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

“He poured some of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him.” (Leviticus 8:12)

Parashat Tzav is directed toward Aaron and his sons, who are destined to become the kohanim, or priests.  It describes the procedure for offering the sacrifices in the mishkan, or Tabernacle.  The Torah repeats many of the instructions from last week’s parasha, or portion, with one difference.  Vayikra’s presentation of the sacrificial laws targets the Israelite community and begins with the most “democratic” sacrifices that are voluntary and ends with the sacrifices designated for specific people in specific situations.  Tzav’s presentation targets the kohanim and begins with the sacrifices with the greatest degree of k’dusha,  or otherness, and ends with those with a lesser degree.  This is one of the reasons Leviticus is considered Torat Kohanim, or a priestly manual.

Parashat Tzav ends with instructions for Moses, the first Jewish prophet, to ordain Aaron, his brother, as the first Jewish High Priest.  The rabbis commented on the joy that Moses felt for his brother (as opposed to the jealousy between the brothers in Genesis) at this moment.  Less noticed is how Moses and Aaron, through their offices, represent a tension fundamental to Jewish life.  Priests represent stability.  The priestly tradition, focusing on ritual, is highly structured, routinized, and constant.  Every priest does the exact same work in the exact same way.  Prophets, on the other hand, represent change.  The prophetic tradition, focusing on justice, is highly individualized and keenly attuned to the issues of the day and the challenges of engaging with the world.  Each prophet addresses different issues in different ways.  This tension, between tradition and change, has animated the Jewish world since Biblical times and is a source of Jewish creativity and innovation.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,


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