view/download pdf



*Updated: March 8, 2006 

(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah: 

“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher bachar banu m’kol ha-amim,
v’natan lanu eht Torah-to.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.

(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have selected us from among all the peoples,
and have given us your Torah.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.

This week’s parashah is called Tzav, which simply means to “command,” or “give an order.” This Hebrew word is related to the familiar word “mitzvah,” which means “commandment.” In fact, one of our previous parash’ot (Tetzaveh) also used the same root word. In the Hebrew mindset, when HaShem “commanded” something to be done, it was always for the good of the individual who would perform it! Here we find no exception. Moshe was commanded to instruct his brother Aharon, the first Cohen HaGadol (High Priest), on the ordinances concerning the “olah,” which is the burnt offering.

Lest I lose anyone in my Hebrew transliteration, let me first do a brief “grammar check,” with some assistance from “D’vorah” at the Hebrew Glossary web site ( This is a wonderful glossary site worth book marking:

(In no particular order)

Korban=offering/sacrifice (pl=korbanot)
Olah=burnt offering (lit. that which goes up)
Mincha=gift; offering (later referring to the Afternoon prayer session)
Chatat (also chataat)=sin offering
Mitzvah=commandment; good deed (pl. mitzvot)
Chatzer=courtyard in front of the Tabernacle
Asham=guilt or trespass offering
‘Am Yisrael=People of Isra'el
Bnei Yisrael=(lit. Sons of Isra'el)
HaShem=God (lit. The Name)
Yeshua=Jesus (etymologically related to the Heb. words for YAH and Salvation)
Ruach HaKodesh=Holy Spirit
Kadosh (also qadosh)=n. holy; set apart (pl. k’doshim or kadoshim); adj./n. kodesh
Pasuk=verse of Scripture; sentence (pl. p’sukim)
Parashah (sometimes as parsha)=specified reading portion of the Torah (pl. parash’ot or parashiot)
Parashat=a portion identified by its specific name (i.e., Parashat Tzav)
Kohen (also Cohen)=priest (pl. kohanim)
Kohen Gadol (also kohen haGadol)=High Priest
Mizbayach=sacrificial altar
Kometz=a “closed hand” or “fist,” viz, a “handful” of flour
Cheylev=animal fat
Treif (al. treifah or trefa) torn; food that is not ritually fit. Opposite of kasher (kosher)
Shlamim (also shelamim)=peace offerings
Sefer (also sifra)=book; letter; scroll (pl. s’farim)
Sefer HaChinuch (also Sefer Hahinukh)= an anonymous medieval work on the 613 precepts in the order of their appearance in Scripture, giving their reasons and their laws in detail. The name of the book is taken by some as referring to its educational aim: "To touch the heart of my young son and his companions in that each week they will learn the precepts that are included in the weekly portion of the Law." Sefer HaChinuch is mainly based on the Sefer HaMitzvot and the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides.
Torah=God’s Teaching and Instruction for mankind; Law [of] Moses; First 5 Books of the Bible (also known as Pentateuch)
Mishnah (also Mishna or Mishneh)= repetition; teaching. The Mishnah is a six part review of Jewish law compiled in early 3rd century under Rabbi Yehudah haNasi, of which served as the focus of Talmudic interpretation; A single passage from that work is also called mishnah; The Mishnah is arranged in 63 tractates and has six divisions: Zeraim (agriculture), Moed (festivals), Nashim (marriage), Nezikin (damages), Kodashim (sacrifices), and Tohorot (purity)
Talmud=study; learning. From the Hebrew word "lamed"--to study. An encyclopedic collection of legalistic interpretations based upon the Mishnah, but also containing homiletic material, some esoteric in nature.
Gemara= completion. The name Gemara is derived from the Aramaic verb “gmr” (to learn), and refers to the second part of the Talmud consisting of discussions and amplifications of the Mishnah, which is the first part.

Okay, now on to the teaching.

On the surface this parasha (Tzav) and the previous one (Vayikra) seem to be teaching us the same things: Laws pertaining to the various Korbanot. But a closer examination will reveal the essential difference between the two readings.

The scholars at will aid us in understanding these details:

In fact, the opening pasuk of each Parsha reflects this distinction: 

Parshat Vayikra begins with: 

"...speak to Bnei Yisrael and tell them, if an individual among you wishes to offer a korban to God, then..." (1:1-2)

Parshat Tzav begins with:

"Command Aharon and his sons saying, this is the procedure for bringing the olah..." (6:1-2)

Parshat Tzav is addressed specifically to the kohanim (priests), instructing them how to offer the korbanot. Parshat Vayikra, by contrast, directs itself towards all of Bnei Yisrael, since everyone must know which specific korban he can or must bring in any given situation.[1]

They continue to explain these two similar, yet different parash’ot:

The internal order of Tzav is arranged also according to which parts of the korban are consumed on the mizbayach (known as "achilat mizbayach"): 

The olah is totally consumed on the mizbayach. 

The mincha is either totally consumed (in the case of a mincha brought by a kohen - 6:16) or at least the "kometz," while the "noteret" (left over from the "kometz") is eaten only by the kohanim. 

The chatat and asham are divided: the "chaylev" goes on the mizbayach, and the kohanim can eat the meat in the chatzer.

[This is better known as "Kodshei Kodashim." The gemara explains that this meat eaten by the kohanim is considered a 'gift' from God, and not from the owner.] 

