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Parashat Tzav - Shabbat Hagadol
March 28, 2015 – 8 Nisan 5775

Annual (Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36): Etz Hayim p. 613; Hertz p. 429
Triennial (Leviticus 7:11 – 7:38): Etz Hayim p. 617; Hertz p. 432
Haftarah (Malakhi 3:4 – 24): Etz Hayim p. 1296; Hertz p. 1005

 Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, SC


Whereas the previous Torah portion describes the main sacrifices, Tzav explains the ceremonies thereof. We learn that even the High Priest would bring a grain offering. And we learn that the Israelites had already offered sacrifices while in the wilderness of Sinai, so these instructions are especially significant.

The Israelites are gathered as the consecration of the Tabernacle and priests commences. Aaron is dressed in priestly vestments, then 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: Before Sunrise

The flesh of his thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being shall be eaten on the day that it is offered; none of it shall be set aside until morning. (Leviticus 7:15)

Leftovers might be a standard feature in today's kitchens, but in the Temple, our ancestors were expected to clean their plates.

Wherever the sages say “until midnight”, the precept may be performed until the dawn comes up. The precept of burning the fat and the [sacrificial] pieces, too, may be performed until the dawn comes up. Similarly, all [the offerings] that are to be eaten within one day may lawfully be consumed until the coming up of the dawn. Why then did the sages say “until midnight”? In order to keep a man far from transgression. – Mishnah Berakhot 1:1

The fact that it is addressed to the offerer and not to the priests means that the offerer himself is responsible for seeing to it that the sacrificial meat does not remain beyond the following morning. This can only mean that the offerer ate (and probably cooked) the meat outside the sanctuary. -- Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16

There are many inclusions here, to include the sin-offering, and the guilt-offering, and the ram of the nazir, and the festival-offering of the 14th [of Nisan], that they should be eaten for a day and a night. -- Rashi on 7:15

Questions for Discussion:

The first Mishnah of Berakhot -- also the first section of the entire Mishnah -- mentions that some commandments are to be completed by dawn, even if the text sometimes says that it should be completed by midnight of the day before. Is it helpful to sometimes set early deadlines so that we are less likely to procrastinate? Or do such deadlines only temporarily stop us from putting off important tasks?

Milgrom's analysis indicates that the ancient Israelites bore a great deal of responsibility over some of their sacrifices; it was not always as simple as bringing an animal or crop to a priest and letting the priest take care of the offering completely. Why would the Israelites be given this responsibility when the priests were specifically trained in matters of the offerings? Might this give the Israelites more of a sense of ownership over their offering? Why is it so important for a congregation to give its members a sense of ownership over their community?

Rashi teaches that there are numerous offerings with a similar deadline for consumption. Why is such a deadline essential? What would be wrong if some of the offering was left over the next morning? Was this a matter of sanitation, or is it best to make sure that we don't let the emotions we attach to one sacrifice – or situation – to linger too long? What happens when we focus for too long on a single activity or a particular topic of conversation? Do they get stale, much like a sacrifice left out for too long?

Theme #2: Self-Service

Speak to the Israelite people thus: The offering to the Lord from a sacrifice of well-being must be presented by him who offers his sacrifice of well-being to the Lord: his own hands shall present the Lord's gifts... (Leviticus 7:29-30)

Here is a striking example of a layperson's full participation in the most sacred of ancient rituals.

The laws in these verses stress the significance of the zevach offering as a meal. The thought conveyed here is this: He who would bring near to God the meal that symbolizes the peace he enjoys must bring his offering from that meal -- i.e., he must make God a partner, as it were, to his meal. His enjoyment of the peace that has been given him must not only be free of selfishness (in the negative) but must also further God’s purposes (in the positive). -- Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

In contrast to the “most sacred offerings” discussed in 6:1-7:10, at which only priests officiated, the presentation of the shelamim sacrifices was to involve ordinary Israelites as well. Since nonpriests could not actually place sacrifices on the altar -- access to the adjacent area was banned to them -- the rite of tenufah, “presentation,” was employed to afford them some measure of participation in sacrifices of lesser sanctity. (Although Israelites normally laid their hand on sacrifices that they offered, as is stipulated in 1:4, this was merely a preliminary assignment of the victim, not part of the sacrificial presentation itself.) -- The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus, commentary by Baruch Levine

Religion does not require that the priests … should live in luxury and feast sumptuously. The proper support of the ministry, however, is a matter of obligation for the faithful. -- Interpreter’s Bible, Volume II

Questions for Discussion:

Rabbi Hirsch tells us that the process of consuming the zevach offering resembles sharing a meal with God. If we were given a chance to eat a meal with God, what would we say? What would we ask? Would we refrain from asking so many questions in the hopes that God would take time to listen to our thoughts?

Levine mentions that even though the Israelites are allowed to participate in the sacrificial system to an extent, the priests still have the main responsibility. How might have the typical ancient Israelites seen the priests? Would they have treated the priests with awe? With an ordinary level of respect? With jealousy and contempt? How are the rules outlined in our Torah portion meant to combat any negative feelings?

The Interpreter's Bible reminds us that the priests are expected to live simply, mainly supported by ordinary citizens. While this is a lofty ideal, it does not take into account the notion that power, at least sometimes, corrupts. In what ways might have the ancient priests been susceptible to the temptation to take even more power for themselves? Are the rules of our portion intended to combat such temptations?

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