Parashat Tzav

Rabbi Shelton Donnell & Esther Edelsburg

Parashat Tzav adds details to the various sacrifices described in the previous portion, Vayikra – the Olah, the Minha, the offering of Aaron and his sons, the sin and guilt offerings, and the Well-being offerings. Each sacrifice had its specific objective and function pertaining specifically to it, but the goal of all the sacrifices was to draw the Israelites closer to their Creator.  In Vayikra, the sacrifices were mentioned in relation to a person’s conduct, “When a person offers a sacrifice…”, “When someone commits a sin…”, “When a nasi [prince or noble] commits a sin…” and so forth.  In contrast, here in Tzav before each category of sacrifice it states, “This is the law of…” (Zot Torat ha–) – “This is the law of the Olah…the Minha…the Sin offering…the Guilt offering…the Well-being offering, etc.”  For the modern commentator Yeshayahu Leibowitz the use of the term “law” (Torah) suggests that the significance of the sacrifice was not the sacrifice per se, but that the act itself was a kind of expression of Torah as divine service of God.  The sages explained this in a similar vein in the Midrash on Leviticus 7:37 (Yalkut Shimoni, Tzav, 309) “Reish Lakish said, ‘What does the verse This is the law [Torah] of the Olah mean?  It means that everyone who is occupied with Torah is credited as if they had offered an Olah, a Minha, a Sin offering or a Guilt offering.’  …Rabba said, ‘Everyone who is occupied with the Torah does not need to offer the Olah, the Minha, the Sin offering or the Guilt offering.’”

Regarding the altar upon which the sacrifices were burnt it was stated, “The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood onto 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” (Lev. 6:5-6).

Rabbi Moshe Alsheikh (the author of Torat Moshe, 16th century) commented, “Within every Jew there is a spark of divine fire that is constantly flickering but that never completely goes out.  The leader of each generation, whether that be the priest, the prophet or the preacher has only to ignite that spark with fiery words each and every day to call up and arouse the Jew to uphold the Mitzvot – those between the individual Jew and God – that symbolize the Olah offering and are completely devoted to that which is above; and those between the individual and others and symbolize the offerings of Well-being [from the root ש.ל.מ.] because they bring shalom among people.  If these priests can do this, then they will ignite those sparks in the hearts of their fellow Jews and they can be assured that the fire that God decreed should burn constantly on the altar will never go out.”

  1. Throughout the generations commentators have explained the verse, “The burnt offering itself shall remain on the altar all night until morning…” (Lev. 6:2), as an image of Israel during the night of exile, on the other hand, Rabbi Alsheikh interprets the image allegorically in a very different way.  Which interpretation appeals to you and why?
  2. What means help us to keep God’s fire burning within us?
  3. The Midrash speaks of being occupied with Torah, are there various ways “to be occupied with Torah”?  If so, what are some of the alternatives?


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