Judaism is often contrasted with Christianity as being a religion that focuses on “material” as opposed to “spiritual” matters. Whether such a characterisation does full justice to either religion is doubtful and, indeed, what exactly such a characterisation is intended to signify is less than clear. However, as this week’s Sedra shows, even the most spiritual matters receive a decidedly physical expression in the Torah.
Traditionally, the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) was known as Torat Kohanim, “the Teachings of the Priests.” Its contents are about the people who would be ministering in the Mishcan (sanctuary in the wilderness) and in the Temple in Jerusalem. In this Torah portion Tzav, God describes the different laws of sacrifices. What a difficult subject for the modern Western mind to fathom! Get your head around the meticulous processes of burnt, guilt, and peace offerings - to name but a few. And top it off with the special offering the priests make that ordains themselves in their positions.
The Shabbat before Pesach is known as Hagadol, “the Great Sabbath”. Many explanations have been offered for this title. Here are four summarised from Rabbi Enkin of Ramat Beit Shemesh.
In Tzav (literally ‘command’) we learn about how the priests conducted sacrifices and how Aaron and his sons were ordained into the priesthood.
As it is a mitzvah specifically to be performed in the temple, animal sacrifice can seem today to be a relatively foreign and even barbaric practice. We are taught at school that pagans and heathens would worship and sacrifice animals and it can seem jarring that it is a commandment which appears in our own Torah.
So how is animal sacrifice in Judaism different?
"And the fire on the altar shall burn on it; it shall not go out."Every synagogue has its 'ner tamid’, the eternal light placed near or above the Aron Kodesh. The origin of the ner tamid is found in this week’s parsha. We are commanded to have an eternal flame constantly burning on the altar of the Mishkan and later in the temple in Jerusalem.
The Sidra of Tzav is addressed to the KOHANIM with the instructions to them how to prepare and offer up the sacrifices on behalf of the nation and also on behalf of individuals. According to a famous interpretation by Rashi, the word Tzav, which means ‘command’, denotes encouragement to perform it with urgency and enthusiasm. The KOHANIM had to be urged to pay attention to all their daily duties in the Temple, because these duties were repetitive and fairly monotonous.
Why is this Shabbat different from all other Shabbatot? A number of commentators have put forward explanations as to the source of this special Shabbat – Shabbat HaGadol. One approach links its origin to the verse in the Haftarah, taken from Malachi and prophesying a Messianic age: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord”.
In today’s day and age of instant communication, international media and widespread knowledge, we have been taught that in order to succeed in this world, it is important not to show any flaws or weaknesses. From airbrushing images to make people appear thinner/ younger, to politicians lying under oath, it is believed that having an air of invincibility and perfection is the path to long term success.