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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT TZAV
March 22, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Lev. 6:1 - 8:36 (Hertz, p. 429; Etz Hayim, p. 613)
Triennial Cycle II: Lev. 7:11 - 7:38 (Hertz, p. 432; Etz Hayim, p. 617)
Maftir: Numbers 19:1 - 22 (Hertz, p. 652; Etz Hayim, p. 880)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16 - 38 (Hertz, p. 999; Etz Hayim, p. 1286

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(6:1-16) Instructions concerning the Olah (burnt offering), the perpetual fire on the altar, and the Minhah (meal-offering); the specific meal-offering brought by Aaron and his descendants.

(6:17-7:10) Instructions concerning the Hattat (sin-offering) and Asham (guilt-offering).

(7:11-21) The Sh'lamim sacrifice. There are three kinds: thanksgiving, in fulfillment of a vow, and as af ree-will offering.

(7:22-38) The prohibition of eating chelev, the consecrated fat covering the animal's internal organs, and blood. The portions of the sh'lamim that go to the kohanim.

(8:1-5) God commands Moses to take Aaron and his sons and assemble the people for the initiation ceremony into the priesthood.

(8:6-21) The priests perform a ritual purification and Aaron is dressed in his holy garments. The Tabernacle is anointed, and then Aaron. Aaron's sons are garbed. Then come a series of sacrifices as part of the consecration and purification of the Tabernacle.

(8:22-36) The actual ordination ceremonies, lasting seven days.

Discussion Theme: Birkat Ha-gomel – The Survival Blessing

“This is the ritual of the peace-offering (well-being) sacrifice that one may offer to the Lord: If he offers it for thanksgiving, he shall offer together with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes with oil mixed in, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour with oil mixed in, well soaked. This offering, with cakes of leavened bread added, he shall offer along with his thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being.” (Lev. 7:11-7:13)

Commentary:

  1. Four categories of people are required to offer thanks (birkat ha-gomel) to God: 1) those that survived a desert or another potentially hazardous journey, 2) dangerous imprisonment, 3) serious illness, or 4) a sea voyage. From where in the Bible do we know that one who has recovered from serious illness must thank God? In Psalms 107:17-22, it is written: “There were fools who suffered for their sinful way, and for their iniquities. All food was loathsome to them; they reach the gates of death. In their adversity they cried to the Lord and He saved them from their troubles. He gave an order and healed them; He delivered them from the pits of death. Let them praise the Lord for His steadfast love, His wondrous deeds for mankind. Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell His deeds in joyful song…”And he must utter his thanksgiving in the presence of ten, as it is written, “Let them exalt Him in the assembly of the people” - (Psalms 107:32). (Talmud Berachot 54b)
  2. What is the blessing that one is required to recite? “Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe who graciously bestows favor upon the undeserving, even as He has bestowed favor on me.” The congregation responds “Amen” and says “May God who has been gracious to you continue to favor you will all that is good.” (Siddur Sim Shalom p. 402, Shulchan Aruch 219:2)
  3. One must recite this blessing in the presence of ten people (including the one reciting the blessing), two of which must be rabbis…but if rabbis are not present, one is not prevented from reciting the blessing. And the custom is to recite the blessing after reading the Torah because one is assured that ten people are present. And if one recited the blessing when less than ten are present, some authorities permit this and others do not. It is best in such a situation to go back and bless in the presence of ten people but omit God’s name and kingship (only say “Baruch Ata Hagomel…”). If someone else, in the presence of ten people, recited a blessing on behalf of the person rescued and said “Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe who has been gracious to you” and the person rescued responded Amen, then the latter person has fulfilled his/her responsibility of thanking God. And similarly, if the other person said in another language, instead of Hebrew, or some variant of the traditional Hebrew formulation, “Blessed is the Compassionate One, the Ruler of the universe, who has given you to us and not to dust” and the rescued one responds Amen, then the latter has fulfilled his/her responsibility of thanking God. (Shulchan Aruch 219:3-4)
  4. If a man recites a blessing for his wife, for example, who just delivered a baby, and she is not present, he says: “Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe who has been gracious to my wife” (she’gamal l’ishti kol tov). And if one recites a blessing on behalf of one’s parent at a time when the latter is not present, one says: “Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe who has been gracious to my father/mother/teacher” (she’gamal l’avi/imi/rabi kol tov). One recites a blessing including God’s name and kingship (Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam) on behalf of someone else only if one genuinely feels close to that person (as opposed to doing so just for the sake of peace); if one recites the blessing not on behalf of a friend or relative, one omits God’s name and kingship (Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam). (Mishnah Berurah Footnote 17-18 on 219:4)
  5. If one recites Gomelon behalf of himself and on behalf of others, the other people have fulfilled their responsibility even if they do not respond “Amen” (provided they intended to be included in the blessing). If one delayed in reciting this blessing, one can do so at any time subsequently.It is best not to wait, however, more than three days (Mishneh Berurah footnote 20: even if the only way to recite the blessing would be to do so without a Torah scroll, one should do so within the three days because one’s recovery or rescue, within three days, is still connected with the specific serious illness or event). (Shulchan Aruch 219:6)
  6. Why was an offering of bread added to the offering of thanksgiving? In order that the donor might be able to share this, the tangible demonstration of his gratitude to God, with as many of his friends and neighbors as possible. (K’li Yakar on Lev. 7:11)

Sparks for Reflection/Discussion

The institution of the thanksgiving offering forms the basis for the requirement to offer words of gratitude to God after rescue from times of trouble. Interestingly, expressions of gratitude are meant to be communal. According to the K’li Yakar, the one who brought the sacrifice shared the meal with the community. According to Psalm 30, which conveys the picture of a worshiper who gives thanks to God for recovery from a deadly illness, the psalmist presupposes the presence of an assembled congregation.

Likewise, “Birkat Ha-gomel”, which we recite when we have recovered from a serious illness or escaped a dangerous accident, is also to take place in the presence of an assembled congregation. Why do we take this private event and integrate it into the life of the community?

We offer private prayers, but why is it so important that there is a public component as well?


 
 
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