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Parasha No. 25
Tzav: “Command”

Vayikra (Leviticus) 6, 1 - 8, 35


Plan:

- Themes and mitzvot in the parasha
- The parasha deals with the sacrifices
  offered by the priests in the sanctuary
- Commentary on the role of sacrifices
- A precautionary note
- The meaning of sacrifices
- Rapprochement and intention
- Personal and collective development

Study and prayer
- A set of precise instructions
- Brutality in lieu of sacrifice
- Commentary on the ola (burnt offering)
- Meaning
- Stages involved

Exercise

 


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Themes and mitzvot in the parasha


The parasha deals with the duties linked to the sacrifices which were carried out in the sanctuary.
Mitzvot 132 to 149 are found here. They deal with the laws governing the ashes and the fire that was kept continually burning on the altar, the parts of the offering eaten by the priests, the composition of the incense, the daily offering, the prohibition against eating the guilt-offering, the fat and the blood.

The parasha presents these themes in order:
- "command"
- the sacrifice of the ola (badly translated as burnt-offering, for it means "risen")
- the sacrifice of minha, the meal-offering
- the high priest's sacrifice when he is anointed
- the sacrifice of hatat, the sin-offering
- the sacrifice of asham, the guilt-offering
- the directions for carrying out the ola
- the sacrifice of zevah hashelamim, the peace-offering and thank offering
- the prohibition against eating the helev, fat and blood
- the directions for making a sacrifice
- the consecration of Aharon and his sons, the cohanim
- the fact that Aaron and his sons did what Hashem commanded

Commentary on the meaning of sacrifices

A precautionary note
The subject of sacrifices is one that is easily prone to misunderstanding if it is not studied through the traditional masters. It is easy -without knowing anything about sacrifices - to have preconceptions about a subject that seems to involve primitive rites.
The study of the Torah demands of us thought that is based on the teachings we have received.

The role of sacrifices
This commentary can apply to the following parasha, for the whole of Vayikra deals with one subject, the Cohanim, the priests, and the Levites. The role of sacrifices is found within the general goal of bettering the people and the world - this is the function of the priests and that of the Jewish people who are the Cohanim for the rest of the world.
This is why Vayikra is called: Torat Cohanim, the Torah of the Cohen, the laws of the priests.
If we examine the rites described in the parasha from the perspective where the priests have a particular function among the people and in all of creation, we shall see them in a different light.

We shall study some of the traditional commentaries on sacrifices, as summarized by the Shla

1. Maimonides (R. Moshe ben Maimon, 1135-1204) notes that many nations make sacrifices and their function is part of the fight against idolatry. Since idolatry has disappeared, they no longer have a function. The tosafists and most commentators oppose this view. We shall see that sacrifices have many other functions.
2. The Ramban (R. Moshe ben Nahman, 1194-1270), in his commentary on Vayikra 1, 9, criticizes Maimonides'position and finds it inadequate:
3. He says that sacrifices aim to correct our sins and cover three areas: thought, speech and action.
4. He stresses the preventive function of sacrifices for not everyone commits the sins involved.
5. The animal that is sacrificed is a substitute (temura) and stands for (halfin) man and his sins.
6. Sacrifices are a way of recognizing one's errors, says Ribbi Menahem Recanati (a renowned kabbalist commentator of the 13th century) in relation to Vayikra 2, 1: venefesh ki takriv korban, when a person sacrifices himself as an offering. Through this substitute, man can elevate his will to the level of the will of God.
7. The sacrifice is called minha (meal-offering) for it represents an anaha (a reduction of the punishment).
8. Each animal that is designated for a particular sacrifice, plays a specific role and cannot be replaced by any other, just as the Jewish people cannot be replaced by any other and just like the 4-letter name for God is the one that is used in our prayers and not any other (R. Shimon ben Azzai and the Ramban).
9. The Zohar demonstrates that a sacrifice makes the name of God complete and it is then permeated with a pleasant smell (reah nihoah).
10. Ribbi Menahem Recanati notes that sacrifices have a parallel in the animals of Ezekiel's vision. This means that whatever we do in this world has its parallel in the world above and this is why all our actions must be accompanied by prayer (Tractate Berakhot, page 14).
11. The four elements of nature are found in sacrifices: this is in order to perfect the process of elevation.
12. Important meanings are attributed to the fact that certain sacrifices are consumed by the altar, others by the cohen, and others by the person who brings the offering. Whether an animal is male or female is also significant. (Your rabbi will tell you in which book you can study these commentaries.) There are also sacrifices for involuntary sins (het) and sins associated with expulsion from the community (karet), as opposed to the guilt-sacrifices.
13. The question of whether a sin was committed intentionally or not is a very important factor to be taken into account in the choice of sacrifices. This is essential for the person making the offering and for the priest to have the correct attitude and intention. A sacrifice is an act of conscience, not an act of brutality.
14. In his book, the Kuzari, Ribbi Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141) demonstrates to non-Jewish philosophers that the word sacrifice in Hebrew means "rapprochement" (to draw close) and that the function of sacrifices is to draw a person closer to the Creator. Just as a body needs food, so the soul needs a body to strengthen it and to raise it to the highest level which is the neshama.
15. Now that the Temple is no more, the altar has been replaced by our table, and sacrifices by our prayers; for prayer is called avoda, work.
16. Commentaries at a higher level show that certain sacrifices refer to particular figures: Adam, Noah, Avraham, Moshe, Aharon, etc.

