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

“This is the law of the guilt offering; it is most holy.” (Leviticus 7:1)

Parashat Tzav describes how to offer the sacrifices listed in last week’s parasha (portion) and concludes with Aaron’s and his sons’ ordination as kohanim, or priests. This is one of the reasons the book of Leviticus is considered Torat Kohanim, or a priestly manual. A subtext in the parasha, though, is God’s partnership with the Israelite community.

Tzav refers to fire three times in the first six verses, a hint it is significant. It first describes the sacrifice over the fire, which must, “… Remain aflame upon it.” (Lev. 6:2). The Hebrew word bo, meaning upon it, refers to the sacrifice. But bo also can refer to the kohen bringing the sacrifice. Read this way, the flame represents the Torah, which must burn brightly within each heart. This idea is reinforced a few verses later when Tzav commands,” A permanent fire shall remain aflame on the altar; lo tichbeh, it shall not be extinguished.” (Lev. 6:6) This verse requires the Israelites to remain passionate about the Torah. However, it also can be read as a promise: God will not let the light of Torah disappear.

In the end, the Torah requires both human and divine collaboration. Tzav states, “The fire on the altar shall remain burning on it, it shall not be extinguished; and the Kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning… (Lev. 6:5). The S’fat Emet (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, 1798–1866; founder of the Gerer Chassidim) claims the two mentions of fire represent the written and oral Torah, respectively. God gives the written Torah from above. But each day humans offer the oral Torah from below. The Torah may begin in heaven, but it is completed on earth.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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