Tzav

Tzav means 'Command'. It expresses a Command from G-d about the donation of offerings in the Sanctuary, relating to the general concept of giving Charity. But Tzav also has another meaning: 'Connect'. It expresses the idea that G-d's laws establish a connection between the individual and G-d.

Jewish mystical teaching makes the point that this connection cannot be taken for granted. G-d is Infinite, beyond all definitions and categories. In comparison with G-d the entire cosmos is smaller than a speck of dust; it is like nothing. And if the vast cosmos is itself like nothing in relation to G-d, what is the significance of a tiny, frail human man or woman?

Yet G-d gives Torah laws to frail human beings. The very fact that G-d has issued a command to the person imparts a sense of significance to that person's life. He or she is now related to G-d, bonded with Him by a Divine instruction.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that this connection is there even if the person does not actually fulfill the instruction. As the Sages put it, "even though he sinned, he is a Jew". The fact that the 613 Commands in the Torah are addressed to the individual gives that person a significant role and purpose. While Orthodoxy believes that this role is properly fulfilled by observance of the commands, the person who does not yet observe them has not lost his role in the system: he has a connection simply because he or she is a Jew.

When it comes to a command such as Charity, in which one has to give something away, we all need encouragement. The Sages tell us that this is the force of the word Tzav at the beginning of the Torah portion: to give us encouragement through the generations. The encouragement is the knowledge that through this command of the Torah we are truly connected with G-d.

Overview Parshat Tzav begins with God continuing to teach Moses many of the laws relating to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) service. However, while last week's Torah portion described the korbanot (offerings) from the perspective of the giver, this week the Torah focuses more directly on the attending Kohanim (priests), providing further details about their service. After first describing the maintenance of the fire which continuously burned on the altar, the Torah discusses in great detail the various kinds of korbanot which Aaron, his sons, and the succeeding generations of Kohanim would be offering in the Mishkan and ultimately the Temple. The korbanot must be brought with the proper intentions and eaten in a state of spiritual purity. Finally, Moses performs the detailed melu'im, consecration service of the Mishkan, and anoints and inaugurates Aaron and his sons for their service in the Mishkan, in front of the entire congregation of Israel.

THEME #1 – Heavenly Fire

There is a poetic connection between every aspect of the physical Sanctuary – the Mishkan and the inward sanctuary within the soul of the Jew.

In his Likkutei Torah (Devarim 78d) Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that the altar is the heart of the Jew. And corresponding to the two altars of the Sanctuary, the outer and the inner, are the outer and inner levels of the heart, its surface personality and its essential core.

The altar on which the continual fire was to be set was the outer one. And for the Jew this means that the fire of his love for God must be outward, open and revealed. It is not a private possession, to be cherished subconsciously. It must show in the face he sets towards the world.

The continual fire, which was man-made, was the preparation in the Sanctuary for the fire which our sages describe as descended from Heaven. On this the Talmud (Yoma 21b) says: "Although fire comes down from Heaven, it is a commandment also for man to bring fire." It was the awakening from below that brought an answering response from G-d. But it brought this response only when the fire was perfect, without defect.

This is made clear in this and next week's Parshiot. During the days when the Sanctuary was consecrated, it and its vessels were ready, Moses and Aaron were present, and sacrifices were being offered. But the Divine presence did not descend on it. A lingering trace of the sin of the Golden Calf remained. Only on the eighth day, when the continual fire was perfected, was the sin effaced, the "No" extinguished. "Fire came forth from before G-d" and "the glory of G-d appeared to all the people" (Leviticus 9:23-24; Rashi ibid.).

What was this fire from Heaven? Why did it require the perfection of the earthly fire?

The Lubbuvitcher Rebbe taught that -

Man is a created being. He is finite. And there are limits to what he can achieve on his own. His acts are bounded by time. To become eternal, something Divine must intervene.

This is why, during the seven days of consecration, the Sanctuary was continually being constructed and taken apart. As the work of man, it could not be lasting. But on the eighth day the Divine presence descended, and only then did it become permanent.

The seven days were a week, the measure of earthly time. The eighth was the day beyond human time, the number which signifies eternity. And hence it was the day of the heavenly fire, which was the response of an infinite G-d.

Every Jew constitutes a Sanctuary to G-d. And even if he studies Torah and fulfills the commandments, if the continual fire is missing, the Divine presence will not dwell within him. For his service is without life. And a trace of that distant sin of the Golden Calf may remain. The Jew must bring life, involvement, fire, to the three aspects of his religious existence: "Torah, service of G-d, and the practice of charity".

Theme #2 – Korbanot

One of the sacrifices discussed in the Parashah is the Mincha, or grain offering. This sacrifice, brought by the priests on a daily basis, as well as by other individuals on certain occasions, consisted of flour, olive oil, and frankincense. A handful of it was offered on the altar, and the remainder was eaten by the priests. Interestingly, the Torah tells us that the Mincha must be made "Kosher for Passover" "as a matzah (unleavened bread) it is to be eaten…it is not to be baked as leaven." This, in fact, is the rule for all but one of the various grain offerings in the Temple.

Why does God demand that grain offerings not be allowed to leaven? Why is the law prohibiting hametz (leavened bread), which seems to be specific to the Passover holiday, enforced all year long in the Temple?

Rabbi Shimon Felix, Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel teaches that:

The symbolism of refraining from eating leavened bread on Pesach seems to be fairly straightforward. When the Israelites left Egypt, they were forced to leave very quickly; the Egyptians were, understandably, totally freaked out by the Plague of the First-Born, and pressed the Jews to leave as speedily as possible. As a result of this need to rush, the Torah tells us that "they baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into matzot, for it had not fermented, for they had been driven out of Egypt, and were not able to linger…" On Passover, we eat matzah and refrain from eating hametz to commemorate this event.

There seem to be a number of messages here. The miraculous turnabout, wherein the Egyptians, who for so long had been so unwilling to free the Jewish slaves, but were now urging them to hurry out of Egypt, is apparently worth commemorating, as is the speed of God's salvation, which, after years of suffering in slavery, ultimately occurred quickly--"in the wink of an eye" in the Rabbinic phrase.

These lessons serve as a comfort and a beacon of hope to the oppressed and discriminated against, who may not be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel, but are reassured by the Exodus story of the possibility of an unexpected, speedy redemption. The eating of matzah and rejection of hametz would seem to be an attempt to identify with the experience of the Jews in their exodus from Egypt, and learn these lessons from it.

However, there seems to be more to the imagery of the matzah than just the speed of the exodus. Before the last plague, at the beginning of the month of Nissan, some two weeks before the exodus, God had already instructed Moses to tell the Jews to bake Matzot for Pesach, long before, and apparently unconnected to any rush to leave Egypt in a hurry.

Why We Eat Matzah?

There seems, therefore, to be another reason why we eat matzah and reject hametz on Pesach. The Rabbis have discussed the larger symbolism of hametz at length, and I would like to summarize some of their thinking.

Broadly speaking, leaven is seen as a symbol of surfeit, appetite, gluttony, and desire. The matzah on the other hand, is seen as not only the bread we ate because we were in a hurry to escape affliction, but also the bread of affliction itself, the bread of the destitute, which we ate as slaves in Egypt.

In this nexus of symbols, eating the matzah is a way of identifying with the poor, oppressed and downtrodden, and of rejecting the excess and luxury of the oppressor--imperial Egypt with all of its decadence and excess. A sinful, oppressive, inhuman Egypt, which enslaves and murders strangers in order to build itself magnificent monuments, is what we reject by shunning the richer leavened bread and eating simple matzah on Passover.

With this in mind, we can see the insistence on only serving matzah in the Temple, all year round, as an attempt to make the Passover revolution against imperial Egypt an ongoing one. By prohibiting the baking and eating of leaven in the Temple, the Torah is turning the revolution of Passover, in which the oppressors were punished and the oppressed were freed, into an ongoing, permanent value in Jewish life.

Just as, when we sit around the Passover Seder table, celebrating, we are commanded to eat the bread of affliction and thereby, even as we celebrate our own freedom and autonomy, identify with the downtrodden and enslaved, so too, in our Temple, which represents national strength, autonomy and independence, we are forced to reject the hametz of the rich and oppressive, and eat matzah, the bread of the oppressed and the poor. This acts as an antidote, a corrective, to the kinds of feelings which could easily be engendered around the Passover table or in the Temple; feelings of self-satisfaction and self-congratulation, of power and possession, which we must reject, or at least temper.

By eating matzah and refraining from hametz, we embrace, both at the Pesach Seder that celebrates our birth as a nation, and in the Temple, our national religious center, solidarity with the oppressed, the poor, and the enslaved. This is the symbolism of the mincha, the Kosher for Passover grain offering offered daily in the Temple.

