Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-7:37) continues the instructions to Aaron and his sons concerning different types of sacrifice. We hear of the olah, burnt offering; the minchah, meal offering; and the chatat, sin offering. The incredibly specific details of the zevach sh'lamim, sacrifice of well-being, are also included. Finally we are told about the anointing of Aaron and the other Kohanim with blood. This is Leviticus at its most Levitical!
In reading the parashah, I cannot get past the word for which it is named, tzav. The verse containing this word seems to be so simple: "Command Aaron and his sons thus: 'This is the ritual of the burnt offering.'" (Leviticus. 6:2) I wonder: Why does the Torah use the word tzav, "command"? Why not another verb? Why doesn't God just continue to speak in the same way as before, for example, "When a person presents an offering?" (Leviticus 2:1) or "If you bring a meal offering..." (Leviticus 2:14)? Or, alternatively, why does the Torah not simply state, as the parashah does elsewhere, "This is the offering that Aaron and his sons shall offer..." (Leviticus 6:13)? Why is tzav used here? Why is it "commanded"?
The sacrificial rituals of our ancient ancestors and the various types of actual sacrifices seem to have been a way of linking us with God by asking us to share what we possess with God. Our God was, after all, not a typical Mesopotamian deity, who was mostly unconcerned with humankind. Ours is a God whose reality is intimately bound up with us, the people of Israel, whose Torah is an instruction on how we are to live a God-filled existence. Thus offering sacrifices was a method of connecting us in an intimate and physical way with this God who is unseen. But having to share one's crops or the best of one's herd doesn't come easily or naturally. Hence, perhaps doing these acts must be "commanded."
One need not be an ancient Israelite to realize that an individual could have made good use of the possessions that were commanded to be given away in sacrifice: The prize ram could have sired many lambs to add to the flock. The choice flour and fine oil could have helped feed a hungry family. We can all easily find other use for the things we own! On Erev Shabbat (and other times), our tradition commands that we give tzedakah, often in the form of cash inserted into a tzedakah box. Couldn't we have put that money to personal use? Couldn't we have used it to buy the new CD we want or pay for a much-needed vacation? Who doesn't have such a list?! Perhaps this is precisely why giving and sharing what we have is not just an option, or a nice altruistic suggestion, or a "random act of kindness." It is, rather, as this week's parashahreminds us, a mitzvah, a noun that is, after all, derived from the verb tzav.
Questions for Discussion
- Since we can easily rationalize not giving tzedakah, why do we still perform that mitzvah? Can you suggest five reasons for giving tzedakah?
- Do you think that people are naturally selfish, or do you think that there is such a trait as a "natural" inclination to share with others?
- Why do you think that it is Aaron and his sons who are commanded here? Does the text provide any reasons for this? Can you suggest any other reasons?
Rabbi Garry Loeb tells stories, teaches, and leads services at Temple Beth-El, The Monroe Temple of Liberal Judaism in Monroe, NY.