This week’s parsha, Tzav, has an important connection to next week’s important event – Passover, our festival of freedom.
Tzav has very detailed instructions about some of the korbanim (sacrifices) that were given in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert, and later in the Beis HaMikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem. Some of the korbanim were made of flour, and some were animals. Usually some portion of the sacrifices was given to the kohanim (priests) to help sustain them, because they had no other way to make a living for themselves and their families.
We have always asked why God instructed us to sacrifice animals. Maimonides, in his famous book, Guide for the Perplexed (Part III, ch. 2) explains that since the Israelites had known animal sacrifice in Egypt, God took something familiar to them and changed its purpose. In Egypt, animal sacrifices had been an end in itself, being the way Egyptians tried to gain favor with an idol. But God changed the meaning of the offering. The word korban means “to come near”. The sacrifices of the Children of Israel were not to please a graven image, but were a means of directing their religious energies to God, to come near to the holy.
The seder plate you will use next week will have a shankbone or some other symbol of the korban Pesach – the lamb sacrificed at Passover. On the very first Passover, when we were slaves in Egypt, the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the door posts and lintels of our houses, to show God that Jews lived there and save our ancestors from the plague of the Death of the Firstborn. Thus, our very first korban brought us near to God in a way that saved the lives of all the firstborn males of the Israelites.
But now we have no korbanim bring us near to God. After the destruction of the Second Temple (in the year 70 of the Common Era) Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai explained to Rabbi Joshua that the loss the Temple did not mean we could no longer atone for our sins, even though we could no longer bring sacrifices. He said, “Do you not know that we have a means of making atonement that is as good as this? And what is it? Gemilut hasadim – acts of loving-kindness, as it is said, ‘For I desire hesed – loving-kindness – and not sacrifice!’ “(Hosea 6:6). (Avot d’Rabbi Natan 4:21).
Passover will give you many opportunities for such acts of lovingkindness, such as making sure everyone in the community has enough for Passover, helping people with their cleaning, cooking and other Passover preparations, and inviting guests to join you for seder or other meals.
Shabbat shalom and have a happy Passover,
©2017 Nelson R. Block.