Parashat Tzav

Service As Its Own Reward

Zealousness in regard to the elevation offering reminds us to be careful in our service of God and others, even when the service does not result in immediate benefit to us.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.

Overview

The first part of Parashat Tzav deals with various kinds of korbanot [sacrifices or ritual offerings] that we've already heard about in the previous portion. The difference is that last time, Moses was addressing the entire people, instructing them on the sacrifices that anyone might bring, but this time, he is specifically addressing the priests, and giving them their particular instructions. New details include the service of taking the ashes from the Mishkan (tabernacle) out of the camp; rules for the eating of meat; and keeping the "eternal flame" going on the altar. The second part of the parashah describes the ceremony wherein Aaron and his sons were dedicated for service as priests.

In Focus

"God spoke to Moses, saying: 'Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the law of the elevation offering… '"

Pshat

God gives Moses instructions to give to Aaron, the High Priest, and Aaron's sons, who share the hereditary office of the priesthood. The olah, or elevation offering, is also sometimes called the "burnt offering," because it was totally consumed on the fire of the altar in the Sanctuary. This kind of offering may be voluntary on the part of an individual, or it may be part of an individual's atonement for not fulfilling certain commandments, or it may be part of communal holy day observances. The olah offerings could be cattle, flock animals, or doves, sometimes depending on a person's means.

Drash

Rashi (medieval French commentator) notices something unusual about the first sentence of our Torah portion: why does God tell Moses to "command" his brother Aaron? Usually, God tells Moses to "speak" or "tell" the people something. In fact, we could say that this is theologically problematic, because it should be God who "commands," not human beings!

So Rashi's interpretation is that "command" implies zealousness, not only in the present tense but for future generations. In other words, don't just perform this commandment in a perfunctory or apathetic way, but really pay close attention to getting it right. Rashi then goes on and quotes a teaching from the Talmud:

Rabbi Shimon said: There was a special need for the text to urge zealousness in any case where there was monetary loss.

It's not immediately clear why Rashi connected Rabbi Shimon's saying to the burnt offerings, other than the idea of urging energetic attention to the specific task under consideration. Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D., a Hassidic rabbi, psychiatrist and prolific author, sees in Rashi's comment an insight into human nature.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.