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This Week's Torah Portion: A Lesson in Humility

Dëvar Torah – Parashath Tzav (Leviticus VI, 1-VIII, 36)

This week’s parasha is in a certain sense a recapitulation of last week’s parasha in that the same five categories of sacrifices are discussed. To be sure, different aspects are brought out, but at first glance it is hard to see why these could not have been combined in a single parasha, or broken down differently than they are.

A clue is contained in the beginning of each of the parashoth in which we are told who the audience being addressed is. Parashath VaYiqra’ begins: Dabbér el bënei Yisra’él vë’amarta aléhem (“Speak to the bënei Yisra’él and you will say to them … ”, I, 2), while in our parasha we find: Tzav eth Aharon vë’eth banav lémor (“Command Aharon and his sons, to say … ”, VI, 2).

Our parasha thus contains a shift in emphasis from the bënei Yisra’él who finance and provide the qorbanoth to the kohanim who are responsible for execution. In this shift we can find an explanation for a puzzling difference between the parashoth.

In VaYiqra’, the qorbanoth are presented in the following order: ‘Ola (“burnt sacrifice”), mincha (“grain offering”), shëlamim (“peace sacrifices”), chattath (“sin sacrifice”), and asham (“guilt sacrifice”). In our parasha, the order is subtly different: Chattath and asham directly follow the mincha, and shëlamim bring up the rear.

The different audience explains the order: since the bënei Yisra’él provide the sacrifices, the Torah showcases the zërizuth (“willingness, enthusiasm”) which should characterize their activity by emphasizing the voluntary sacrifices (‘ola, mincha, shëlamim) over those which are strictly obligatory (chattah, asham). The kohanim, however, responsible (as we noted last week) for the administration of the institution of qëdusha (“holiness”) in Israel, have the qorbanoth presented in order of their sanctity: from the ‘ola (which the Torah characterizes as qodesh qodashim, “holy of holies”) to the shëlamim (qodashim qalim or “lesser holies,” cf. mishna Zëvachim V, 4-6).

That said, it is curious that our parasha begins its discussion of the ‘ola with what seems a trivial housekeeping matter:

Vëlavash hakohén middo vad umchnësei vad yilbash ‘al bësaro vëhérim eth hadeshen asher tochal ba’ésh eth ha‘ola el hamizbéach vësamo étzel hamizbéach. Ufashat eth bëgadav vëlavash bëgadim achérim vëhotzi’ eth hadashen el michutz lamachane el maqom tahor.

And the kohén will wear his linen coat, and linen trousers he will wear on his flesh, and he will lift up the ashes which the fire will make of the ‘ola on the altar, and he will place them beside the altar. And he will remove his clothes and put on other clothes and remove the ashes outside the camp to a clean place (VI, 3-4).

Rashi explains the reason for changing his garments very prosaically: