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Parshat Tzav

Parshat Vayikra and Parshat Tzav both teach the halachot (laws) of five different types of korbanot (sacrifices), but the korbanot appear in a different order in each parsha. There is one thing that the parshiot have in common, and that is that each of the parshiot begin the laws with the korban olah (burnt offering).

Parshat Vayikra begins with “…Speak to the Israelites, and tell them the following: When a man brings a mammal as an offering to G-d…If the sacrifice is a burnt offering taken from the cattle, it must be an unblemished male…”

Parshat Tzav begins with “…relate the following instructions to Aharon and his descendents: This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall remain on the altar’s hearth all night until morning, so that the altar’s fires can be ignited with it.”

The instructions of Parshat Vayikra are for Bnei Yisrael, and in Parshat Tzav they are for the cohanim. The korban olah is the first korban that Bnei Yisrael, who will be offering the korbanot, and the cohanim, who will be performing the service, learn about. The korban olah is entirely for G-d, and all of its parts are burnt on the mizbeach (altar).

The Korban olah provides the basis for the other korbanot, because it is an expression of all of life’s forces, physical and spiritual, reaching upwards towards their Divine source. The korban olah also negates the superficial understanding that perceives all of existence as stemming from the physical earth. People who consider the physical earth as the foundation of all existence, perceive serving G-d through sacrifices as a primitive ritual, and this can even lead people to idolatry. To correct this misconception, the Torah stresses to the person offering the sacrifice and to the Cohen performing the service that the korban is meant to draw the world closer to G-d.
This point is expressed in the opening of Parshat Vayikra: “Speak to the Israelites …When a man brings a mammal as an offering to G-d…” Why does the Torah specify “adam”, man? Man and animals differ in that animals walk with their heads parallel to the ground, while man stands from the ground up, with his head upwards. The head is the most important part of man, and connects him to the spiritual world, while his feet place him firmly in the physical world (the feet are the lowest part of man, and also signify the most physical part of man). Man’s attachment to the spiritual world is indicative of the world’s inner purity. The Torah therefore stresses the “adam” (person) who has to bring the korban. In the korban olah a physical object becomes totally sanctified (kodesh kodashim) to G-d, showing how the mundane can be infused with kedusha (sanctity).

Whereas Vayikra instructed the individual how to offer a korban, Tzav discusses the olat tamid, a communal offering that is bought with the shekalim donated by Bnei Yisrael. Vayikra taught us that an individual can sanctify his life and be infused with spirituality. Tzav teaches us that Am Yisrael, including all of its individuals, from the scholars and holy men through those who function primarily in the physical world, can also live in sanctity.

Only after learning the details of the korban olah as they apply to the person bringing a korban, to the cohen who performs the avodah of a korban, and to Am Yisrael, are we ready to learn of the other korbanot and their meaning.

The olat tamid (daily burnt offering) is offered in the morning and in the afternoon, teaching us that striving for spiritual perfection never ends. A person’s entire life is a long, never ending process of striving for perfection. The morning tamid represents the day, and the afternoon tamid represents the night. Man has to seek closeness to G-d both during the day, while he goes about his business in the public thoroughfare, and at night, as he gathers with his family in the privacy of his home. Although the afternoon tamid is slaughtered and the avodah associated with it is performed during the day, it burns on the mizbeach throughout the night, “The burnt offering shall remain on the altar’s hearth all night until morning…” During the daytime man is awake and his neshama (soul) shines and functions at its peak, while at night the physical nature of the world slows down the neshama and spiritual activity is limited.

The actual sacrifice of the afternoon tamid is during the day when man is at his spiritual peak. It is slaughtered and its blood is thrown on the mizbeach, representing our drawing closer to Hashem through the most basic, physical life forces. The limbs of the korban are burnt on the mizbeach throughout the night, at a time that the physical element of the world is strongest, showing that even the most mundane and physical elements can be sanctified through the fire of the mizbeach. Fire naturally burns upward, just as all of existence yearns for its Divine source. The fire of the mizbeach lifts the physical forces to spiritual heights.

Our parsha further instructs us about trumat hadeshen (the removal of the ashes). “The priest shall then put on his linen vestments, including his linen pants. He shall remove the ashes of the burnt offerings consumed by the fire that are on the altar, and place them near the altar.” The cohen gathered a shovel-full of the innermost burning ashes and placed them on the eastern side of the mizbeach's ramp. The mitzvah to remove the ashes from the mikdash follows. “He shall then take off his vestments, and put on other garments. He shall then take the ashes to a ritually clean place outside the camp.” The cohen put on clothing of lesser quality than the clothing that he wore when removing the ashes from the altar. He then takes the ashes that were piled up on the side of the mizbeach, and removes them from the Mikdash. The trumat hadeshen is done daily, but their removal from the mikdash does not have to be done every day. (Rashi)

The ashes are all that remains of the korban after it is burnt. Trumat hadeshen (removing the ashes) shows how we continue to maintain the spiritual heights that were achieved through the sacrifice, even once the sacrifice is complete. The influence of the korban can be felt in our lives even after the korban is done.

Although Rabbi Shimon (in the Safra) explains that the cohen must wear all four of the priestly garments* for trumat hadeshen, the Torah emphasizes the tunic and pants. The tunic atones for murder, and the pants atone for illicit relations.
Murder is caused by anger, a major flaw in a person’s character and adultery is the outcome of the physical world overpowering a person’s spiritual essence. The korban raises a person to a degree of sanctity that effects his ethical sensitivities and leads him to a life of sanctity, keeping him from lowering himself to murder and adultery. This is why the Torah stresses the tunic and pants that the cohen wore during trumat hadeshen.

Following the trumat hadeshen, the cohen performs the less important removal of ashes from the Mikdash. Because of the secondary nature of this avodah, the cohen wears clothing of lower quality. This represents serving Hashem outside the Mikdash, empowering us to purify all of our worldly endeavors.

The effect of the olah is felt even after the time of the actual sacrifice, and its influence spreads to all aspects of our lives.

Without the Beit Hamikdash, unfortunately, the avodah of the korbanot is not an option today. There is a form of avodah that remains though, and that is avodah shebalev, (worship of the heart), prayer. The effect of prayer should also extend beyond the actual time spent in t’fillah (prayer), and influence all of our activities.

The Talmud (Brachot 32b) states: “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: An individual who prays should wait after his prayers… “ Rav Kook explained the words of Rabbi Yeshua ben Levi as teaching us that a person should spend time following t’fillah in reflection. This allows the kedusha that was absorbed during prayers to settle within a person so that it can later influence all of his activities.

With the help of G-d we’ll soon be able to serve Hashem in the Beit Hamikdash, and reach new levels of avodat Hashem as individuals and as a nation in the Beit Hamikdash and in our personal lives.

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