A Look at Parashat Tzav

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

פרשת צו

ויקרא Leviticus 6:1 to 8:36

The Shabbat before Passover is called “Shabbat HaGadol” ( שבת הגדול- The Great Sabbath). Aside from Hebrew leap years, Shabbat HaGadol falls on the shabbat when Parashat Tzav is read. In this event, (by tradition, not halacha), the regular Haftorah reading (from Jerimiah) is replaced with a passage from Malachi: “I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.” It is traditional that a cup of wine is set aside for Elijah at the seder table.

In this week’s parashah, the voluntary and mandatory sacrifices are reviewed. The previous section deals with the laws and instructions for the priests.

Chapter 6 – The Sacrifices in Greater Detail

The three voluntary sacrifices (עולה Olah  – Burnt offering, מנחה Minchah – Meal offering, and  חטאת Chatat – Sin offering) as defined in the previous parashah are now treated in greater technical detail. In Parashat Veyikra, Gd instructed Moses what to tell (דבר) the people. Here Gd again speaks to Moses, but tells him what to command (צו) Arron and his sons (the Priests) to perform. Why command? Possibly as the tasks relating to the sacrifices require meticulous attention to detail, with no leeway for deviation and may cause sever consequences (as Nadav and Avihu will soon find out!).

Note 6:3 to 6:4 – Why do the Priests dress up anew to take out the trash (the burnt offerings)? The priests have to perform this lowly task themselves and not delegate to subordinates. Was this a lesson in humility, so that their exalted statuses would not go to their heads?

Note 6:6 – “Perpetual fire burning on the altar (אש תמיד תוקד על המזבח)” from this we derive the custom of the eternal light (נר תמיד) in front of the ark. In actuality, there is no halachic source to this custom.

Note 6:2 – Why does an earthen vessel that held meat for the sacrifice need to be broken? We get the basic rule for contemporary koshering. Porous vessels irretrievable absorb the non-kosher elements and become impure. Non-porous vessels (metal or glassware) can be washed or purged of their non-kosher particles. Same rules for dairy, for meat, and for koshering for Passover (purging of chometz).

Chapter 7 – The Obligatory Sacrifices

Here we go into greater technical detail of the obligatory sacrifices for expiation of sins (guilt offerings – האשם). This procedure offers a healing of sorts. The sin is openly admitted, a sacrificial lamb is offered and consumed, and the sinner is absolved.

Prohibition against eating fat of animals used for sacrifice or animals that die or were torn by beasts. Later, we shall learn that this prohibition extends also to the meat of animals that die or were torn by beasts. Fat from kosher game animals is permitted. In the context of this paragraph, it is generally taken to mean coarse fatty tissue, not the fat between strands of meat.

Note 7:6 – Only males of the priestly line (not only the presiding priest) may eat of the guilt offering, and only within the sacred precinct and within the specified time frame.

The Thanksgiving Sacrifice

Note 7:12 – The Thanksgiving Sacrifice, (קרבן תודה) is a voluntary, not an obligatory sacrifice. According to Rashi, the Thanksgiving Offering is given by one who either returns from a sea voyage (very hazardous undertaking in those days), returns from a perilous trip through the wilderness, recovered from a serious illness, or was released from prison. Instructions call for three types of unleavened bread and one of leavened bread. It shall be offered with the sacrifice of well-being (see below).

This is the only sacrifice that requires leavened bread be sacrificed along with unleavened bread. All other grain offering sacrifices must be only unleavened. Why is that? One interpretation is that leavened bread represents wholeness, expressing gratitude for completion or fulfillment. Unleavened bread represents humility or incompleteness. Unlike the obligatory sacrifices, this sacrifice must be consumed the same day that it was offered. Some commentators, including Abarbanel have conjectured that since the sacrifice must be consumed on the same day, this encourages the individual to invite family, friends, or neighbors to share in his good fortune and to also give thanks to Gd.

Note 7:29 – Sacrifice of well-being (זבח שלמים), an offering of gratitude. It must be presented to Gd by the offeror himself, not by the priests. The sacrifice consists of fat to be burned on the altar, and both the breast and right thigh meat are to be presented to the priests. Prior to that, the breasts shall be waved before Gd (wave offering – להניף אתו תנופה לפניה’).

Chapter 8 – Consecration of the Tabernace and Initial Sacrifices

Assembling the entire people (כל העדה) or only their leaders (text not clear, subject to interpretation) before the Tent of Meeting. Under G-d’s direction, Moses dresses Aaron and his sons in the priestly garb, with all the accessories. Moses then proceeds with the consecration of the Tabernacle and initial sacrificial offerings. Aaron and his sons carried out their priestly duties as instructed (Spoiler alert – this will not end well. Stay tuned for next week’s portion!).

It is interesting to note that the consecration ceremonies were done in front of the entire people. Was this to demonstrate that transparency is called for and to minimize the chances of corruption by the priests through the generations?



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