Parashat Tzav

Lost & Found: From Obsolete Ritual to Personal Responsibility

The complex rules of thanksgiving offering ensured that it enabled the public participation of the broader community in thanking God.

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Provided by the Union of Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

The five sacrifices that the priests are to perform are described. (Leviticus 6:1-7:38)

  • Limitations on the consumption of meat are delineated. (Leviticus 7:17-27)

  • Details about the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests and the preparation of the Tabernacle as a holy place are given. (Leviticus 8:1-36)

Focal Point

Adonai spoke to Moses, saying, Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering. The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: Every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being. A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out. (Leviticus 6:1-6)

Your Guide

The previous portion, Vayikra, begins with the words "Speak to the Children of Israel," while Tzav begins with "Command Aaron." Why the difference in tone? In other words, why are priests "commanded" but laypeople are simply "told"?

Why was the olah, the burnt sacrifice, offered in its entirety?

What purpose did the olah sacrifice serve?

Has some aspect of contemporary Judaism replaced the olah as a means of spiritual surrender?

What do we learn from the words "all night until morning"?

Why do the ashes need to be removed daily from the mizbei-ach [altar]?

Why is the need for a fire burning repeatedly emphasized? That is, why is the admonition that the fire on the mizbei-ach not go out repeated?

By the Way…

"Command Aaron and his sons" can only mean "Urge Aaron and his sons," according to Rashi. If there is only "command," one needs extra urging. When the Holy Blessed One commands something, the yetzer [the evil impulse] steps in so that one will not fulfill it. This is the reason our Sages said (Tractate Kiddushin 31), "One who is commanded to do something and then performs it is greater than one who is not commanded yet does it. One who is not commanded does not face the yetzer as much." (Rabbi Heschel of Krakow on Leviticus 6:2)

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Rabbi Robert S. Leib

Rabbi Robert S. Leib is the spiritual leader of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am, Abington, PA.