Parshat Tzav: The Days of Miluim – Seven or 100+? Are IDF Reservists the Kohanim of Today?

Shulamit Friedler is a Teacher and Civic Studies Coordinator at Ohr Torah Stone’s Neveh Shmuel Yeshiva High School

%D7%A4%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%93%D7%9C%D7%A8 1 e1711350561455The portion of Tzav in the book of Vayikra focuses on the Sacred Service performed in the Mishkan.

In the second part of the parsha, the seven days of inauguration preceding the dedication of the Mishkan (miluim) are described, culminating in the climactic eighth day, which is elaborated on in next week’s portion.

On each of the seven days of miluim, a lengthy and detailed ceremony took place, executed exclusively by Moshe. During the ceremony, Moshe bathes Aharon and his sons and dresses them in the priestly garments. He then anoints the Mishkan and the Kohanim with the anointing oil, and offers three sacrifices on each of the days: a sin offering, a burnt offering, and a consecration offering.

At the conclusion of the days of inauguration, the Mishkan becomes sanctified, and the Kohanim complete their consecration, transforming into the sacred servants of the Mishkan.

In this article, I will focus on the process by which Aharon and his sons ascend from the status of ordinary men to the rank of Kohanim serving in the sanctuary. For this purpose, a meticulous seven-day process is required, involving three components:

  1. External appearance – Moshe bathes the Kohanim and dresses them in garments of “splendor and beauty.”
  2. Anointment and sprinkling – the Kohanim are anointed with the anointing oil, and Moshe sprinkles the blood of the sacrifices upon them.
  3. Study – The Kohanim learn how to perform the Sacred Service of the Tabernacle while observing Moshe perform the different tasks. 

All of these things take place in multiples of seven, a number symbolizing both holiness as well as wholeness in Judaism.

The rituals of the inauguration days can be analyzed through a well-known sociological prism called “Rite of Passage” (in French: Rite de Passage), a term coined by the French ethnographer Arnold van Gennep (1873-1957). The term “Rite of Passage” was created to explain the way in which a person transitions from one social status to another in human society.

For example, when a person gets married, the transition from being single to being married is a change in status that requires preparation for the rights and obligations of a married person, both for the individual getting married as well as for the community that needs to recognize the individual’s change of status.

In traditional rites of passage, there are typically three stages:

Stage 1: Separation – This stage involves detachment from the previous social status (e.g., walking towards the wedding canopy with the parents).

Stage 2: Transition – This stage involves standing on the threshold of the new status. At this point, the individual has left the old status but has not yet taken on the new one (e.g., the wedding ceremony itself).

Stage 3: Incorporation – This stage marks the final adoption and formal establishment of the new status (e.g., the newlywed couple walking together from the wedding canopy towards the community and the bridal chamber).

The ritual, with its various stages, expresses the essence of the change, prepares the involved parties for the change, and then makes it public knowledge, thus contributing to the social acceptance of the change that has taken place.

In my view, the seven days of miluim, or inauguration, can be seen as a kind of “Rite of Passage” that contributed to the acceptance of the change in the status of Aharon and his sons, transforming them from ordinary individuals in the community to the status of Kohanim serving in the sanctuary.

During the first stage of the ritual, the stage of separation, Moshe is commanded to gather all the congregation of Israel at the entrance of Ohel Mo’ed, the Tent of Meeting (Vayikra 8:3): “And assemble thou all the congregation at the door of the Tent of Meeting.”

Why is it important for the congregation to be present at the consecration of the Kohanim?

One of the characteristics of a rite is its publicity. The congregation witnesses the entry of the Kohanim into the sanctuary. This publicity serves an important function: it informs the community of the change in the Kohanim’s status and prepares them for it.

To complete their separation from their previous status, the Kohanim do not leave the entrance of the Tent of Meeting throughout the seven days that follow.

During these seven days of miluim, the second stage of the rite – the transition – takes place. This is an intermediate stage where the Kohanim have already left their previous daily lives behind and are in the process of “filling their hands” with the tools needed for their new role. They are in a state of learning and are anointed to become sacred servants.

On the eighth day, the day of the consecration of the sanctuary, the third and final stage of the rite takes place – incorporation, the final transition to the new status, whereby the Kohanim begin their service in the sanctuary.

And how does all of this relate to the reserve duty, the miluim, of our soldiers?

On the official website of the IDF, it is recounted that David Ben-Gurion coined the term “miluim” for reserve duty.  During the first government meeting in 1948, Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the initial miluim units – reserve forces which would be available for conscription when needed. Ben-Gurion insisted that these units be called “amal” [עמל], the Hebrew acronym for “reserve forces [עתודות מילואים].  He derived the term “miluim” from the Bible; more specifically, from the seven days of inauguration during which the Kohanim fulfilled their duties and engaged in the Sacred Service. Over time, the word “amal” was dropped from official documents, leaving only the word “miluim“, which became the commonly accepted term for reserve duty in the military.

In recent months, the concept of “miluim” has become particularly prevalent in our discourse due to mass conscription under Tzav 8 emergency mobilization due to the intense war imposed upon us.

At the outset of the war, the media described the mobilization of reservists as unprecedented, exceeding 100%. Men and women who left behind their daily routines, their families, their jobs, came to stand at the forefront and defend the people of Israel.

As can be seen from our portion, in Biblical Hebrew “miluim” translates to dedication and consecration.  It is also reminiscent of the Hebrew “lemale yad” [“to fill one’s hand with the task”], and means just that: to assume a role, filling one’s hands with tools and work. During the seven days of miluim, the Kohanim were tasked with serving in the Mishkan.

Similarly, on the seventh of October, reserve soldiers took on the responsibility of protecting the nation.

While these roles may differ in nature, they both share a commonality in their public duty and the sacrifice of personal lives for the greater good of the nation.

Transitions are complex processes that demand adaptation.  Our reservists were abruptly compelled to forsake all they held dear, with little warning and no time for the customary rituals of departure or the gradual acclimatization to their new reality.  This was made easier by their military background and the rigorous training they had endured in preparation for warfare.

However, in these very days, many reservists return home after enduring extended periods of conflict, uncertain when they might be called back to the front lines.

The military establishment, the community, and the family circle must therefore prepare itself for an optimal transition: a gradual progression is imperative also when bidding farewell to the status of soldier and reintegrating into civilian life, family responsibilities, or professional circles.

This transition requires the three pivotal stages noted above:

The separation stage entails the processing of shared experiences among soldiers, the unit’s combat debriefing, and returning the military uniform and equipment. 

During the transition phase, soldiers find themselves in a state of limbo, not fully resuming their former lives but gradually reacclimating, perhaps with a period of respite at home with family, a family hike, or an initial reintegration process into the workplace.

Only after the above phases have been implemented, should one ideally progress to the final stage – incorporation, during which time soldiers fully reintegrate into their previous civilian status as parents, employees, and community members, albeit possibly for a limited time – until they are once again called back to reserve duty.

The portion of Tzav underscores the sanctity of the Kohanim and their sacred service in the Mishkan.

The Iron Swords War highlights the sense of mission and the dedication of all the soldiers, those in regular service and those on reserve duty, who have taken on the task of protecting their nation and their homeland.

These epitomize selflessness and a duty towards a greater purpose.

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