GRATITUDE – Another offering that was brought to the mishkan was "The Korbon Todah"  or "Thanksgiving Offering". It was brought by someone to express gratitude to God from saving him from a perilous situation. This included four categories: those who traveled overseas, those who traveled through the wilderness, those who were released from prison and those who were healed from a serious illness. This korbon demonstrates the appreciation one felt to God for his role in helping to overcome the specific obstacle. This “Korbon Todah”, was offered  by bringing 40 loaves of bread  along with the sacrificial animal. The 40 loaves included -30 unleavened (matzah) and 10 leavened. By bringing the loaves as part of his offering, the person is declaring to God:

"I exult in my life and strength that you so kindly restored to me, and henceforth, I pledge to sanctify them in Your service."

A portion of the bread and the meat went to the Kohanim, with the rest for the beneficiary to eat . Interestingly, unlike other offerings in which the meat could be eaten for an additional day, with the Thanksgiving offering  both meat and bread could only be consumed on the day the animal was slaughtered, or on the following night.(at most a 24 hour period). Because this thanksgiving offering had much more food to be eaten and less time allotted to eat, it encouraged one to invite groups of friends and possibly even strangers to join him. Thus, the special laws of the korban Todah created a situation so that this thankful event could be publicized for all to hear about.  As we can see these laws take into consideration the social nature of man and his need to discuss and share his experiences with others.

Today, without our Holy Temple, This ritual is still done in an abbreviated fashion during the time of the Torah reading service in the synagogue. It is now called "Birkat ha Gomel." Traditionally, one makes this bracha if one has survived childbirth, recovered from illness, arrived safely from a journey, or escaped unharmed from an accident. And as human nature dictates, and just as in the time of the Temple, many ask one who has recited Birkat HaGomel why it was recited. Thereby publicizing this miracle that God had performed for him.

Theme 3 - MELU’IM – Consecration – the very detailed ceremony presided by Moses to induct Aaron and his sons into the Kohanim service.

The Torah prescribes isolation at the end of Parashat Tzav. As the long-awaited consecration of the Tabernacle draws near, God dictates the final instructions for Aaron and his sons:

"You shall not go outside the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the day that your period of ordination is completed…You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, keeping God's charge--that you may not die--for so I have been commanded. And Aaron and his sons did all the things that God had commanded through Moses."

The day job of the priests becomes an all-encompassing 24-hour affair, and Aaron and his sons begin a week of singular attention to their roles in the dedication of the Tabernacle. It is not surprising that this task demands complete focus--the Tabernacle is thus far uncharted territory and the stakes are high. The priests cannot afford any distractions.

Despite the separation God commands, we are confronted by a striking irony. God clearly specifies the benefit of the imposed isolation in the Tabernacle for seven days--"that you may not die." Aaron and his sons faithfully adhere to the prescribed isolation. And yet just over a chapter later--at the pinnacle of the consecration--two of Aaron's four sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer a "strange fire," one that they were not commanded to offer. Their punishment for this transgression is death, and they are consumed by Divine flame. We will study this puzzling and tragic phenomenon next week.

Connection to our Lives

This week’s parsha is a good example of the limitations that come when we don’t encounter the Torah in its original Hebrew. The rituals described in Tzav only appear relevant when we encounter some of the key vocabulary in Hebrew rather than English.

Everett Fox says that the central theme of the book of Exodus is the question “is God in our midst or not?” He sees the building of the Mishkan as an attempt to ensure the presence of God. All of the ritual activities, says Fox, including the building of the Mishkan, the clothing worn by the priests, and the sacrifices offered, were attempts to bring the people close to God. By reading the English translation only, the effort of facilitating and maintaining closeness to God might be missed completely.

This parsha’s name, Tzav, shares its linguistic root with the word mitzvah. A common root, appearing in the Torah about 300 times, tzav is the imperative form of the word usually translated as “command.” Mitzvah, is usually understood as “commandment.” However, another translation of these words may reveal a more central meaning of Jewish spiritual practice, both in Biblical times and today.

The Aramaic word tzavta, with the same root, means, “connection” as well as “to attach” or “to join,” and “companionship” or “personal attachment.” When the two understandings of the words, built on the root tzav, “command” and “connect,” are in dialogue, they provide insight into both the mitzvot and the kavanah/intention of their practice. They give us both instructions for and an understanding of the purpose of ritual: A mitzvah becomes an opportunity to create a way, through specific ritual action, for connection to God.