Tzav (Command)

Leviticus 6:1 to 8:36

TzavIn Biblical times, wrongful acts (sins) were forgiven through animal sacrifices. After the Temple’s destruction, prayer replaced the sacrifices. But, how does prayer forgive sin?

This week’s Torah reading gives added details regarding the ritual animal sacrifices as the Eternal speaks to Moses about the “commands” on how Aaron and his sons should complete the sacrifices. God also provides the outline for the service in which the priests are ordained.

As I noted in last week’s comments, these sacrifices could only be done in the Tabernacle… and later in the Temple. Since the Temple was destroyed two thousand years ago, it has been a long time since sacrifices were offered.

The major purpose of the sacrificial offerings was to bring the worshiper closer to God. After the sacrificial system ended, the Rabbis introduced prayer. As noted below, the process of prayer accomplishes the same purpose as sacrifices by also bringing worshipers closer to God.

  • Prayer, practiced on a regular basis, reminds of God’s presence in our lives.
  • Prayer provides a way to offer thanksgiving during ritual festivities and for special events.
  • Prayer offers a way to repent for breaking the commands, laws and rules stated or implied in Torah… commonly called sinning. This could be the result of intentional or unintentional acts.

It is on the subject of the repentance of sins that I would like to devote the rest of this week’s comments.

First, the sacrificial system as outlined in Torah, has specific remedies for the person who commits a sin. The only formal prayers that ask forgiveness are those offered on Yom Kippur. Because infractions occur all year round, I wonder if this is sufficient.

A remedy could become apparent through a further discussion of sin. Torah provides the guidelines for a better world as envisioned by the Eternal. The prophets stated that man has free will to follow the laws of Torah, or not. In many cases mankind naturally desires not to follow these laws… which some would consider “committing a sin.” Reasons include short term gains, personal gains, or just a lack of knowledge of specific laws.

The Hebrew word used most often for sin is hata. The root of this word in Biblical Hebrew is “to miss” … as in missing a goal or taking a wrong path. Most of the time, it is assumed that the wrong path is chosen through erroneous thought, not error or ignorance.
The prophets also saw that errors in judgment were part of normal life. So the remedy for sin (hata) is to repent… or return to the proper goal or road. The Hebrew word (verb form) for this returning is shuv … the action itself (noun form) is teshuvah. This concept is not found in Torah, but in the later writings of the prophets, who state that a man who repents is a man who returns to the right way.

We can discover an answer to my earlier question about a substitute for the sacrificial sin offering in Torah, by combining the process for forgiveness offered in the Torah’s sin offering with the thoughts of the later prophets. First, the person who “misses the mark” must admit his/her error. Second, if possible, there must be an effort to compensate any injured parties. Then, lastly, through prayer, forgiveness is requested along with an effort to correct the incorrect actions.

Thus, a person is making an effort to create a better world … Tikun Olam … through teshuvah. The sin is not seen as corrupt act or a reason for sadness or self-persecution. It is realized that a bad choice was made … the mistake corrected … and the right path taken. …. This could be the substitute for the sin offering seen in this, and the preceding, Torah readings.

The only problem I see with this solution is the reaction of the community. Depending upon the extent of the sin … and the extent of the repentance … the community may or may not choose to be forgiving. But, this is a whole different discussion.

Earl Sabes

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