Parsha: Tzav (Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36)
The Antithesis of Minimalism
Tzav צַו (“Give the Command!“) Leviticus 6:1 (6:8) – 8:36
The Torah reading for this Shabbat is entitled Tzav, meaning, “Give the command!” and covers Leviticus chapters six through eight. The parasha opens by describing the steps for restitution when one person has defrauded another over property. This includes finding lost property and lying about it or having something entrusted to you and lying to the owner saying that it was lost or stolen in order to keep it for yourself. The person who has done this must make restitution in full and add one fifth of the value of the item. The guilt offering to the Lord may not be made unless complete restitution to the rightful owner is made that same day. The lesson: we must make our relationships with one another right before we presume to come before the Lord. Yeshua confirmed this idea when he said, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).
One of the very first things commanded is that fire be kept burning continually on the altar; it was never to go out (6:9, 13). Josephus recorded (and it was confirmed by rabbinical writings) that during the time of the Second Temple there was a special day set apart when everybody was to bring wood to the Temple, so that the supply would never be depleted in order to keep the fire of the altar going. The lampstand (menorah) that once stood in front of the Temple, coupled with this commandment that fire be kept burning continually on the altar is the basis for the traditional ner tamid – the perpetual light found above the ark in most synagogues. It is a reminder of the days when the Temple still stood, and represents a yearning that it be built once again.
Most of chapter six and the first part of seven concern burnt offerings, grain offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings. But in chapter seven we are instructed about the peace (or fellowship) offerings. These were especially significant, as they were altogether voluntary. Serving the Living God was meant to be so much more than merely fulfilling religious obligations. For example, a person might be at peace with God and simply want to give thanks to Him for His tender mercies and forgiveness. That is where the peace offerings came in. They were offerings given purely from a heart filled with gratitude.
But the peace offerings were also a very serious matter – anyone who ate any of the meat of a peace offering in a state of uncleanness was to be put to death! The most significant of the peace offerings was the thanksgiving offering. If you had been delivered from the attack of an enemy, or were healed of a sickness or had taken a vow during a time of distress and were now safe and sound, you could bring a thanksgiving offering. Another of the peace offerings was the free-will offering. Perhaps for no other reason than that your heart moved you to express appreciation to God for His goodness and kindness you might bring a free-will offering. Rabbi Hertz pointed out that the rabbis regarded the thanksgiving offering to be of the highest order, declaring that during the Messianic Age, whereas all other sacrifices will have served their purposes, these will continue on.
Peace offerings illustrate how much more is possible than mere minimalist religion – “playing church”. In every generation there have been those who did the least possible in order to “get by”, and those who had a vibrant, living relationship with God. The peace offerings were, in that sense, a barometer of one’s devotion to the Lord.
Leviticus chapter eight describes the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests. Their ordination, as it were, was attended with great and very elaborate ceremony. There were washings and anointings and ceremonial robes and head coverings and the sacrifice of a bull and two rams. A little of the blood of the second ram was put on Aaron and his sons’ right ear lobes, their right thumbs and the big toe of their right feet. If this ceremony seems strange, think of it as a picture of the need for those who would serve God to have attentive ears, obedient hands and cautious feet. The mind, the will and the ways of a man of God must all be in submission to the will of God. There was none of this modern notion that a man’s private life and the public discharge of his duties were separate and unrelated issues. The whole man must be consecrated to God. So should it be for all of us, especially followers of Yeshua, who are called “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.
In thinking about the thanksgiving offerings, two incidents in the life of Yeshua come to mind. The first was His encounter with the man at the pool of Bethesda who had been lame for thirty-eight years, whom Yeshua graciously healed. With just a word Yeshua enabled that man to rise and walk again!Yet not only did this guy not bother to thank Yeshua for such a wondrous gift, but became an informant against Him to the religious authorities. What kind of appreciation is that?
The other incident took place while Yeshua was on His way to Jerusalem for the last time before being put to death at Passover. Heading south from the Galilee, He was approached in a certain village by ten men with leprosy who begged Him to have mercy on them. Yeshua granted their request, and as they went their way, every one of them was instantaneously healed! Yet of those ten, only one man came back to give glory to God, and it turns out he was not even an Israeli. Yeshua marveled at the lack of thankfulness. May God deliver us from ingratitude and fill our hearts with love and appreciation for all He has done. We are, after all, a twice-delivered people!
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Tzav צַו. Other transliterations: Tsav, Zav, Sav, Saw