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Torah Sparks

March 22, 2008 – 15 Adar II 5768

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 Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Sefer Vayikra began with a description of the different types of korbanot (sacrifices). Parashat Tzav now takes the form of a priest’s manual, as God tells Moses to instruct Aaron about the rituals the kohanim are to use when they offer the various korbanot.

We learn that the zevah sh’lamim, the offering of well-being, was to be brought for three reasons – for thanksgiving, in fulfillment of a vow, or as a freewill or voluntary offering.

A person in a state of ritual impurity may not eat from any of the sacrifices. No one is permitted to eat chelev, the fat covering an animal’s internal organs, or blood. Portions of these offerings are to be set aside to be given to the priests.

God instructs Moses about the ceremony of consecration of the priests. Aaron and his sons are washed, dressed in their ceremonial garments, and anointed. Moses offers sacrifices on their behalf. The ritual of ordination continues for seven days.

1. Remembrance of Things Past

The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a pure place. (Vayikra 6:3-4)

  1. The purpose of the mitzvah is to enhance the sanctuary and beautify it to the utmost of our ability…. Beauty is added to the altar by cleaning out the ashes from where the fire has to be kindled; moreover, the flame burns well when there are no ashes beneath. (Sefer HaHinukh [attributed to Rabbi Aharon of Barcelona, 14th century, Spain])
  2. This is the very first thing the high priest must do before he enters into the Holy of Holies, so that he will not forget the people’s everyday needs when he enters this holy place. The Torah commands him to remove his elaborate clothes and put on simple clothes to remind him to pray for the day-to-day needs of the Jewish people. (Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, 1765-1827, Poland)
  3. One of the 613 commandments is to take up the ashes each day; that is, to remove the ashes of the sacrifices that had been burned. This is symbolic and teaches us that after a person who sinned brings his sacrifice to God and confesses on it, one may not mention his sin to him any more. Instead, we are commanded to erase all traces of the sin and to forget it. (Rabbi Menahem ben Moses HaBavli, 16th century, Greece and Israel)
  4. While the “taking up” of the ashes is meant to introduce the new day’s service as directly linked to whatever had been accomplished on the preceding day, as a permanent reminder of those past accomplishments, the removal of the ashes from the camp conveys the thought that at the same time, the Jewish nation must begin its task anew each day. The start of every new day summons us to set out upon our task with full, renewed devotion, as if we had never accomplished anything before. The memory of yesterday’s accomplishments must not detract from the energy with which we must do our duty today. Thoughts of what already has been accomplished can spell death to what has yet to be done. Woe to him who rests upon his laurels in smug complacency, who does not begin the work of each new day with new, complete devotion as if it were the very first day of his life’s work. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)

Sparks for Discussion

Even this seemingly simple and prosaic task – taking up and removing the ashes of the previous day’s offerings – is surrounded by ritual. Why? The Sefer HaHinukh suggests practical considerations. Rabbi Simcha Bunim and Rabbi Menahem suggest that it is to teach important moral lessons. How would you explain the meaning of this ritual?

Rabbi Hirsch sees the ritual as full of symbolism, teaching us that each day is an opportunity for a new beginning. The danger he sees is that people tend to become smug and complacent because they believe their past accomplishments are more than sufficient. Do you agree? When people are tripped up by the past is it because they believe they have already done enough? How do you think a person’s past accomplishments affect his or her life today? What affect do hopes or fears about the future have on us?

2. Shame on You!

Speak to Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the purification [elsewhere: sin] offering: the purification offering shall be slaughtered before the Lord, at the spot where the burnt offering is slaughtered: it is most holy. (Vayikra 6:18)

  1. And why is this so [that both are slaughtered in the same place]? In order not to embarrass the sinners. (Yerushalmi Yevamot 8:3)
  2. The matter is explained according to what is written in Sotah 32b: Why did they establish that the amidah should be said in a whisper? In order not to embarrass those who commit sins [that others will not hear their confessions]. (Torah Temimah [Rabbi Baruch Epstein, 1860-1942, Russia])
  3. Rabbi Elazar Ha-Modai taught: A person who profanes the sacred, despises the festivals, shames a fellow human being publicly … though he be learned in Torah and perform good deeds, shall have no share in the world-to-come. (Avot 3:15)
  4. A tanna recited before Rabbi Nahman bar Isaac: He who shames his fellow man in public is as though he shed blood. Rabbi Nahman replied: Well put! Because we see ruddiness depart and paleness take its place [in the face of the person who is humiliated]. (Baba Metzia 58b)

Sparks for Discussion

Why do the rabbis see humiliating another person as such a grave sin? Do you think it is still a serious offense today? Are there certain people whom it is acceptable to humiliate in public? Does a person put herself in that category by the way she behaves in public (for example, by posting photos of drunken party behavior on her MySpace page)?

At family gatherings, are certain “cute” or “amusing” stories told year after year while the subject of the story squirms in embarrassment? Do you tell these stories? Are they told about you? Do you think it might be time to retire them?

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