Parshat Tzav (6:1-8:36)
Parshat Tzav takes a different approach to discussing the laws of korbanot (offerings) from the way in which they appeared in last week’s Torah portion. Instead of classifying the korbanot according to the person presenting them, differentiating between obligatory sacrifices and voluntary ones, and so forth, Parshat Tzav discusses the same types of sacrifices from the viewpoint of the Kohanim, the priests in the Holy Temple.
Here, we find a description of where each korban was made, which parts of the sacrificed animal were given to the Kohen, and which were burned at the mizbe’ach (altar). The main distinction made here, for our purposes, is between the Olah and the Shelamim. The Olah, as its name implies, was placed entirely on the mizbe’ach, and neither its owners nor the Kohanim were allowed to partake of any of it. The Shelamim, on the other hand, was partially eaten by its owner, and the Kohanim received part of the meat for their own consumption, as well.
The parsha opens with this verse:
“… Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the teaching regarding the Olah-offering…” (Vayikra / Leviticus 6:2)
Our sages noted the harsh use of the word tzav, “command”. The Torah could have softened the tone of the pasuk (verse) by simply beginning, “This is the teaching regarding the Olah-offering.” Why, then, did the Torah choose this explicit wording?
Some sages understood from this that the word “command” is included to emphasize the agility and efficiency required of the Kohanim, both then and for all future generations. Back then, the day after the Mishkan (Sanctuary) was inaugurated, the Kohanim may have been all too enthusiastic to perform their duties, and it is quite possible that their Israelite brethren, who did not merit to perform the work of the Mishkan, were envious of them.
Therefore, Moshe attempts to motivate the Kohanim and order them to maintain their level of zeal in the future. He wants to make sure that years later, the same Kohanim will not lose the spirit of eagerness that inspired them to wake up early in the morning to perform the service in the Mishkan.
Another reason for “motivating” the Kohanim may be that their descendants, many generations later, would need to perform the Temple services even if that meant self-sacrifice, when a hostile Hellenistic empire or a brutal Roman governor ruled the land.
Whatever the case, the ability to transmit the fervor of conducting the Temple services from generation to generation is not something that anyone could take for granted.
However, Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, a Tannaitic sage who was among the most esteemed sages of his day, and is associated with writing the Zohar, surprises us with these words:
“The text must hasten when the pocket is empty.” (Midrash Torat Kohanim, Tzav, Chapter 1)
In other words, the Kohanim were accustomed to receiving cuts of meat from the korbanot they offered. Sometimes, they were required to consume all of the meat themselves, and at other times, they were permitted to share the meat with their families. We might suspect that when the Kohanim saw the Olah sacrifice carried by people coming to the Mishkan, they may have asked themselves: “Why should I perform this sacrifice? I won’t get anything out of it, anyway!” They might turn those people away, or keep them waiting at the end of the line.
This is why the Torah warns us that they must be commanded – they must be motivated to handle all korbanot, even those from which they will not directly benefit.
Through this interpretation, our sages tried to teach us one of the most fundamental elements of the human psyche. Humans are not angels. They are flesh and blood, and even when working in the Temple and witnessing ten miracles day after day – and even when the Divine Presence itself is in their midst – we are still fearful that they will prefer to perform the korbanot that bring them personal benefit.
The Torah’s warning appears to be relevant not only to the Kohanim, but to any individual chosen for a specific position. The word “Kohen”, in Hebrew, is not the name of a tribe or a family name. It is, first and foremost, a job description. Hashem chose specific people to serve in the Temple, and that is why they were called “Kohanim” – they were charged with fully devoting themselves to the content and the essence of the Temple service.
They, too, needed to be “hastened”, in two ways: They needed to maintain their devotion, not just during the initial days of the service, but in future generations as well, and they needed to satisfy the needs of all those who came to the gates of the Temple, without identifying which of the sacrifices will bring them personal gain.
People in other positions – who, in certain respects, are a type of “Kohen” – also need to be hastened, so that they can truly speak for those whom they represent, and try to help anyone seeking their assistance without trying to understand the benefits they might derive from their efforts.
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