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Torah Sparks

March 31, 2007 – 12 Nisan 5767

Annual: Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36 (Etz Hayim, p. 613; Hertz p. 429)
Triennial: Leviticus 8:1 – 8:36 (Etz Hayim, p. 621; Hertz p. 435)
Haftarah: Malakhi 3:4 – 24; 3:23 (Etz Hayim, p.1296; Hertz p. 1005)

Prepared by Rabbi Avram Kogen

Summary of the Parashah

Parashat Tzav assumes that the reader fully understands and agrees with the rationale for the sacrifices (a great stretch for some of us in 5767 / 2007), and proceeds directly to the specifics of how to offer up the various kinds of sacrifices.

The olah is an animal sacrifice to be consumed by flame. Symbolically speaking, it ascends to heaven as it burns throughout the night. The ashes that remain are removed by a kohen the next morning.

The minhah is a grain-offering enhanced by fragrant spices. A portion of it is burned and a portion given to the kohanim; it is made into unleavened cakes and the kohamin eat it inside their own sacred space.

The hattat is a purification offering; its underlying details were discussed in last week’s parashah. The kohanim eat some of it inside their own sacred space and some of it is burned. The burned part is considered to be a gift to heaven.

The asham, a reparation sacrifice, is offered in the same way as the hattat.

The sh’lamim sacrifice is divided into three parts. One portion is burned as a gift to heaven, another is given to a kohen, and the third is eaten by the Israelite sponsoring the sacrifice. Some have suggested that this is the source of the name sh’lamim: this sacrifice makes shalom – peace – between these three groups by giving a share to each.

With these categories demarcated, the time has come to initiate the sacrificial system. Aaron and his sons are secluded for seven days of purification. They are anointed with oil, as is the mishkan – the portable sanctuary – and its vessels. Moses carries out the details of the sacrifices personally during this week, and then he ordains Aaron and his sons to carry them on.

Issue #1: Hametz

The Shabbat before Passover is known as Shabbat HaGadol. At this time of year, much of our thought and action as we prepare for the holiday revolves around removing hametz from our homes. Interestingly enough, there were parts of the mishkan, and later of the Temple, that were hametz-free zones throughout the year. Leavened food was not to be burned upon the altar (Leviticus 2:11, 6:10, and 7:13).

In a remarkable passage in the Talmud (B’rakhot 17a), Rabbi Alexandri is said to have concluded his own prayers with the words:

Master of the universe, it is abundantly clear before You that it is our desire to carry out Your will. And what holds us back? The leavening in the dough and our subjugation by stronger nations. May it be Your will to save us from their hands, that we may devote ourselves to fulfill Your desired ordinances wholeheartedly.

Most Jews today live in places where subjugation by stronger nations does not affect our ability to do the right thing. This leaves only “the leavening in the dough.”

The phrase “the leavening in the dough” is a puzzling one. The consensus is that this is a reference to the evil inclination that occasionally asserts itself within human behavior. While fermentation can add quality to some products, it often ruins others. What is it about the evil inclination that might cause someone to compare it to fermenting dough? Is there a relationship between the process of leavening and what is often called “being full of hot air”? Are there ways in which we can rid ourselves of some of this spiritual leavening of the dough as Passover approaches?

Issue #2: Focus on Aaron

Much of the Torah describes Moses’ life and his leadership qualities. Aaron, who also played a significant role, spends most of his time in the background. Since Aaron and his sons are installed in the priesthood in our parashah, it may be appropriate for us to review some key themes in Aaron’s life.

  1. Mouthpiece of Moses (Exodus 4:14-16)
  2. Initiated several of the Ten Plagues
  3. Supported Moses in battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:11-12)
  4. Role in the golden calf incident (Exodus 32)
  5. Installed as Kohen Gadol (high priest)
  6. Lost two sons (Leviticus 10:1-7)
  7. Consecrated the Levites (Numbers 8:5-22)
  8. Prohibited from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12-13)

In what ways was Aaron an above-average leader?

In what ways did his leadership leave room for improvement?

Was he called upon to be more versatile than we can reasonably expect one person to be?

Many post-biblical sources view Aaron in a highly positive light. Consider the following mishnah:

Hillel taught: Be a disciple of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and attracting them to the study of Torah. (Avot 1:12)

Obviously, these dimensions of Aaron’s personality are not always evident in the biblical text. Which of the themes noted above might be used to explain the rabbis’ view of Aaron as described in Pirke Avot? Do we see ourselves in similar kinds of situations, where our personal priorities sometimes are overshadowed byevents that swirl around us? How might we enable those things that are important to us to occupy center stage in our lives?

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