tzav 5780

By: Dr. Melissa Steiner

In Parshat Tzav, we continue learning about the laws of sacrifice and there are distinctions drawn between the different types of offerings – sin offerings, burnt offerings, and homage offerings. In this parsha, God also commands the priests to make a special offering (the offering of ordination) which solidifies them in their roles.

There is much discussion about how do laws of sacrifices find meaning in today’s world. I’ve decided to leave that theme alone. Instead a couple of themes to explore are the ideas of 1) keeping the fires burning, and 2) isolation.

God instructs Moses to tell Aaron and his sons

And the fire on the altar shall burn on it; it shall not go out…
The kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning

The fire on the altar must be kept burning at all times and each different type of offering is brought before the fire. Where do you have fire in your lives today?

Well, we have literal fires which keep us warm or cook our foods and we have shabbat candles. A fire in the fireplace or in a backyard firepit draws us near; we are warmed by it and we can be mesmerized by it, So, too, the Shabbat candles draw us in but the warmth is more of a spiritual kind – maybe reminding us of times with our families – and a way to help separate the mundane work week from the holiness of Shabbat. Think even about keeping your oven warm over Shabbat – it is reminiscent of keeping the fire on the sacrificial altar kindled at all times.

But we also can think of these fires as internal encouragement, excitement, passion and spiritual enthusiasm.  Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky wrote, in the Tzav chapter of ‘Text Messages – A Torah Commentary for Teens’

On a more poetic level, the commandment to keep the ‘constant fire’ burning symbolizes how we should nurture our own inner spirits, our passion and enthusiasm. After all, where does the fire burn? Not on the altar, but within – within the heart of the person who brings the offering.

We each balance our daily life with caring for others and finding beauty in our world. Those are examples of the warmth and empathy within each of us. Additionally, we often strive to create – music, art, new recipes, clothing (and recently masks). These are outward examples of the fires which burn inside each of us to add beauty to our world, to help others, and to find personal pleasure. Each time we do a good deed, we are feeding the fire. And each time we come together as a Kehilla, we are stoking the fire which is our commitment to each other, and our community.

God commands Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons

You shall not go outside the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the day that your period of ordination is completed…You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, keeping God’s charge

And so, a period of isolation begins for Aaron and his sons. The reason – To ensure that they do not contact anything or anyone who is impure. Well, that sounds kind of familiar. But why seven days? This aligns with seven days of creation.

Seven days doesn’t seem so bad… but it’s interesting that, as I was researching for this dvar, I found an article that describes how Nadav and Avihu, 2 of Aaron’s four sons, (in the parsha Shemini) did not handle this period of isolation so well. The story of Nadav and Avihu describes how the brothers decided they would prepare an ‘extra’ offering to God and because it was not commanded, the brothers were punished by death.

This story suggests that, in isolation, some people get carried away, and may lose sight of their connection to the community. The reminder should be that a period of isolation is a means to accomplishing a goal… it is not meant to become a permanent condition.

This is exactly why it is important to remain connected to each other. To check in, and to use our technology to gather virtually and turn on our webcams so that we can truly connect by looking at each other. No judgement. Only the enthusiasm to join together and share the light of Shabbat through smiles and songs.

Shabbat Shalom



Text Messages – A Torah Commentary for Teens

Etz Hayim