Rapprochement and intention
The above shows us that sacrifices have three important characteristics:
direction, rapprochement, and destination. It is a process of moving from the inner realm to the outer realm.

The preposition le, which means "towards" often accompanies the word sacrifice (korban laShem) and signifies a process of drawing close to Hashem. This process is also found in the concept of a "pleasant perfume" (reah nihoah).
Those who are not prepared to undertake this difficult process of elevation tend to deny the real meaning of sacrifices, claiming that they are just acts of butchery and cruelty, and suppressing their deep impulses and emotions.

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Personal and collective development

What is important is the impulse, the act, the rapprochement, the direction, and the elevation till one reaches the pleasant perfume. Thus the Song of Songs ends with the word perfume (bessamim).
The fact that this process begins at the most primitive and animal level allows every level to be attained.

An important conclusion follows from this: sacrifices are an educational prototype that mark the transformation of what is material and brutal in our lives to what is emotional and elevated. This process should be applied to all our daily actions.

The great detail with which the Torah describes the different sacrifices and what can be eaten or not, has the aim, over and above its literal meaning, of urging us to pay attention to our tiniest actions, for they can easily become devoid of meaning instead of being filled with emotion.

Sacrifices also contribute an element of reality in religious practice, for they are real acts that cost a lot and provide no material benefit. This means they have a great effect for nothing affects most men more than money. The Talmud says that some men think only of money, even on their deathbeds.

Sacrifices thus bring our entire being closer to the level of the Creator and the world above.

Let us pray that Jerusalem will be fully rebuilt as the dwelling place of the Torah: the sanctuary on the mountain (har habayit, mountain of His home) to which every day, and from time immemorial, Jews have directed their prayers, for the happiness of all nations and all creation.

The entire journey, from the time that Jews were slaves in Egypt to their liberation and the revelation at Sinai, is what we recall during the Pesah seder, with the promise to study the Torah and consecrate it in Jerusalem. The Pesah sacrifice should encompass our entire being and history, and we should try to say no more: "next year in Jerusalem" as we did for centuries, but say instead "soon in Jerusalem." Amen ken yehi ratzon.

Today, sadly, the Temple is no more and the essential role it plays for the Jewish people can no longer be carried out: the sacred places of the tribes of Israel and the special places of the cohanim are occupied. Miraculously, we won them back after a war launched against us by our enemies, and we could have kept them according to international law. But the generals who had fought the war and our leaders did not know the importance of these places and, to the surprise of the enemy, we gave them back the keys and the right to the Temple Mount. This indicates where the Jewish people stand today in regard to their heritage and that the time of the fulfillment of our dreams has not yet come.

