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

“Gather the entire assembly to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” (Leviticus 8:3)

Parashat Tzav describes the rituals for performing each of the sacrifices listed in last week’s parasha (portion): the olah (burnt offering), mincha (meal offering), chatat (sin offering), asham (guilt offering), and zevach sh’lamim (peace offering). But Tzav is more than just The Priest’s Guide to Jewish Barbecue. The sacrifices are expressions of personal responsibility: you bring one to atone for sin or to acknowledge (undeserved) good fortune. Now, personal responsibility is culturally determined: its form depends on when, where, and who is expressing it. The sacrificial cult recognizes people make mistakes and no one, not even the kohen gadol, the high priest, is exempt from atoning (e.g., taking responsibility) when that happens. Taking responsibility is a cultural norm.

The rabbis are clear: cultural norms emerge out of individuals’ behaviors. They determine there are three sins requiring immediate atonement (rather than waiting for Yom Kippur): walking next to a shaky wall, arrogance in prayer, and calling God’s judgement on someone else (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashana 16b). Those three behaviors are driven by a self-righteous narcissism: I am so blame free of course the wall won’t fall on me, of course God will respond to my prayer, and of course I can judge others.

The rabbis’ message (Don’t think you’re such a tsaddik, or righteous person) is a helpful corrective to today’s litigious, finger-pointing, it’s-their-fault world. It is a reminder no one, regardless of station or office, is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Imagine how much better the world could be if we each exercised a little more humility, rejected any sense of entitlement, acknowledged our errors, and atoned for them immediately.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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