29 March 2024 (5784)

Week of 24 March-30 March 2024

Torah portion: Leviticus 6:1-8:36   Haftarah: Ezek 36:16-38

Theme: peace offering

You can imagine what is on my mind when I say that the word that I noticed the most in the reading for this week, was “peace”. Of course, it was because of the current news headlines; but it was also because it appeared quite a few times in the parashat Tzav in relation to “peace offerings” or shelem offerings. They are mentioned in Lev 6:5 and described in some detail in Lev 7:11-37.

     Our parashah is not the first time when peace offerings are mentioned in the Scriptures, we read about them already in the book of Exodus where they are mentioned in one of the first sets of sacrificial laws (see Ex 20:24).  

     In the book of Leviticus, peace offerings are described first in Lev 3:1-17, where we learn about which animals can be sacrificed, how to divide the meat, and what to do with its different parts. This week’s passage gives further details about the meaning of this sacrifice. We read that it can be offered as a thanksgiving offering (7:12), a vow, or a voluntary donation (7:16). It also says that at least some of the peace offering can be eaten by the priest (7:14, 33-34); some by the person bringing the offering (7:15-16); and some is burned on the altar (7:31). Rashi emphasises the importance of the three participating parties in this sacrifice. He writes that these offerings are called shelem “because they bring about harmony (shalom)” among the altar, the priests, and the owner of the sacrifice. (Rashi on Lev 3:1).

     The word shelem is also close to the word shalem – “perfect”, and many Bible versions translate a “peace offering” as a “sacrifice of well-being”. Rabbi David Hoffman writes that the meaning of a peace offering is connected with shalem: the person’s striving for perfection found only in God; by bringing this sacrifice the worshipper “declares that his own peace and well-being are inextricably bound up with cleaving to God.” (Leibowitz, 73.)

     Thus, the peace offering can refer to harmony, reconciliation and perfection between the human and the divine. But there is another level of meaning in this offering, according to the sages. Abravanel writes that because the meat of this sacrifice has to be consumed in one day and one night, people will struggle to consume it all unless they share it, “the owner invites his relatives and friends to share his meal and joy.” (Leibowitz, 82.) Thus with that communal meal, people establish and strengthen peace among themselves.

     I wish that peace offering was something magical – we offered it and all the devastating wars in the world would disappear. However, the Torah and its commentators know it is impossible – the sacrifices themselves cannot achieve peace, forgiveness of sins or guilt. To achieve those, the divine and the human have to work together, and it is a constant effort. The parashah for today indicates some ways for us to start – with a common meal, and with working towards God’s perfection.

     The peace offering can also achieve its results by people studying together. As it is written in Menachot 110a, the Torah scholars who engage in studying the laws of the sacrifices, are counted as if they are bringing the sacrifices themselves. So, may God count our study of peace offerings this week towards bringing peace in this time!

For Reflection and Discussion: Read 2 Samuel 6:17-18 and discuss how the peace offerings described in this passage reflect their working on the divine and human realm!

Bibliography: Rashi on Leviticus; Leibowitz N., New Studies in Vayikra Leviticus (Jerusalem, 1996)This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rota Stone
, New Zealand, Bat Kol Alumna: 2002, 2003


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