Newsletter #12, 2015

Parasha Tzav צו (Leviticus 6:1-8:36)

In parasha Tzav, G-d is telling Moshe to command Aaron and the priests regarding the proper execution of the various laws of sacrifices. Specifically, a distinction is made between burnt offering ( עֹלָה) sin offerings (חַטָּאת), meal offerings (מִנְחָה), guilt offering (אָשָׁם), and peace offering (שְׁלָמִים ), each following its own process. Adonai instructs Moses to gather the whole community for the anointment and the consecration of the Tabernacle and ordination of the Aaron and his sons.
Animal sacrifices did not originate with the Israelites. Adonai permitted animal sacrifices for the Israelites because unlike pagans around them, they offered their korban (sacrifice) to Ha-Shem. In our modern world, animal sacrifices seem to be a barbaric, primitive and inhumane. It brings the image of animals being slaughtered, blood and guts being brought to the altar, where priests performing various meaningless rituals. However, we have to keep in mind that Ha-Shem instituted the laws of offerings, so it has to be something very significant and deep spiritual reason for it.

Lev. 6:6 A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar, it shall not go out.

Lev. 6:6 A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar, it shall not go out.

Three major questions come to mind:
Does G-d need sacrifices?
What benefits was derived from these offerings?
Why so many intricate details on how to perform sacrificial laws?
Pagan religions also performed sacrifices but contrary to Judaism, the purpose of pagans’ sacrifice was to appease their many gods. Every pagan god had to be appeased in order to avoid their wrath, so humans gave them gifts to keep them happy. In Judaism, offering is not for Ha-Shem. He is all-powerful and has everything that he needs. The Hebrew term “korban” does not mean “sacrifice” or “offering” as it is commonly translated. The root of the word means “to draw close”. Humans’ need and desire to draw closer to G-d brought an animal to the Temple and was sacrificed on the altar to declare man’s intent to draw. The Torah mentions that Man would be consumed by fire if he/she had to stand in the Holy presence of Ha-Shem. Korbanot have served as means of to be near to G-d by channeling the consuming fire through the animal rather than the person. The idea of animal sacrifice teaches us to draw closer to G-d and sanctify our body. The other purpose of the animal sacrifices was to give thanks and express gratitude by offering a gift. It is important to remember that Korban do not influence G-d, but it is an expression of our inner desire to draw close to Ha-Shem.
The Olah (Burnt Offering) was brought from an animal or bird and was burned completely on the altar. This offering was brought for someone who planned to commit a sin, but did not actually perform it. This represented the purification of one’s thoughts and the complete sublimation of oneself to Ha-Shem.
The Chatat (Sin Offering) was offered to achieve atonement for the committing of an unintentional sin. This offering is brought only for those sins that had been committed unintentionally. In this case, the human acted in his/her selfish desire and transgressed the will of G-d.
The Mincha (Meal/Grain) If an individual was so poor that he could not even afford a bird then he could bring Mincha offering. Even a small flour offering might have been is a great expense for poor people. As the Talmud says: “It is irrelevant whether you bring a large amount or a small one, so long as your intention is for Heaven.”
The Shlamim (Peace Offering) was not for atoning for sin but for expressing happiness and gratitude to G-d. An ox or cow, ram or female sheep were used as an offering. This sacrifice was also offered when recovering from a serious illness, returning safely from a sea voyage, crossing the desert safely etc.
Asham (Guilt Offering) The guilt offering was a mandatory atonement for both intentional and unintentional sin that required restitution, confession and forgiveness.
Ha-Shem was very specific and detailed for each of these sacrifices and offerings. Why? Well the potential downside of bringing things to G-d, could have been the confusion of what to bring, how much to bring, how much would be enough etc. By giving precise instruction, Ha-Shem took out the ambiguity of the process.
Are we doomed with regards to our ability to draw close to or attain forgiveness from G-d due to the loss of our Temple? I will explore that next week.
Shabbat Shalom! ~~~~~~~~Joseph

Read the latest newsletter from the European Union for Progressive Judaism. Click here to read and download.

Read this week´s commentary By Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild, State Rabbi of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Torah from Around the World #265 de la WUPJ.

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