Tsav 5781 – Tsav and Sacrifices

By: Susan Moger

This week’s Torah portion is Tsav. It is the 6th word and means command.  G-d tells Moses to describe the ritual of the burnt offerings to Aaron, which the priests are to perform. Then the priests undergo the process of ordination.

G-d commands Moses to command Aaron and his sons to do rituals of burnt offerings which must remain burning upon the altar all night and each morning the priests would give more wood to the offering on the altar. They burn the fat which turns into smoke.  This keeps the altar burning all night. These animal offerings must not be eaten.

Aaron and his sons remain in the Sanctuary compound 7 days during which Moses initiates them into the priesthood.

What are modern day offerings of sacrifice? Some say it is the prayers we do morning, afternoon and evening, some say it is the fear of G-d. Or perhaps it is the sacrifices we do in our lives for each other, giving a different meaning to the word.

Maimonides said G-d didn’t want the Israelites to perform burnt offerings of animals but the ancients were accustom to making these offering to their gods. Therefore the Israelites did offerings, but to one G-d, it was something familiar in those days. He goes on to add that G-d could have created another ritual for our ancestors, but ancients were used to these rituals so they continued with a slight variation of offering to only one G-d. G-d wanted them to only do the sacrifices in the Temple and only to be performed by the priestly class which indicates G-d wanted these sacrifices restricted, not as widespread as among the other ancients.

Rabbi Dorff has some comments also. He is with the Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University and also teaches law at UCLA.  In 1945 when the Conservative movement created the Prayerbook for Sabbath and Festivals, some of us grew up using, they changed Musaf. It went from being a prayer to G-d to restore the Temple and animal sacrifice to a recalling of the devotion that our ancestors had when they worshipped. Musaf was about the restoration of a homeland for the Jewish people, implying sacrifice is essential to fulfill human ideals, but not to restore animal sacrifice.  That was the decision made, instead of eliminating Musaf, to change it. Then the most recent Conservative prayer book, the High Holiday Mahzor Lev Shalom, restored some optional words, indicated by parenthesis. It is each congregation’s option, to include the words in the third to last blessing of the Amidah “and the fire offering of Israel”.   But a note on the page indicates we are not praying to restore animal sacrifice but to add an intensity for religious fervor. Once more giving a different meaning to the word “fire” as in being “fired up” in praying.

So, as we approach Passover and reflect back on the lives of the Israelites leaving Egypt, it is also a time to think about how we can incorporate modern day ways in our daily lives to perform the biblical ancient rituals.

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