Parshat Tzav


More Fascinating Aspects of the Temple Offerings.

“What a beautiful view,” exclaimed Greg. “I’ll hike down a little further so I can see the entire panorama.” Greg, a beginner student at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, was visiting a family for Shabbat in the new neighborhood of Beitar.

Because the area was new, there were many unfinished lots and dirt roads on all sides. After lunch Greg decided to take a walk and see the view of the desert. He strayed out past the last houses and was following a lonely trail when he noticed a young Arab boy following him. He tried to talk to him in his limited Hebrew, and then he tried English, but boy didn’t respond and just kept getting closer.

Greg started to become frightened, but since he was older and bigger then the young boy, he told himself not to worry. When Greg turned to begin walking away, the Arab boy took out a gleaming knife and lunged at Greg. At that moment, Greg turned back to the boy, and instead of being killed by knife, it caught him in the shoulder (though Greg didn’t know it at the time, and thought he’d been hit in the lung). In a flash, the boy had run away. Greg, who was bleeding profusely, crawled up the hill to the nearest house, and was immediately brought to the hospital and treated.

Two weeks later, Greg made a “thanksgiving party” to thank the Almighty for the miracle He made for him. The source of this custom, as well as the American holiday of Thanksgiving, stems from this week’s Torah portion.


In Temple times, four categories of people would thank God with a special peace offering: One who crossed the ocean, one who crossed the desert, one who recovered from a life-threatening illness, and one who was released from prison.

The Thanksgiving Offering consists of 4 different types of bread (10 loaves of each type), as well as an animal offering (cow, sheep or goat) that had to be consumed in one day.

The commentaries explain that since most people could not consume so much food in that limited time, they would have to invite friends and relatives to partake, so the sacrifice would not be “left over.” At this gathering, everyone would talk about how the person was saved, and thereby the miracle of God would receive maximum publicity.

The modern version of the Thanksgiving Offering is a blessing called “HaGomel,” recited by any individual who survived a dangerous situation, like overseas travel. Women also commonly recite the blessing after childbirth.

This blessing thanks the Almighty “for having bestowed upon me all His good.” The congregation then responds: “He who has bestowed upon you all His good, shall constantly bestow goodness upon you, forever.”


The Parsha begins with the first service performed each morning in the Temple: the removal of the ashes. Every evening, the remains of the previous day’s offerings were put in the middle of the altar to be consumed by the fire all night long.

In the morning, the resulting ashes were shoveled into the middle in a round form called the “apple,” and one shovel full of ashes was removed and placed next to the altar (where it was miraculously absorbed in the ground). When the “apple” got too big, the Kohen would put on work clothes and take the excess ashes outside the Temple grounds.

From here we learn about the continuity of God’s service. The night continues the offerings of the day, and the first thing in the morning is the continuation of yesterday’s service. So too, one must see their relationship with the Almighty as ongoing. Every prayer is a continuation of the one before, from a different perspective of life than before.


The fact that the Kohen changes his clothes to take out the ashes teaches us the importance of dress. “The garments one wears to cook for the master, are not the same as when serving him,” say the Sages.

In other words, “clothes make the man and man makes the clothes,” and we must dress appropriate to the occasion. For example, we wear special clothes on Shabbat and proclaim that our dress and food are “in honor of Shabbat.”

We might ask, how is wearing special clothes and eating specially-prepared foods considered in honor of Shabbat — and not in honor of myself?! The answer is that by dressing and eating differently on Shabbat, we become more honorable people, and then the honor we give to Shabbat is a greater honor.

Think of it like this: If the Queen of England is coming to your restaurant, will the waiter wear jeans or a tuxedo? The garments of the waiter make him more honorable (at least superficially), which gives honor to the queen.


The Parsha describes the details of the Burnt Offering, using the term “this is the Torah of the Burnt Offering.” (It also describes the details of other offerings using the same expression.) The simple translation is: “These are the laws (Torah) of the Burnt Offering.”

Yet the Sages understand this wording to imply something more: Even when we don’t merit the actual offerings (such as today when we don’t possess a Temple), we can still bring “offerings” in a metaphysical sense by studying their laws. As the Talmud says: Whoever delves into (studies) the Torah of the Burnt Offering, is considered as if he actually sacrificed one.”

The reason, of course, is that anyway the point of offerings is not the blood of the animal, rather it is the feeling of closeness to God that comes from appreciating its meaning. Although we now lack the vivid emotional impressions of the actual sacrifice, we can still use our imagination and intellect to achieve the desired effect.


Every Kohen, at his first day on the job, brought a grain offering that was burned entirely. (The High Priest brought an offering every day.) Why was it all burned? Because if it was eaten by the Kohen like other meal offerings, it would look as if he’d only fed himself!

Why does the Kohen bring a grain offering, and not a big, expensive animal? In order to demonstrate the importance of the grain offering that poor people would bring. Since the Kohen brings the same offering, it helps to bolster the poor person’s self-esteem.


One of the kosher laws is that certain animal fats may not be eaten, because they were specially designated to be offered on the altar.

The prohibition of eating blood is also connected to the sacrifices. (In another place, the reason is given because blood contains the “soul of the animal.”) Symbolically, the blood of the animal represents the life of the person who brings the offering, and is sprinkled on the altar to represent dedicating one’s life to the Almighty.

It is a Mitzvah to salt all meat to remove the blood before boiling. The liver, which is more saturated with blood, must be roasted over the fire to remove all its blood.

Although most people don’t have any desire to drink a delectable cup of cow’s blood, anti-Semites throughout the ages (and even today in the Arabic press) have accused the Jews of the “Blood Libel” — e.g. slaughtering gentile children and drinking their blood, or using it to bake matzahs. Besides being a horrific lie, it is also ridiculous to accuse the Jews of such a thing, given the specific Torah prohibition against consuming any blood.


The Torah stresses that the Sin Offering is slaughtered in the same location as the Burnt Offering, at the northern side of the courtyard. The Sages explain the reason is so the sinner should not be embarrassed when all can plainly see he is bringing a Sin Offering. Since they were both sacrificed at the same place, many people would think this is a Burnt Offering.

This is yet another example of the sensitivity to human feelings, as the Torah demonstrates and teaches.


When the Kohen had wrong intentions at the time of the service — for example, he intended to eat the sacrifice beyond the time limit, or outside the Temple area — this disqualified the sacrifice (even if in the end, the sacrifice was not eaten outsides its limits).

The great Rabbi Elchonan Wasserman was in Poland when he and his disciples were taken out by the Nazis to be shot. Before being murdered, Rabbi Wasserman exhorted his disciples not to have improper thoughts while being brought as sacrifices. “Our deaths will atone for our brothers and sisters in America, and it is very important to have the proper intentions!”

Jews throughout the ages have kept their thoughts and intentions pure, in even the most difficult of circumstances. In the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto, a letter was found written by a chassidic Jew before he died, addressed to God: “Our food and ammunition is gone. They are systematically destroying every bunker. It is only a matter of time until they reach us. In spite of it all, and as hard as You try to test me, Almighty, I still love You!”


When the Tabernacle was completed, the people tried to set it up themselves. But as hard as they heave-hoed, it was too heavy and they couldn’t get it to stand. God told Moses to raise it up, but he also lacked the strength. So God told Moses to just go through the motions — and the Tabernacle rose by itself. (Midrash)

Why was Moses given the job of putting up the Tabernacle? Were there no strong people around?

Because Moses did not contribute any materials to the Tabernacle’s construction, he was given this chance to participate.

Why didn’t Moses contribute at least a little gold and silver?

Answer: The descending of God’s presence at the Tabernacle demonstrated that He had forgiven the sin of the Golden Calf. Had Moses contributed to the Tabernacle, the people might have attributed that presence to Moses’ contribution.

For seven days, the family of Aaron brought their inaugural offerings, while Moses served as the “acting Kohen,” setting up the Tabernacle every morning and taking it down every night.

7 is the number of nature; 8 is above nature — and that is the name of next week’s Parsha. Stay tuned!

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