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Parashat Tzav 5779 — 03/23/2019

Parashat Tzav 5779 — 03/23/2019

Vayikra 6:1-8:36

In parashat Tzav we find that after the anointment of Aharon and his sons, the priesthood is to pass to their offspring as a hereditary position. The one exception was Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the older of Aharon’s surviving sons after the death of Nadav and Avihu (in the next parashah). Since he was already born at the time of Aharon’s and his sons’ investiture, but was not summoned to be anointed with them he remained a Levite for some time. Years later, as the nation was about to enter the Land of Israel, Pinchas stops a plague caused by an explosion of immorality (at the end of Parashat Balak), and as recompense, Gd grants Pinchas the priesthood along with his father and uncle, and his progeny inherit the priesthood after him; indeed most of the Kohanim Gedolim were descendants of Pinchas. So the Kehunah is basically a hereditary position, with the exception of Pinchas.

Other positions are not necessarily inherited. Moshe Rabbeinu was the religious teacher and political leader of the nation, but his sons do not inherit him – his successor, Yehoshua, is Divinely appointed. On the other hand, all legitimate kings of Israel from David on are descendants of David in the male line, as will be Mashiach when he comes, may it be soon. (Incidentally, this poses a problem for Christian theology, as their Messiah, according to their scriptures, had no human father, and hence was not descended from King David, in contradiction to the prophecies. There is a discussion of this point on in the article, “Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus,” especially footnote 1.)

Even in cases where a position is inherited, it is not unusual for the oldest son to not be the one who does the inheriting: Yitzchak inherits the mantle of Avraham instead of the more senior Yishmael; Ya’akov supplants his older twin, Esav; Yehudah, Yosef and Levi all get pieces of the leadership pie instead of Ya’akov’s firstborn, Reuven. Later, David, Yishai’s youngest son, is anointed king in place of his 7 older brothers. Clearly, in some cases merit can override birth as a determinant of leadership, whereas in other cases (e.g. kehunah nowadays) it cannot.

Here is R. Goldin’s summary of the issue:

The place of both earned role and birth role within Jewish experience now becomes readily apparent. As God launches the journey of His chosen people through history, He weaves two participatory paths into the fabric of their society. Together these paths create a balance essential to the nation’s survival.

On the one hand, in each generation, earned opportunities will exist to encourage personal discovery, striving and growth. The realms of Torah scholarship, communal contribution and public leadership will lie open to those who earnestly seek to enter, regardless of personal background.

On the other hand, earned roles alone cannot ensure the perpetuation of all the structures critical to our nation’s character. Continuing responsibility must be assigned for the maintenance of institutions ranging from the priesthood to the Jewish home. Only a clear, ongoing division of responsibility, through the establishment of designated birth roles, will preserve the entire tapestry of Jewish life across the centuries.

The dramatic fealty shown by the Kohanim in maintaining their own unique heritage for over three thousand years demonstrates the true, lasting power of inherited roles. This power has helped safeguard the character of our nation from Sinai to this day.

There’s a bit of the “nature vs. nurture” controversy here. Is one’s suitability for a particular role given by your birth characteristics or is it solely the result of your hard work in developing your talents? Consider athletics, for example. Elite athletes have to train and perfect their skills, but there is no question that they are also born with a set of talents that set them apart from their peers. Have there been no athletes who have worked as hard on their games as Babe Ruth or Tom Brady or Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky or Pele? Yet how many have measured up to their standards? Clearly hard work / merit / nurture is not the full story of greatness. There is a genetic component as well.

On the side of nurture we find that people born into accomplished families tend to have their own accomplishments fall in the same general area. Naturally, there is a DNA component to that, but there is also the atmosphere of the household in which they grew up. Bach’s sons may not have achieved his stature, but they were well-known and very fine musicians and composers in their own right. They learned what music should sound like from the womb. Einstein’s son became a well-respected engineer and professor. In the same way, in other fields, children learn from their parents and grandparents how to follow traditional ways, much as one learns his native language. Someone entering the profession as an adult may always perform with a “foreign accent.”

Each one of us has our own unique path in life, and we have been endowed by Gd, both by our genetic makeup and our social environment. Each one of us, however, has within ourselves a soul, which is a piece of Gd, unbounded and eternal. Our experience of our soul is, however, clouded over by all the stresses and strains, all the wrong and negative actions that have accumulated over a lifetime. We have the process of t’shuvah, return to our own innermost nature, as a means to get rid of all this negativity and restore the pristine condition of our soul. This path is everybody’s path. For some it may be a harder and longer path than for others, but no matter how far along we get on the path, we will be bringing more and more of Gd’s light into the world.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Tsav

The parshah continues with Gd’s commandments to Moses about the nature of the korbanot (offerings, to draw near to Gd), adds details about the blood and oil used by Moses at Gd’s command to anoint the Tabernacle and Aaron and his sons – to bring out, reveal, the Holiness in them, Gd’s Presence.

Blood is something that flows through living organisms that brings nourishment to every part of the organism. Fat is something that also sustains living organism. Oil is to a seed as fat as to humans.

Anointing Oil in a way was like the fat that was offered; so was the anointing blood like the blood that was offered. Both sustained life, allowed the offeror to draw near to Gd; the anointing oil and blood establish the offeror as a priest, permanently near.

Today, we offer prayer instead of animals and their blood and fat and there is no full Temple standing and no visible Tabernacle, and there is no Kohen Gadol to be anointed, but each of us is responsible for our own spiritual growth, though rabbis and cantors may serve as the spiritual leaders of a community.

Prayer from open hearts, pure souls, flows and provides the essence of what blood, fat and anointing oil once provided. Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, rabbinical and cantorial ordination substitute for the anointing.

Not only formal prayer is a means for offering – every action we do needs to be an offering, a mitzvah, something we do to align ourselves with Gd, to do Gd’s Will and raise ourselves and all and everything near to Gd and then to Oneness with Gd.

Though purity of soul, openness of heart, are the essence of drawing near through prayer, preparation for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and for rabbinical and cantorial ordination helps us to master the skills of reading Hebrew, reciting it and leading a good life, a life according to the mitzvot of Torah, a life in which we experience ourselves and Torah at deeper and deeper levels, and begin to draw near to Gd so that we experience that we and Gd are One, Torah and Gd are One – Gd is All there Is.

Joy and Love are signs of this growth. We have a lot of this in our congregation and our community and we show strong signs of continuing. Some of the things that can help our growth are learning as we learned when we became Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and even dipping more deeply into the well of Jewish wisdom, by learning Hebrew and cantillation better, learning more of the skills of rabbis and cantors. These seem to be lovely and joyous activities; the Internet has vast amounts that we can dip into and we can share with each other and grow together.

How lovely!

Thank you. Gd!

Baruch HaShem