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Parashat Tzav 5778 — 03/24/2018

Parashat Tzav 5778 — 03/24/2018

Vayikra 6:1-8:36
Parashat Tzav considers the offerings less from the point of view of the person bringing them, and more from the point of view of the Kohanim offering them. It also contains various rules that were specific to the Kohanim. For example, every Kohen was required to bring a special baked-flour offering on the first day he served in the Temple. This offering was completely burned, as opposed to a non-Kohen‘s offering, which was mostly eaten by the Kohanim, after a small portion was burnt on the Altar. The Kohen Gadol / High Priest brought this offering every single
day, beginning with his investiture as Kohen Gadol.

What is the significance of this offering? Abarbanel gives 10 reasons for it. Among them are:

  • The fact that the Kohen Gadol brings this offering every day as an atonement indicates
    to the rest of the nation that they should reflect on their own behavior and seek
    appropriate atonement, and of course, strive to improve that behavior.
  • The offering of the Kohen Gadol was the least expensive offering possible, so the poor
    should not be embarrassed by their meager flour offerings.
  • Bringing the minimum quantity also impresses on the Kohen Gadol that he is not to get
    haughty from his exalted position in the community.

One of the common themes in this discussion is that the Kohen Gadol has to learn humility. The trick here is that the Kohen Gadol is in a very high position of leadership in the community, he serves in a set of special, magnificent garments, he is wealthy (if he isn’t wealthy when he is appointed Kohen Gadol, his fellow Kohanim are required to donate their own funds to make him wealthy!) and Torah compares him to a king – as the king is the political leader of the nation, so the Kohen Gadol is the spiritual leader of the nation. And just as the king is enjoined to be humble (So that his heart does not become haughty over his brothers and so that he will not turn away from the commandments, either to the right or to the left… – Devarim 17:20), so is the Kohen Gadol. I might point out that it is no trick for a poor person to be humble. It may be the poor person’s challenge to increase his self-esteem. The Kohen Gadol on the other hand is surrounded by people telling him how great he is – he is the one who must take to heart the requirement to be humble, and not take his press releases (or his tweets) too seriously.

What is humility? Humility must not be confused with meekness or lack of self-worth. Moshe Rabbeinu was described as the most humble man on the face of the earth (Bamidbar 12:3).  Surely, Moshe, who brought the world’s superpower to its knees, knew his own worth. He had been selected by Gd to lead the Exodus and to give the Torah to Israel. He, alone of all the prophets in Israel, before or since, spoke with Gd face-to-face. He certainly knew his own worth.  He also knew Gd face-to-face, and therefore knew what his, or any other human being’s worth is next to Gd’s – in a word, bupkis.  It is only those who are far from Gd, who compare their finite selves to other finite selves that grow haughty. When one contemplates the grandeur of Gd and the finitude of his own limited life, then it is impossible to feel anything other than humble.  Anyone who has been in the presence of a truly great person knows this feeling. Anyone who has watched a loved one pass away and realized Who is in charge of the world knows this feeling.  And the greater we are, the more we realize that our accomplishments are but a small drop in the vast stream of cosmic life. As a wise man once said, “The tree that bears the most fruit is the one that bows its head lowest to the ground.”

In line with our discussion of the last few parshiyot, I’d like to take a slightly different angle on this particular offering. We have described how the Zohar describes the Torah as the blueprint of creation, and we have argued, from a similarity to the unified field of modern physics, that what the Zohar is telling us is that the Torah is a record, in the sounds of human speech, of the most fundamental vibrations of creation. The structures of the Hebrew language therefore are the structure of creation. We went further and suggested that the structure of the Mishkan, and later the Beit haMikdash / Temple, and its appurtenances, also mirror this basic structure, as do the priestly garments, as well as the actual sacrificial rituals. All mirror the basic structure of creation, and we posited that by viewing or participating in the activities surrounding the Mishkan / Beit haMikdash a kind of resonance is created in the physiology of the viewer / participant that brings his or her physiology in tune with these various basic impulses of creation.

In parashat Tzav we deal with the Kohanim‘s own offerings. Just extending the reasoning of the previous parshiyot slightly, here I would like to suggest that the offering of this particular minchah had a specific physiological effect on the kohen that offered it, changes that make him suited to perform the Temple service. The purpose of this offering, according to the Torah, is to prepare the Kohen for his service – he brings it on the first day he serves. Now his very being in the Mishkan or Beit haMikdash served to purify and refine him, and his serving there and having a more intimate part of the recreation of the basic structure of the universe than the average Israelite, who visited Jerusalem but a few times a year, served to raise his status to the higher level of holiness that the Torah describes him as having.  Apparently however, one needs an extra boost when one begins in order to align one’s physiological functioning with the basic impulses of creation to the requisite extent that the new Kohen can begin to assume his place in the activity of the Sanctuary.  The Kohen Gadol, who was constantly in the Sanctuary, apparently needed this boost on a daily basis, lest his physiology flag and not be able to fulfill its important role in the spiritual life of the nation.

The Zohar tells us K’lal Yisrael v’oraisa v’kudsha b’rich hu chad hu – The community of Israel, Torah and Gd are One. Torah and Israel are two displays of the basic structure of Gd’s creation. The Kohen’s minchah prepares him to play his unique role in K’lal Yisrael, so that the display may be complete and perfect. May we see the Sanctuary rebuilt speedily in our day.

Chag Pesach Kasher v’Same’ach!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Tzav

Gd commands Moses to tell Aaron and his sons, the priests, the law of the eternal fire, the fire used to consume the offerings.

The symbolism here is very sweet: in order for the fire to be eternal, to not go out, it needs to be fed each morning with fresh wood. It is not, in itself eternal and yet it serves as a symbol of Gd, who is Eternal, when it consumes the offerings to Gd.

Similarly, the fire symbolizes the fire of our own soul, to which we offer our good actions, our actions intended to draw near to Gd and also to draw near to all the expressions, Creation, of Gd: our family, friends, neighbors, strangers, trees, plants, rivers, stones—all the expressions of Gd.

And in order for this fire to be kept burning, for our soul to be kept interacting with the world, we need to make offerings, not only every morning as with wood for the eternal fire in the Tabernacle, but every moment—lest our soul withdraw from our personality, distance itself as we distance ourselves if we fail to draw near to our soul by offering our good actions to Gd and to it.

A dip into Torah and the Siddur each day can help to make sure we stay tuned to the music of right action, right offering and make sure we stay in touch with Gd and with our soul.

Baruch HaShem