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You might have missed reading last week's sidra, Vayikra, and are wondering what you've missed. Not to worry; in this week's reading, everything from last week will be repeated—the laws of sacrifice are completely restated in Tzav. Since our tradition maintains that nothing in the Torah is redundant and there are no excess, unneeded words, we wonder why two consecutive parashot cover virtually the same material.
There are five offerings in all that are described in these parashot. In Vayikra, the olah (burnt offering) is discussed in Lev. 1:1–17; in Tzav it's covered in 6:1–6. Similarly, the mincha (meal offering) is in 2:1–16 and 6:7–16 respectively; shelamim (peace offering) is in 3:1–17 and 7:11–38; chatat (sin offering) is in 4:1–26 and 6:17–23; and finally, asham (guilt offering) is covered in 4:27–5:26 and 7:1–10. There is a minor difference in the order that these offerings are discussed in the two sidrot. In Vayikra, the order is as listed above, but in Tzav, the description of the peace offering is moved from the third to the last place. Apart from their order, each mention of the offerings is seemingly repetitious.
It's true that there are many differences in the details of the various offerings as discussed in both sidrot, but there is also significant parallelism. One would have expected that, in the interests of economy and scribal work, that the overlapping details would have been merged into one complete description of the procedures for each offering. After all, this is not a case of different traditions like the two Flood stories or the different textual strains that are apparent in Exodus; the content of Leviticus is solely from the P source and there were no differing traditions comprising the material in this book that needed to be merged into a single work. Of course, one could view these two sidrot, from Lev. 1:1 to 7:38, as the laws of korbanot (sacrifices), and consider the repeated description of the instructions as a recapitulation of the laws.
I think that there is more to the repetition than its being just a recapitulation, however. Recall that after Moses received the instructions for building the mishkan (in Terumah), the Torah then repeats the instructions in Vayakhel, this time as the mishkan is actually being built. In that case, the repetition can be explained by assuming that the Torah was showing that God's construction instructions were followed exactly when the mishkan was built. Perhaps a detailed look at these instances of repetition may hint at the meaning in the current sidra.
Immediately after the sacrifice rules are completed, the narrative resumes with God instructing Moses:
Take Aaron along with his sons, and the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble the whole community at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Moses did as the Lord commanded him. (8:2–3)
These verses begin the description of the seven-day sanctification period for the mishkan. We have previously seen another seven-day sanctification ritual—in Exodus. In fact, the laws for sacrifice are actually part of the narrative of the construction of the mishkan and the ordination of Aaron and his sons. In parashat Terumah, God tells Moses,
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell (v'shakhan'ti) among them. (Ex. 25:8)
The words shekhinah (God's indwelling presence) and mishkan are both derived from the root sh.k.n, "to dwell." Later in this chapter, God explains to Moses about the purpose of the covering of the Ark:
There I will meet (v'noad'ti) with you, and I will speak to you—from above the cover… all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people. (Ex. 25:22)
This is the source of the name of the Tent of Meeting, ohel mo'ad. Then, moving on to Exodus Ch. 29, the description of the seven-day sanctification period preceding Aaron's ordination is found, culminating in the following statement.
…there I will meet with you, and there I will speak with you, and there I will meet with the Israelites, and it shall be sanctified by My Presence. I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and I will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve Me as priests. I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I the Lord am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them… (Ex. 29:42–46)
We can see a parallel between the sanctification of the priesthood and the sanctification of the structure. It is only after these rituals are completed that God's presence will come to dwell in the mishkan. In order for the Shekhinah to reside in the mishkan, then, the mishkan had to be constructed and sanctified and the priests ordained. The first and third steps were completed in Exodus, and now in Leviticus, the second step is to be completed. In this way the mishkan would become "operational," so to speak. But before the mishkan could be operated, its operation had to be defined. What was to happen there? Two primary things, apparently: Moses' communing with the Shekhinah, and sacrifices. Thus the kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered and how they were to be performed had to be explained.
Moving back to the issue of the repetition of the descriptions of the offerings in the current sidra, consider the description of the first offering, the olah, in Vayikra.
Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock. If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall make his offering a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance… He shall lay his hand upon the head… The bull shall be slaughtered… and … the priests shall offer the blood… The burnt offering shall be flayed… the priest shall put fire on the altar and lay out wood upon the fire; and… shall lay out the sections… and the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering… (1:2–9)
And compare it to the corresponding description in Tzav:
Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: …[it] shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night… The priest shall dress in linen raiment… and he shall take up the ashes… and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning… every morning the priest shall feed wood to it… A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out. (6:9–13)
If you look carefully at these verses you can see that the reading from Tzav does not duplicate that from Vayikra; the instructions actually continue from Vayikra into Tzav, and complete the description of the offering procedure. Looking at the actual language used in both sidrot, we can see that the word korban, "offering," is used repeatedly in the passages from Vayikra; in the first three verses alone, its root, k.r.b, is used seven times. But in Tzav, this term is virtually absent, being replaced with the technical terms for the sacrifices themselves preceded by the word torat, meaning "teaching, instruction" or perhaps here meaning "ritual, procedure." (Torat constitutes only one of several categories of laws found in the Torah. Others include mitzvot, chukim, and mishpatim, or "commandments," "statutes," and "ordinances."). Lev. 6:9 reads, "Zot torot ha'olah...," meaning, "These are the olah teachings (procedures for doing olah)…" Thus, instead of korban, we find the terms torat ha'olah, torat ha'mincha, and so forth, used to describe the offerings instead of the generic term korban.
At last the reason for the repetition becomes apparent. The audience for the instructions given in Vayikra and Tzav are different. The description of the offering procedure in Vayikra is directed to the Israelite, the offerer, while in Tzav the directions are for the priests. As to why the descriptions are located as they are in different sections, we can assume that this may be the result of the combining of two separate documents—one for the priests who instructed the Israelites in the procedures related to the offerings, and another for the priests who were occupied with the private details concerning the rites. The two documents were then copied verbatim without editing, simply concatenating them, when they were incorporated into the Torah.
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