Parashat Tzav – Erev Shabbat 3 April 2020
Week of 29 March – 4 April 2020
Torah portion: Leviticus 6:1-8:36 Haftarah: Malachi 3:4-24
Theme: Command and Sacrifice for our Good

Admittedly, it might be difficult for some of us to read and study the parashah for this week which mostly contains all the gory details of the various rituals to be carried out by Aaron and his sons. It is curious, however, to find that the parasha is entitled tzav (Command!) when it is more about ritual sacrifices. Of course, this is not unusual as the parashot we read are given their titles according to the first important word at or near the beginning of the set passage. Sometimes it seems that the chosen portion can contain an entirely different content. Is that necessarily true in this case or is there a connection between “command” and “sacrifice”?

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein mentions that, “the Torah uses the word tzav as opposed to emor or dabeir to motivate the priests to do something they otherwise might not have wanted to do. That’s the classic definition of a commandment: an obligation that we perform even if we don’t feel like it.” This gives an unusually heavy weight to a mitzva: it obliges. This does not simply oblige someone to do something that the commander gave on a whim. If we read the context, the command is given so that it may result in something good, that it may benefit the one who carries out the command. Here, the haftarah from Malachi gives an insight: those who revere G-d shall be blessed. Thus, the command (tzav) is for the good of the one being commanded and those who obey.

On the other hand, sacrifice can also be interpreted in the same vein. Initially, sacrifice is something we do for G-d. But if one looks closely, the sacrifice does not benefit G-d, but us, as the haftarah proclaims: “For I am the LORD, I have not changed.” (Mal 3:6) It is not the sacrifice that makes G-d holy; G-d is already holy. In sacrifice, G-d is not made holy but we are. Sacrifice is not for G-d. Sacrifice is for humans, for our good, for our holiness. In the parasha, Aaron and his sons were consecrated. In the haftarah, those who revere G-d’s name are blessed and made to flourish.

Therefore, command and sacrifice are connected. Firstly, they are given as demands for our obedience: we are obliged to follow them. They are given by G-d for our good, because that is what G-d wills for us. Once accomplished they not only express our love for the one who gave them to us but also make us the people G-d wants us to be. We find this truth echoed in the Eucharistic prayer, “Father all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give thanks. You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank You is itself Your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to Your greatness, but makes us grow in Your grace”.

The act and word “sacrifice” encompass the reality that something valuable is being offered for the sake of something/someone more valuable. It seems here that with this understanding, we are asked to offer something valuable to us, but never just to appease G-d’s wrath or fury, but for G-d to bring about our good, our consecration, which we know is G-d’s eternal will for us.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What sacrifices am I called to make at this time? 2. What mitzvot is G-d calling me to perform today? 3. How have I responded to G-d’s command and demand for sacrifice?

Bibliography: Goldstein, E. “Heeding the Call to Commandment – and to Obligation” (https://reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/tzav/heeding-call-commandment-and-obligation)

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