Parashat Tzav

Sometimes Not Only An Animal Was Sacrificed

Our spiritual leaders must always remember that the sanctity of human life should never supercede devotion to God.

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1. Whom does Rabbi Zadok think is responsible for the death of the kohen?

2. Why doesn't he blame the person who murdered his fellow kohen?

3. What is the institutional responsibility here?

4. What motivates the kohanim who arise early to run up the ramp to clear the ashes?

5. What happens to the society when its sacred instruments are valued more than the people who use them?

A Word

It is ironic that the prize offered for winning the race is a pile of ashes. The Talmud says that the reason a lottery was not implemented was that they assumed few would rise early in the morning for such a task. Many arose early to serve God in this way. This was devotion that required extra effort, but it was devotion that would serve God at the expense of God's own creation.

The irony that passionate devotion to the service of God can cause some to be contemptuous of human life is an old one. While the Mishnah warns of broken legs, the Gemara reminds that this is only where it begins. If removing the ashes from the altar has become an end justified by any means, then this altar may as well be a Roman circus. If the purity of a knife takes precedence over the life of one's child, what does that say about the culture within which one lives?

The rabbis in recounting these uncomplimentary incidents caution those whose job it is to be God's formal servants. They are the ones in jeopardy of losing not only perspective, but what many hope is a natural, intuitive moral compass. The spiritual leaders among us need to be reminded that their temptations may emanate from the very execution of their sacred tasks. The Talmud reminds us that God is never reached by pushing somebody out of the way.

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Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the Head of Jewish Studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City.