Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36)

“Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the Tabernacle and all that was in it, thus consecrating them.”  (Leviticus 8:5)

Parashat Tzav adds more details to the instructions for performance of the sacrifices introduced in last week’s parasha (portion).  It concludes with Aaron’s and his sons’ ordination as kohanim (priests).

Sacrificial worship is the norm until it is replaced by prayer after the destruction of the Temple, the signal catastrophe of the Jewish people.  The rabbis view prayer as second choice so they include hope for the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of the sacrificial rite in the liturgy.  But is that really what we want?  Is that really what God wants?

Maimonides (1137-1204; the preeminent Spanish medieval Jewish philosopher) says no.  Maimonides says sacrifice is only a first step in an evolving process of worship.  Since the Israelites in Egypt are familiar with sacrifice, it makes sense to use it to advance the concept of monotheism.  Prayer is the next step and it, too, is only a way-station toward a more refined relationship God.   According to Maimonides, this will involve some kind of wordless communion.

This opinion indicates a keen understanding of both human nature and the learning process.  Maimonides recognizes people learn incrementally, mostly, and rely upon what is familiar to acquire new concepts and skills.  It also is a remarkable rebuttal of classic rabbinic thought with a profound implication:  all forms of religious ritual are only temporary by design.  This means God desires the rituals of the Torah to be superseded by more refined spiritual practices (as opposed to our returning to them in the messianic era).  The big question then, is what’s the next big Jewish thing and how will we recognize it?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom