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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The passage from Talmud, Shabbat shows that our biblical and talmudic texts appear to be in favor of a strict clothing regimen for the performance of specific ritual activities. Do clothes "maketh the man?" Should there be a specific dress code for attending worship services? Similarly, are you in favor of school uniforms?

D'var Torah

Parashat Tzav elaborates further on the sacrifices already mentioned in last week's portion, Vayikra. The sacrifice of well-being, known as the zevach sh'lamim, is now categorized as a todah, a voluntary thanksgiving offering that has two special features:

According to the Mishnah, M'nachot 7:1, it is accompanied by an elaborate offering of thirty loaves of bread, and it must be eaten on the day it is offered. This is unusual because the time allotted for eating all the other peace offerings is two days. Only compulsory sacrifices are eaten in one day.

Hence the question: Is the todah, the thanksgiving offering (Leviticus 7:11-12), a compulsory or a voluntary sacrifice? To more fully understand the nature of this particular sacrifice, let us consider a reference from Psalms 116:14: "I will pay God my vows in the presence of the whole nation." The individual worshiper is therefore obligated to thank God in public. Thus a voluntary sacrifice might well be considered an obligatory one, given the public proclamation of God's goodness.

If the elaborate offering of thirty loaves of bread had to be consumed in one day, there was no other alternative but to have others also partake of the feast, thus enabling the individual to tell his story publicly! Surely such a widely heard testimony had the effect of both encouraging and unifying the community in its own belief system. Thus the thanksgiving offering, performed in and with the participation of the public, had the unique capacity to strengthen and fortify the people's morale and code of conduct.

It's interesting to note that later in the parasha, before Moses inaugurated Aaron and his sons into the priesthood, he assembled the community, as God had commanded him. The word vatikaheil, "and they gathered" (Leviticus 8:4), has the same numeric value as Yisrael. [In Jewish tradition, letters are assigned numerical values, and some commentators read messages into the resulting numerical values of words.] The symbolism is as predictable as it is perfect: The Children of Israel--the Jewish people--exhibit their greatest strength when they gather together in unison.

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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.