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Torah Sparks

Parashat Tzav - Shabbat Zachor
March 15, 2014 - 13 Adar II 5774

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
Maftir (Deuteronomy 25:17-19): Etz Hayim p. 1135; Hertz p. 856
Haftarah (I Samuel 15:2-34): Etz Hayim p. 1281; Hertz p. 995

Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, SC

Parashat Vayikra described the main sacrifices; Tzav explains the ceremonies for the offerings. We learn that even the High Priest would bring a grain offering. We learn the Israelites had already offered sacrifices while in the wilderness of Sinai, so the instructions in this portion are especially needed.

Now the Israelites are gathered as the consecration of the Tabernacle and priests commences. Aaron is dressed in priestly vestments; he and his sons are anointed with oil. A bull and two rams are offered; the second ram is designated as “the ram of ordination,” which the priests eat along with bread. God informs Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons that this procedure must happen inside the Tent of Meeting for seven days in a row, so that the priests are prepared to begin their sacred work.

Theme #1: Command Performance

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus … (Leviticus 6:1-2a)

While the Torah is filled with commandments, this week’s portion is marked by the stark and direct instruction that Moses command Aaron and his sons the specifics of their sacred work.

Tzav, I now see, is Aaron’s instruction manual, a ninety-seven verse “to do” list dictated by God via Moses: Prepare flour on a griddle, divide meals into morning and evening portions, eat the leftovers of a sin offering. The directives are endless, the prescriptions exact. Yet Aaron does not complain once. In fact, throughout the entire Torah portion, Aaron does not utter a single word. I am irritated for him. … I feel suddenly that this time, someone must speak for Aaron, must say what he himself does not, cannot, say. “Wait, God,” I call out. “I OBJECT. This new duty may be what is needed for the people, but what about Aaron? What of his children, his sons, who will also be forced to be priests?” — Rachel Levin, quoted in Unscrolled, Roger Bennett, ed.

“Tzav” conveys in its essence the demand for zerizut [quickness, alacrity] -- forthwith, and forever. — Sifra on Tzav

Behold it is said (in I Samuel 15:22), “Does God delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience in God’s command? Surely, obedience is better than sacrifice, compliance than the fat of rams.” It says in [Talmud Menahot 110]: “All who occupy themselves in Torah have no need for the burnt offering, the meal offering, the sin offering, nor for the guilt offering.” And this is Scripture’s intention here: “Command Aaron and his sons thus” … that they shall say to the children of Israel: “This is the Torah of the burnt offering,” that is, the principle is in the Torah of the burnt offering. Better that they should learn the Torah of the burnt offering than that they bring a sacrificial offering. — Simcha Bunem of Przysucha

Questions for Discussion:

Levin depicts Aaron as staying silent in spite of misgivings of his and his sons’ role in the sacrificial cult. What might cause Aaron to feel this way? Is the idea of a resentful Aaron consistent with other passages in the Torah? If so, what? Is there any irony in the idea that Moses – who does not speak well – so eloquently resists God’s initial calls to leadership (and periodically challenges God’s rulings, especially those that threaten the Israelites), while Aaron – Moses’ spokesman! – is often depicted as silent or not saying enough?

Sifra responds to the grammatical form of the name of our portion (literally, the command form of the word “command”) to conclude that God’s demands of the priesthood are not only colored with devotion but also enthusiasm. How much does enthusiasm impact our daily tasks? What are the benefits of approaching our work with great energy? Are there any drawbacks to working with alacrity and quickness? If so, what?

Simcha Bunem of Przysucha claims that it is more important for the Israelites to learn the rules of the sacrificial offering than to necessarily bring the offerings themselves – otherwise, why bother teaching priestly details to a lay audience? Especially for Jews who are new to observance, it is difficult to understand the many rituals; it’s often easier to simply do them and learn about them as they go along. For which rituals is it essential for us to have a thorough understanding of what we are doing? Are there rituals where thorough understanding is it not as necessary?

Theme #2: Holy of Holies, Batman!

[The grain offering] shall not be baked with leaven; I have given it as their portion from My gifts; it is most holy, like the purification offering and the reparation offering. Only the males among Aaron’s descendants may eat of it, as their due for all time throughout the ages from the Lord’s gifts. Anything that touches these shall become holy. (Leviticus 6:10-11)

Perhaps the most famous passage in Leviticus is the exhortation of personal holiness in Chapter 19. As we see here, holiness also applies to sacrificial offerings and the people who administer them.

The sin offering and the guilt offering are brought for atonement of sin, which is called “holy of holies.” This is because a perfect tzaddik, who has never sinned at all, is “holy,” whereas one who sinned and turned in teshuvah (repentance) is the “holy of holies.” This is because, as we read in Sanhedrin 99a, “A perfect tzaddik is unable to stand in the same place as one who has turned in teshuvah.” — Kli Yakar

“Shall become holy” -- To become like it: so that if it is invalid, they will become invalid; and if it is valid, they shall be eaten with the stringencies of the meal offering. — Rashi

What lay behind their major radical innovation that the sancta are no longer contagious to persons? The texts are silent, but one sanctum provides the necessary clue — the altar. In ordaining that … “all that touches [the sancta] becomes sanctified” applies to objects but not persons, the priests had the altar chiefly in mind. They probably were deeply disturbed by the stream of murderers, thieves, and assorted criminals who flocked to the altar and resided on the sanctuary grounds on the basis of hoary, venerable traditions that the altar “sanctifies”; so they declared that those who entered the sacred precincts were no longer under divine protection. — Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16

Questions for Discussion:

Kli Yakar explains those who make mistakes and return to proper behavior experience the ultimate form of holiness as they made the choice to abandon improper choices and instead embrace a proper path. But those who have been on the straight and narrow all of their lives do not have that opportunity. Is this a fair treatment of those who have lived decently all of their lives? While this point of view is meant to encourage people to embrace teshuvah, is it too forgiving of those who make serious mistakes?

Rashi’s commentary on 6:11 tells us that the grain offering’s validity impacts the offering itself as well as anything that touches it – positively or negatively, thus making it more essential for the offering to be brought correctly. In what circumstances are we highly dependent on the positive or negative actions of others? What does this teach us about the importance of acting properly ourselves? Who is dependent on our behavior?

Milgrom refers to a shift in the priestly approach to questionable characters trying to “steal” some of the holiness of the altar; according to the theory, the priests made it known that the altar could not simply transfer holiness to just anyone. Still today that is a concern as there are people who attempt to take credit for the achievements of others. Is this unavoidable? What methods, if any, do we have at our disposal to assure credit is given where it is due?

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