Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Parshat Tzav

There are four Sedra Shorts on Parshat Tzav:

  • The Korban Todah and Chametz
  • Understanding Karet
  • More on Sacrifices and Offerings
  • Eating the Blood

The Korban Todah and Chametz

Last week we saw that it was forbidden to burn chametz on the altar (VaYikra 2:11). Indeed, Chametz cannot be brought with any of the korbanot, aside from two: The Shtei Halechem (ibid 23:17) and the Korban Todah, the thanksgiving sacrifice (ibid 7:13), which is in this week's parsha.

Aside from the Chametz aspect, the Korban Todah and the Korban Pesach are very similar sacrifices:

  • They are the only korbanot that are brought with bread/matzah (ibid and Shemot 12:8).
  • They are the only korbanot that must be eaten by the morning after their sacrifices (VaYikra 7:15 & Shemot 12:10).
  • Both korbanot can be eaten by non-kohanim.

Indeed, these korbanot are very similar in their essence. The Chizkuni explains the reason that the Korban Todah must be consumed by the morning. It is impossible for one person to eat an entire animal by himself. This law forces the person to invite a large group of people to join him in eating the Korban Todah. He is therefore, required to supply them with bread in order to make a seudat mitzvah. During the course of this meal they would naturally discuss the reason why the person brought this thanksgiving sacrifice. Indeed, the person would explain "Know that the Lord He is God; it is He that has made us" (Tehillim 100 – Mizmor LeTodah, which is not recited on Passover, because it could not be sacrificed then because of the chametz).

Thereby, a large group of people would be made aware of the miracle that God had done for this man.

This is the essence of the Korban Pesach. A large group of people must sit together to enjoy the meal and they have the duty to discuss the Exodus from Egypt, the miracle that God performed for the entire Jewish people, and the reason why the Korban Pessach is being brought. This is the mitzvah of "Maggid" and Jews today fulfill this mitzvah by reciting the Hagadah on Seder Night, the first night of Pessach.

It turns out that the Korban Pessach is a national Korban Todah and hence their similarities.

Of course, while a regular Korban Todah needed chametz bread, this was not possible for the Korban Pessach, as chametz is forbidden for the whole of Passover.

Understanding Karet

This week's parsha brings to our attention an interesting punishment:

"A person who eats the flesh of a peace offering of the Lord, while his uncleanness is upon him, that soul shall be cut off from its people" (VaYikra 7:20).

This punishment of one's "soul being cut off from its people" (
וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מֵעַמֶּיהָ), called "Karet", also applies to males who are not circumcised (Bereshit 17:14), someone who eats chametz on Pesach (Shemot 12:15, 19), someone who breaks Shabbat (ibid 31:14), someone who does any of the actions described in VaYikra Chapter 18 (see passuk 29) and for a host of other sins.

The commentaries have trouble understanding what "Karet" actually entails. Most commentators understand it as a form of heavenly punishment despite the fact that Bamidbar 15:31 implies that it is to be applied by humans. Some say that Karet is childlessness. This would fit in with the concept of "being cut off from the people", if the sinner is young and has no children. Others understand it as death before the age of 50 or between the ages of 50 and 60. In these cases it is difficult to understand what makes this death: "cut off from the people".

We can perhaps suggest two alternatives by looking at the antonym of this expression. It appears at the deaths of Avraham, Yitschak, Yishmael, Aharon and Moshe. We will examine the expression with Avraham:

"Avraham expired and died in a good old age, old and satisfied, andhe was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the Cave of Machpelah" (Bereshit 25:8-9).

Now, we must understand what "gathered to his people" (
וַיֵּאָסֶף אֶל עַמָּיו) means.

Note how the "gathering to his people" occurred after death but before burial. There are two ways to understand this.

Firstly, in ancient Israel, there were two stages in burying a person. First the body was buried. A year later, the grave was re-opened and the bones were then gathered and buried in a family tomb. Therefore, if the "gathering to his people" means the gathering of the bones and the re-internment in a family tomb, then we can understand "Karet" as a procedure that would mean that the sinner's bones were not re-interred in the family tomb - effectively he is cut off from his people.

However, it is difficult to apply this explanation to the deaths of Aharon and Moshe as their bones were not re-interred in the family tomb.

Other commentators suggest that this expression is a reference to the world to come. The Tenach does not talk about life after death, but it is possible that this expression hints at it. Therefore, if "being gathered unto one's people" implies being granted a place in the world to come, then "being cut off from one's people" means being denied a place in the world to come.

More on Sacrifices and Offerings

This week's parsha is pretty similar to last week's. Not only do they discuss how the sacrifices, they discuss exactly the same sacrifices! Whether they be burnt offerings, sin offerings or peace offerings, all are repeated in this week's parsha.


The answer lies in the second passuk of each parsha.

VaYikra begins with: "When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord…" (VaYikra 1:2).

While Tzav begins with: "Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering…" (ibid 6:2).

The essential difference between these two parshiyot are the words "when" and "command".

Parshat VaYikra begins with the word "When". Essentially, no obligation is placed on the individual to bring a sacrifice. Yet, when a person feels the urge to bring a korban, he has a list of alternatives to choose from.

However, Tzav begins with "command". If no one feels the urge to bring korbanot to God, the priests still have an obligation to bring them.

Once again, we are faced with the need to worship God from inner desire and the ritual obligations of worship that are incumbent on all Jews.

That is the way the world is. There are moments when we eel the inner motive to do what is right. However, often we neglect our duties and obligations, necessitating rules and ceremonies to regulate us to ensure that we do what is right.

The challenge for the Jew is to take the extremes of these two parshiyot and to synthesize our essence to make our duties and obligations into inner felt desires.

Eating the Blood

This week's parsha reminds us that we may not eat blood: "Any person who eats any blood, soul shall be cut off from its people" (VaYikra 7:27).

Why is it wrong to eat blood?

To help answer this question, we must look at the first time that the Torah forbids it; after the Deluge: "Every moving thing that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you everything. But, flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat" (Bereshit 9:3-4).

The Torah considers blood to be "flesh with its soul". It is not entirely clear what this concept actually means, nevertheless, it seems that blood is more than just a liquid, it is the lifeblood, life itself.

Nevertheless, this should not change why it should be forbidden to eat blood. If one can eat an animal i.e., a living creature, than why can one not eat the blood?

At creation, humanity was only permitted to eat vegetation: "God said, 'Behold, I have given you every seed bearing herb, which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food'" (ibid 1:29).

Yet, after the Flood, God permitted them to eat meat. Many commentaries explain that this new rule was in concession to humanity's aggressive nature. Allowing people to kill animals for food would curve their nature from being aggressive to fellow humans.

Nonetheless, it was still forbidden for humanity to eat the blood. Eating blood would be one step too far. Rather than releasing the aggression, thereby protecting humanity, eating blood, i.e. eating the soul, would lead Man to be callous about life. It would lead to further cruelty to others. And so it remains off limits.


Blogger Joels W. said...

Are you planning on updating this blog?

יואל דוידי
ירושלים עיה"ק

2:54 PM  

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