Parshat Tsav – Shabbat HaGadol

Summary: The Book of Leviticus spans the 4-6 weeks in which Bnei Yisrael were encamped at the base of Mt Sinai learning from Moshe that which G-d commanded him atop the mountain. It was a time for inaugurating the Mishkan and inducting the Kohanim before the nation began its journey toward Canaan.

The third of the 5 Books of Moses, Leviticus, is also known as Torat Kohanim (Law of the Priests) because it contains a detailed explanation of the daily, weekly and annual Mishkan ritual cycle. It also contains well-known codes for Jewish behaviour still relevant today – Kashrut, Family Relationships, Shabbat and Festivals. Many of these commandments enabled Bnei Yisrael to remain in a state of ritual purity and become a Sanctified Nation. Ultimately, beyond the laws governing interaction with the Divine, there were social justice laws intended for interacting with a wider world..

Parshat Tsav is the 2nd in the Book of Leviticus comprising Chapters 6:1-8:36. It describes how the Kohanim were to perform the sacrifices; the Olah, Minha, Hatat, and Shelamim. Tsav ends with a lengthy description of the elaborate induction ceremony which, significantly, required sacrificial blood to be placed on the right earlobe, thumb and toe of the Kohanim.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

Comment: This week is also known as Shabbat HaGadol, occurring always the week before Pesah. It recalls the command by G-d to the Jewish people to take their paschal lambs, keep them for several days, then in unison as a people, slaughter and use the blood to paint their lentils and doorposts. The Torah explains this was done so the Angel of Death would pass over the Jewish homes while smiting the first-born Egyptians in what was the 10th and final plague.

Each paschal lamb was eaten by the family that brought it, and where the numbers weren’t large enough, designated neighbours were invited to join in. Inviting guests to one’s Seder today echoes a tradition dating back to the original Seder night in Egypt.

While parts of the Haggadah are taken directly from the Torah, much of the tradition became formalised by the rabbis of the Talmudic period. (Attached is a diagram showing how the Haggadah was enlarged and expanded over the centuries.)TAL – Panoramic History of Haggadah (6 Mar 17)

The Seder itself is a precious opportunity to explore and re-experience our 3,300-year-old birth as a nation. Done well, children will remember this evening well into their adulthood. And, so it is worthwhile thinking ahead and planning ways to make the evening engaging (a quick Google search will yield many ideas).

As adults we see things with a far more critical eye, yet it is equally good to bring our own questions to this unusual festive meal. An example: The basic mitzvah of Pesah night is to recount the Exodus from Egypt, to drink 4 cups of wine or grape juice and to eat, at the very least, some matzah and maror – to show gratitude to the Almighty for freeing our ancestors from slavery and oppression.

But was it not the Lord who initially told Abraham his descendants would be enslaved for 400 years? Like much of the darker side of Jewish history, how can we be asked to thank G-d for afflicting us first and then redeeming us? For that matter, even today there are many who still suffer from slavery and oppression.

Rather than offer a solution, we’ll leave you, the reader, in preparing for Monday night, to search, enquire and try to find a meaning that resonates with truth.