Tzvav (Command)

 Tzvav – Leviticus 6:1 to 8:36

The practice of sacrificial offerings ended with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. But if we examine many of our contemporary traditions, we see that the concept of sacrificial offerings is still very relevant today.

“The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus:”

“This is the ritual of the burnt offering….” (Lev. 6:1-2) The text continues with God’s instructions to Moses for the priests on how complete the offerings or sacrifices.

But why study these sacrificial offerings. They were only to be done at the Temple which no longer exists. Therefore the sacrifices as listed in both this parsha and the reading last week no longer exist. ……. Or do these sacrificial offerings still exist in different forms?

Last week I noted that the animal sacrifices of the Temple were replaced by …

  • Prayer
  • Study
  • Acts of kindness……
  • Then,  in addition to these three, I would like to add another factor which I will further discuss…… Membership in a religious organization. This could be a temple, synagogue, or social organization such as the JCC.


Also noted were the fact that the sacrificial offerings were made to bring the Israelites closer to God. The four categories shown above should accomplish the same purpose.

To see how these acts accomplish the same functions as the sacrifices, I would like to look at each of the sacrificial types. While my descriptions might not align exactly with the original classifications, I find the similarities interesting.

First, the Olah offering – (original offering was a voluntary offering and completely burnt on the altar)

Contemporary offering – Although it is not prayer, study, or acts of kindness … the payment of dues or membership fees seems a similar act. It is made voluntarily. And, as the Temple altar was required to be burning continuously, these membership payments allow our religious institutions to remain operational. Although these payments don’t seem to bring us closer to God, they do signify a commitment to the Jewish faith and its institutions.

Minchah – meal offering – (original offering was also voluntary. Part was burnt on the altar and part was given to the priests)

Contemporary offering -This can be compared to donations to specific activities or funds of today’s organizations. The funds are consumed, but they are destined for specific purposes noted by the donor. Here there is intent. By completing this act the donor is making an effort to improve the organization. … and maybe come closer to God and God’s commandments.

Zavach Sh’lamin – sacrifice of well-being – (original offering was made to celebrate an event of well-being. The sacrifice was shared –eaten- by the donor, the priests, and others invited to share in this happy event. The offering was to be consumed on the day it was offered)

Contemporary offering – I see comparisons to this offering in our many life-cycle events…. Baby namings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and weddings. All have religious elements. The efforts, and food/beverages, are shared with the officiating leaders and all attending. The intent of these celebrations is to mark the significance of the events and in many ways bring the event into our religious life. Through these events we are also bringing God into our lives and our thoughts.

Chatat – purgation offering – (original offering made to purge the sins committed unknowingly. While the three offerings listed above were voluntary, Torah states this offering and the following Asham offerings are not voluntary. They must be done in order to purge the sins committed. The offering is made to the priest and can be eaten only by the males in the priestly line [Lev.7.6])

Contemporary offering – While no offering can be made today to clear a person of any actions taken, acts of kindness – or community service – can ease an individual’s feelings of guilt. Both religious and community organizations have many opportunities to be of service. By performing such services, many of the commandments of Torah are fulfilled. Thus, these actions do bring individuals closer to God and the ways of God.

Asham – reparation offerings – (original offerings were similar to the Chatat described above. However, before the offering was to be made the person had to act to correct any wrongs. This included, if possible, making restitution to the injured parties.)

Contemporary offering – As with the biblical offering, if possible, restitution must be made before a sin can be forgiven. As with the Chatat offering, involvement in “acts of kindness” helps purge the sin. These actions are often prescribed by the courts as part of rehabilitation.

So by studying the biblical offerings, we can gain understanding of why these sacrifices or offerings were made and how many of our own contemporary practices serve the same functions.

Earl Sabes

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