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

“Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water.”  (Leviticus 8:6)

Parashat Tzav provides very detailed instructions for performing each of the sacrifices listed in Parashat Vayikra last week.  It’s puzzling, then, to read, “For when I freed your fathers from the land of Egypt, I did not speak with them or command them concerning burnt offerings or sacrifice.” (Jer. 7:22) in this week’s haftarah, or Prophetic reading.  Why does Jeremiah deny what we just read in Tzav?

The answer lies in the aftermath of the Golden Calf episode.  While Moses persuades God to not destroy the Israelites, God decides not to lead the Israelites to Canaan personally (Ex. 33:3).  In response, Moses moves the Tent of Meeting and pitches it outside the camp (Ex. 33:7). Moses is calling God out, saying,   ”If You’re not in, count me out.”  This estrangement is the reason the Book of Leviticus exists.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, (1948- ; former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth) contends Leviticus is a manual for recalibrating the relationship between God and the Israelite people.  If God is too close, the people retreat in fear (Ex. 20:16) If God is too far, they resort to idol worship (Ex. 32:1).  God doesn’t plan for the sacrificial rite; it’s a remarkable concession to Moses’ challenge to keep faith with the Israelites.  It regularizes encountering the divine by specifying the time, place, people, and behavior for interacting with God.

The root of korban, or sacrifice, is KRB, which also means to bring close. The korban rituals allow God to draw near and to dwell b’tocham, within their midst (Ex. 25:8) by modulating the intensity of contact.


Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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