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The theme of sacrifices continues from last week into Parashat Tzav. It relates various offerings: the burnt offering, meal offering, guilt offering and peace offering. It describes in detail how these sacrifices were carried out.

Another voice

Tzav by Hannah Kehat :: 5768

Hanah Kehat is the founder and first chairwoman of Kolech: The Religious Women's Forum and is actively involved in feminist initiatives in Israel. She lectures on education and Jewish Studies at various institutions, and has established study programs at Orot Israel College of Education and the Efrata College of Education. She finished her doctorate in Jewish Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Hanah Kehat has published many scholarly and popular articles as well as the book Mishnat Hanatziv.

Parashat Tzav opens with the commandment of the burnt offering - the Korban Olah. It is brought on the alter pyre and burned in the continual fire all night. The Torah emphasizes the commandment that the continual fire should not be extinguished three times. The burnt offering and the continual fire reflect the unique encounter between man and God, who has chosen to grant His presence amongst mortal beings. God is revealed in the fire, while the burnt offering represents man and his willingness and dedication to become closer and offer his life to God.

We find God represented in fire in Genesis: in the flaming torch in the covenant of the pieces (Genesis 15:17); in the non-consuming flame of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2); in the pillar of fire that led the camp in the desert (Exodus 13:21); in the revelation of His light to the world at Mt Sinai when He gave over His word by bringing it down in fire (Exodus 19:19) and when His holy presence (shechina) and a fire come forth from God and the nation praises Him and falls on its face (Leviticus 9:24). The burning of fire expresses the most spiritual foundation in the material existence, the holiness, the life source, the warmth, the illumination of the way of Truth and growth. Its absence signifies darkness, death and stagnation.

Fire also teaches the secret of reduction, the limits and limitations, the yielding to and distance from the unattainable holiness, which scalds us. This aspect is revealed at the burning bush: "...Do not come any closer. Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you are standing is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5) Similarly, at the Mt Sinai moment, God cautions Moshe: "Go down and warn the people lest they break through [the boundary] toward [the Presence of ] G-d in order to see; and many [of them] will die. Even the kohanim who [usually] come near to God's presence, must be sanctified lest God sends destruction among them."(Exodus 19:21-22) In an especially painful way, the danger of breaking through the holy boundary is revealed in the case of Aharon's sons: "... and they brought before God a strange fire, which He had not commanded them. A fire came forth before God and consumed them and they died in the presence of God." (Leviticus 10:1-2)

The burnt sacrifice also teaches us the limits of the enormous force of the will to become close to, and sacrifice oneself, before G-d. This notion appears for the first time in the Torah in the commandment to offer Yitzhak up as a sacrifice: "Sacrifice him as a burnt-offering." The wood that Avraham splits is called the "wood of the burnt offering" (Genesis 22: 2-3); Yitzhak seeks after the lamb for the burnt offering and in the end Avraham sacrifices the ram "as a burnt offering instead of his son."(Genesis 22:13) Avraham's early morning awakening and his intense activity reveals the extreme willingness to sacrifice his son who was everything to him. Indeed, before he had a son, Avraham said to God: "What will you give me since I continue to be childless." (Genesis 15:2) God has to restrain Avraham and teach him that his desire, which in the nations of the world takes expression in infanticide (Molech worship), requires clear borders and boundaries: "Do not touch the lad nor do anything to [harm] him." (22:12) The binding of Yitzhak (Akeidat Yitzhak) became a symbol for those Jews who offered themselves on the pyre for the sake of God during periods of decrees of destruction.

The ram, like the sheep, is the animal burnt offering that symbolizes man's great devotion in his search for closeness to God. The continual fire manifests the shechina and reminds us of God's closeness to us, but at the same time restrains our religious passions. And just like the sanctuary and all its details provides a perfectly detailed and exact way of getting close to God. This entails, on one hand, serving God with excitement and perseverance and, on the other recognizing the limits and dictates that turn this service of holiness into a service of God rather than gods.

For this very reason the orders to Aharon and his sons are carefully mediated through Moshe; they too are part of the temple and its service: And God spoke to Moshe saying: "Command Aharon and his sons saying: this is the law of the burnt offering. It is the burnt offering [which remains] on the pyre of the altar all night, until the morning, and the fire of the altar will be kept burning on it." (Leviticus 6:1-2) "The fire on the altar shall be kindled with it; it shall not go out... The kohen shall burn logs upon it each and every morning and arrange the burnt offering on it and burn upon it the fats of the peace offering. A continual fire shall be lit on the altar; it shall not go out." (ibid 5-6)

The references to Akeidat Yitzhak stand out in these verses: the early morning reminds us of Avraham waking up early in the morning; the sheep is like the ram; and the mention of the pyre and the Akeida all hint at the exalted idea of the continual fire of God within us and the continual sacrifice of the nation of Israel. These go hand in hand with the mutual delicateness and restraint expressed in these symbols. In the words of Rabbi Yehuda ibn Shmuel Abbas (12th Century, Morocco) in his great Rosh Hashanah liturgical poem: "Please remember me on the decisive day; the binder, the bound and the altar."


More by Hannah Kehat

Another voice by Lucinda Caplan

"This is the law of the chatas, in the place where the olah is slaughtered the chatas shall be slaughtered." Vayikra (6:18)

The chatas offering, which was brought for unintentional transgression of grevious sin, was brought in the same place as the olah offering which was brought for the relatively minor sin of sinful thoughts. This was done in order to prevent embarrassment of the person bringing the chatas offering. Protecting other people's feelings is a core Torah value.

A story is told in the Gemara in Ketubot (67b) where there was a poor person who was supported by Mar Ukva who would slip money under the poor person's door every day. The pauper wanted to know who was giving him the money so he decided to look out his door when the money was delivered. That day Mar Ukva was running late and it was dark so he decided to take his wife with him. When they got to the poor man's door they put the money under the door and the poor man tried to see who it was. Mar Ukva, knew that the poor man would be embarrassed to find out he had been receiving money directly from the great sage, so he and his wife ran and hid from the man. The only place to hide was in an oven. The coals had been removed but it was still hot. Mar Ukva and his wife preferred to be injured than embarrass the poor man. We can all think about how our speech and acts can easily embarrass people and how careful we should be with what we say and do.


More by Lucinda Caplan

Other Divrei Torah on Tzav

  • 5766 (Jonathan Boyd)
  • 5766 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5767 (Adam Frankenberg)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (Michael Wegier)
  • 5769 (Toby Axelrod)
  • 5770 (Hannah Kehat)
  • 5770 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5771 (Benji Stanley)
  • 5771 (Georgie Davis)
  • 5772 (Michael Wegier)
  • 5772 (Jo-Ann Myers)
  • 5773 (Melanie Kelly)
  • 5773 (Shelley Cohney)
  • 5774 (Ian Gamse)
  • 5775 (Adam Overlander-Kaye)
  • 5775 (Claude Vecht-Wolf)