“Moses said to the community,” This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.” (Leviticus 8:5)
Parashat Tzav begins with the ritual duties of the kohanim (priests) for performing the sacrifices listed in last week’s parasha (portion) and concludes with Aaron’s and his sons’ ordination as kohahim (priests). This is the beginning of organized, communal Israelite worship.
Tzav presents an interesting paradox. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) must be sinless to perform his duties. Yet, every day, the Kohen Gadol must bring a meal offering (Lev. 6:15), one of the sacrifices for sins. This seeming contradiction offers an insight into a Jewish perspective on human nature and a lesson in leadership.
On the simplest level, the verse reminds us no one, not even the Kohen Gadol, who is expert in all things related to purity and sin, is blameless, sinless, or without fault. The question it presents us is whether we can admit that about ourselves? By modeling that personal acceptance publicly, without embarrassment, the Kohen Gadol encourages others in the community to do likewise. Further, the Kohen Gadol brings a meal offering, which is the simplest sacrifice, rather than a bull, sheep or goat. This egalitarian act places the Kohen Gadol in the midst of the community of the poor, rather than the wealthy. It signifies the ability and the right of all Israelites, regardless of station, to come closer to God.
In Jewish thought, leaders, regardless of their unique gifts, are always seen as members of the community, subject to the same foibles of human nature as the rest of us, and bound by the same rules. They become extraordinary when they recognize and model their utter humanity.