Parashat Tzav

Lost & Found: From Obsolete Ritual to Personal Responsibility

The complex rules of thanksgiving offering ensured that it enabled the public participation of the broader community in thanking God.

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Does Adonai delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to Adonai's command? Surely, obedience is better than sacrifice, compliance than the fat of rams. (I Samuel 15:22)

Rava said: "He who occupies himself with the study of Torah has no need for the burnt offering, the meal offering, the sin offering, nor the guilt offering." (Talmud, Tractate M'nachot 110a)

Rabbi Levi said: It is a praiseworthy enactment that a person who behaves boastfully should be punished by fire, as it is said, "This is the law regarding a person striving to be high: It is that it goes up on its burning place." [Note: The burnt offering (ha-olah) is linguistically related to the verb, alah, "to go up," "rise," "ascend," and is midrashically taken here to mean climbing to pretentious heights, assuming an insolent and overbearing attitude.] (Leviticus Rabbah 7:6 on Leviticus 6:2)

He [the priest] shall put on common clothes and busy himself in common work in order that he should remember to pray for the ordinary and simple needs of the common people. (Rabbi Simchah Bunem of Przysucha on Leviticus 6:4, cited in Kol Simchah)

"He [the priest] shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments," (Leviticus 6:4). Sages in the school of Rabbi Ishmael taught: The Torah teaches you good manners. A person should not wear the garments in which he cooks a dish for his teacher when he mixes a cup of wine for him. (Talmud, Shabbat 114a)

The pure (i.e., the Children of Israel) should come and study the pure (i.e., the sacrifices). (Leviticus Rabbah 7:3)

Your Guide

According to Rabbi Heschel of Krakow, what is the distinction between "command" and "urge?" Which word do you believe is more effective for getting someone to do something?

What is Rava's opinion of why God prefers the offerings of our hearts to the sacrifices of our livestock? How does this concept translate into contemporary Jewish thought and practice?

Is Rava's statement an all-too-sweeping generalization of the ideal human condition? Is it necessarily true that being constantly pre-occupied with the study of Torah will automatically protect us from the ravages of sin and wrongdoing?

In Leviticus Rabbah 7:6, Rabbi Levi is interested in the correlation between the impurity of our thoughts and the purity attained after such desires are raised upon the altar of conscious transformation. How can this purity be attained? How can we rekindle sparks of holiness from the ashes of transgression?

Rabbi Simchah Bunem's understanding of different priestly garb for different rituals is striking in its relevancy for the contemporary rabbinate. Do you think that clerical vestments are essential for the conduct of any or all religious services and life-cycle events? If so, why? If not, why not? Must a rabbi always be "on call?" Can he or she ever wear "common clothes?" When and under what circumstances?

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Rabbi Robert S. Leib

Rabbi Robert S. Leib is the spiritual leader of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am, Abington, PA.