Study and prayer
We have the duty to replace sacrifices with the study of the texts that describe them. Every morning, during the prayers of shaharit, Jews read the passages from Tractates Yoma and Keritut which describe the various sacrifices, and chapter 30 of Shemot and 28 of Bamidbar. Refer to your siddur, prayer book.

The fact that these texts form an introduction to the prayers means that we must purify ourselves before praying, and examine and correct ourselves by drawing closer to the Creator.

A set of precise instructions
An important point needs to be made: this process is not psychotherapy or a pedagogic tool, for the parasha begins and ends with the word "tzav" and all of this has been "commanded." Why? Because man has the tendency to believe that he rules all things -- himself, the world, his thoughts and his decisions - and to deny the origin of creation. In psychology, this is called "hatred of the father:" it is self-hatred because it is hatred of one's origin and one's source. If we do not examine every day our negative impulses and thoughts and re-direct them towards the Creator, they will direct themselves against others or against ourselves in a destructive way.

The Jewish people abandoned these sacrifices and destroyed the Temple as the center of their lives. How? Through their intransigence, hatred of each other, disrespect for the holiness of the land of Israel and lack of social justice. As a result (the Torah and the prophets warn us repeatedly of this), other nations are authorized to take over our land.

Brutality has replaced the sacrifice
Similarly, the rest of the world, which claims to have progressed from the level of sacrifices and religious rites, does not understand that it simply replaced these rites with the brutal rites of war and bloodshed. It devotes the best of its men and resources to war. Nations who believe they are among the most civilized and enlightened in the world, and who brandish the words "human rights" "democracy" "civilization," are also the most barbaric and will not hesitate to use war as a tool for their cultural, economic and military domination of the world.

When these slogans are based on lies, war and the absence of an ordered way of regulating personal and collective life, then they become perverse and destructive.
Although the world believes it has come a long way from the era of animal sacrifices, it is, in fact, an immense slaughterfield run by political cynics. Who profits? The Western world. Furthermore, not content with having replaced animal sacrifices with human sacrifices, the world takes pleasure from watching these massacres.

It is important to say this, in order to understand the wisdom of Jewish laws and tradition: every morning, Jews must examine their thoughts and actions and redirect them towards God. Otherwise these thoughts and actions become destructive and engulf all of society. These warnings and teachings are in our texts and this is what the book of Vayikra teaches us. This is why Vayikra is at the center of the Torah. It is taught to children, before the other books, such is its importance.

Commentary on the ola
Let us then try to analyze these sacrifices, not as rites, but as representing a process of self-examination.

The role of the ola
The ola is burnt entirely except for the skin and no part is eaten thereof.
It involves:
- sins of thought
- non-adherence to the mitzvot
- vows
- gifts

The stages involved in making sacrifices

- habaa: purchasing the animal and bringing it to the sanctuary,
- semikha: the laying of hands on the head of the animal, which represents the union of body and will,
- vidui: confession and recognition of our sins,
- shehita: the slaying of the animal by a Jew or a cohen, in the Northern area of the Temple which represents our material side. The different stages of preparation of the animal.
- meliha: the salting of the animal, symbolizing the feeling we put in the rite,
- haktara: the combustion which "elevates" everything that has been prepared within and without,
- minha: the meal-offerings of flour, oil, and wine which must accompany each sacrifice.

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Exercises

1. Re-read the parasha and study the references.
2. Examine how the different facets of our lives (thoughts, sins, etc.) which were governed by sacrifices, are dealt with today.
3. Try to identify rites which you practice in your daily life (in your families, in society etc.) and which regulate your feelings.
4. See how the patriarchs, before the revelation at Sinai, re-directed their feelings and actions towards God through their sacrifices:
Bereshit 6,3-4; 8, 20; 12, 13; 12, 17; 26, 26; 28, 20; 35, 14; 45, 1.
5. Recommended reading: the section that deals with sacrifices in our daily prayers.
6. Discuss this commentary with friends and use it as a basis for group study.

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- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15
STUDY HEBREW

Part 16
JERUSALEM

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

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Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

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ISRAEL AND
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In french - Hope in Israel



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Dedication

Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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