edited by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin)
  • "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." (Eleanor Roosevelt, This is my Story)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. The Hebrew term kol (as used above) is generally used as a term of inclusion. Here, however, it is being used to designate a single group to the exclusion of others. What is it about this verse that suggests such a translation?
  2. The exclusion of women from this rite has many faces. They are absent from the priesthood to begin with and then prohibited from the consumption of this particular sacrifice (in most cases, the priestly families derive their sustenance from the offerings of the people). What is lost through the exclusion of these voices?
  3. Who else is excluded by the design of the sacrificial system?
  4. We often jump to the conclusion that our tradition and heritage are not only patriarchal, but misogynistic. Yet the contrast of the verse from Proverbs with the text from Bereshit Rabbah demonstrates that there is a multiplicity of voices which reflect on women in Jewish tradition. What contemporary factors lead us to draw such conclusions? How do we make peace with a tradition which seems to record only part of the story? Can we own the tradition of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as our own even when Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are not always named?
  5. In a Movement where egalitarianism is the dominant - though not exclusive - force, many congregations have eroded the boundaries not only between male and female religious access, but also the differentiations between Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael. What is gained through these innovations? What is lost? At the same time, many congregations have reinstituted the practice of of dukhenen, of inviting the Kohanim to bless the congregation on festivals. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly has recorded positions both favoring the inclusion of Bnot Kohanim (daughters of Kohanim) in this rite as well as maintaining the status quo in which only males offer the priestly blessing. How do we grow our tradition forward without losing our connection to the past?
  6. The quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is a reminder of the degree to which we control our own destiny. The prayer on taking hallah (removing a portion of the dough when baking bread, traditionally a woman's obligation) suggests that women played a significant role in the construct of Jewish life, even as their roles may have differed from their male counterparts. In a quest for equality, how do we protect and honor that which is unique? Might there be ways in which separate could actually be equal?

Discussion Theme 2: "A Holy Vessel Unto the Lord"

"Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the Tabernacle and all that was in it, thus consecrating them. He poured some of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head and anointed him, to consecrate him." (Leviticus 8:10 and 8:12)

Derash: Study

  • "From the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord, he took one cake of unleavened bread, one cake of oil bread, and one wafer, and placed them on the fat parts and on the right thigh. He placed all these on the palms of Aaron and on the palms of his sons, and elevated them as an elevation offering before the Lord." (Leviticus 8:26-27)
  • "Manifest Your holiness through those who hallow You." (from Birkhot HaShahar, the morning blessings)
  • "To the people, religion was Temple, priesthood, incense: "This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord" (Jer. 7:4). Such piety Jeremiah brands as fraud and illusion." (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets)
  • "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. The Torah sets up parallel phenomena in the preparation of the Tabernacle and the priests who will serve within. What can we learn about the priestly role from this juxtaposition?
  2. The image of Aaron and his sons raising up the offering as part of their sanctification raises an important question about who and what are being offered up. While it is clear that the elevating of the sacrifice alone is insufficient, we do begin to sense the value of the individual in the sacred process. How do you contrast this role with the moment of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac?
  3. Tradition suggests that there is significant partnership between humankind and God in bringing holiness into the world. Certainly the opening formula for each brakhah or blessing we recite seeks/uses us as a vehicle for transferring that sense of sanctity. How do we reconcile that earthly role with the elite selection of the priests? Are there other ways, both ritual and interpersonal, that we take on that mantle of holiness? Does the absence of the Beit HaMikdash(the Temple in Jerusalem) modify that role in any way?
  4. Abraham Joshua Heschel suggests that the role of the prophet is to bring God's will to the people, while the role of the priest is to convey our hopes and aspirations to the Divine. Is there a hierarchy of holiness here? Who confers sanctity on the priest? On the prophet? Whose role is more significant? Whose presence would make a greater impact on the world today? In the same vein as the questions for Theme #1 above, what is the impact of the presence of a priestly class on Jewish tradition? In a world without a Temple, what lessons do we derive from Parashat Tzav that can help us to imbue our lives with holiness and draw God's presence into the world?

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