The shlamim is also divided, but somewhat differently: the "chaylev" goes on the mizbayach, and the meat can be eaten by the owners anywhere in the camp.[2]

First Things First

In the life of a priest of those days, the very first duty of the day consisted of changing the ashes of the perpetual burnt offering. This eternal flame was even kept lit on Shabbat. This does not contradict the Torah in another place where we read that it was forbidden to light a fire on the Sabbath. Rather, this fire was already lit—and it stayed lit according to the command of the LORD. It is interesting to know that, according to the Mishnah (Tractate Yoma), these ashes were deposited outside of the sanctuary at a ramp near the east entryway to the altar. The priest was then finished with his task of cleaning the eternal flame altar. It was then left to another priest to remove the ashes that would eventually pile up in this location. Because there were multiple priests serving in the Tabernacle on any given occasion, this seemingly mundane task was actually vied for by whomever wished to perform it! According to the Torah (6:3-4) he changed from his “more holy” garment into his “less than holy” garment to perform this task. They were then taken outside of the camp to a designated “pure place.”

What do all of these details inform us about priestly duties in the camp of Isra’el? Since this was the very first mitzvah of the day (tending to the eternal flame), is it possible that even back then the priests saw a great significance in participating in serving their great, merciful God on yet another new day? Can you sense the anticipation and excitement as each new day carried with it a chance to get involved in serving the One who struck all of Egypt with the deadly Ten Plagues? The One who opened up the Sea of Reeds and made his people to cross over on dried ground? The One who brought them out, both slave and free, Egyptian and Isra’elite, to the foot of Mount Sinai and graciously gave them his Words of Life—his Torah?

You see, the Talmud records for us that the very same altar which was used to keep this eternal flame burning, lasted for about 116 years, during which the fire never died, the thin copper layer never melted, and the wooden structure never became charred! When HaShem institutes a mitzvah, he is sure to provide the necessary miracle in which we—the ordinary—can perform it! Today, in most synagogues around the world, observers can notice the symbolic lamp which rests near (sometimes above) the Ark containing the Torah Scrolls. This is known as the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Flame. It represents this very mitzvah which opens up our portion, Parashat Tzav!

“Ye Are the Light of the World.”

Allow me to conduct a midrash (homiletic application of Scripture): since this eternal flame dwelt near the Holiest Place, where the Aron Kodesh (Ark of the Covenant) was housed, and since within the Ark, the Testimony—that is, the Torah written by the finger of God, was also kept, can we see a correlation between these natural representations and our lives as living witnesses today? The Torah promises that when we surrender to the Ruach HaKodesh and become living vessels to be used for his glory, that he places the Torah on our inward parts—our hearts! Yeshua described us as the “Light for the world” (read Matt. 5:14-16)! What a blessed description of our spiritual function, given at the mouth of the Source of all Light—the Messiah himself! When we allow his Light to be kindled within us, the entire world is made to see the wonderful goodness of his perfect grace and mercy! The entire world gains a chance to become involved in the perfect plans and purposes that our Loving, Heavenly Abba has prepared for those who genuinely love him! We must keep our eternal lamp lit for those around us to see! How do we accomplish this?

The Torah tells us that we must daily maintain these temples. As living lamps, the day-to-day activities of this world can fill us with ashes, as we attempt to maintain a constant flame upon the altar of our souls. It is up to us to change these ashes—remove them from our lives on a day-to-day basis! As with the actual eternal flame, HaShem understood that in order to perform this mitzvah, the priests had to monitor the flame on an everyday basis. So it is with our lives today. We must not let the Flame of the Good News of the Messiah’s atoning death extinguish from our temples for even a single day! The world needs to see this Light continually! Yet, for us, it will also entail a daily maintenance of removing the ashes, and checking to see if the Flame is burning brightly. How do we accomplish this awesome task?

In the Mishkan, HaShem saw to it that the priests never had to want for supplies, with which to perform their daily functions. Do you think that our God is any different today? In Romans chapter 12 we read,

“I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical “Temple worship” for you.” (Verse 1)

We see here in this passage that our lives are likened to the service of the priests of which we are reading about in Leviticus! Yes, as believers in Messiah we are all priests unto our LORD! Just as the light, holiness, and sanctity of the Mishkan was maintained by daily service, so too our lives are to be maintained and marked by a constant “performance of the mitzvot,” that is, a consistent surrendering to his Light and holiness! Let’s read on:

“In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the ‘olam hazeh. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed.” (Verse 2)

Now, the ‘olam hazeh is this age. What are the standards of this age in which we live? Holiness? I certainly think not!! In fact, just the pull of everyday living has a way of dimming the Light within our spiritual lives if we allow it to. Imagine what would have happened to the eternal flame of the Mishkan if the priest allowed the mundane flow of everyday living to engulf his way of thinking! Imagine having to attend to the sacrificial needs of millions of people day after day, year after year! Blood, blood, blood—and more blood everyday! It would be easy (from our 21st century perspective) to become enamored and bogged-down with all of the minute details of the priestly functions, were it not for the fact that this particular service played such a vital role in the community of God’s chosen ones. In other words, they, like us today, must of necessity remind themselves daily for whom this service is being performed. They needed to saturate themselves with the holiness of a holy God. Their satisfaction must’ve come from the fact that many of these functions were spoken of as a “satisfying aroma unto HaShem” (6:8[15] and 14[21]).

“Jack Sprat” Could Eat No Fat… and Neither Could Isra'el!

In chapter seven we read about the dual prohibition concerning the consumption of animal fat (chaylev) and blood (dam). Indeed, this topic will become a central point of discussion in both the Torah and the Talmud. Much can be learned from the Chazal (Jewish Sages of antiquity), so let’s have a peek a their notes shall we. In this commentary I will be focusing on the famous Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (RaMBaM), a.k.a., Maimonides. Maimonides was the first person to write a systematic code of all Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah; he produced one of the great philosophic statements of Judaism, The Guide for the Perplexed; published a commentary on the entire Mishna; served as physician to the sultan of Egypt; wrote numerous books on medicine; and, in his "spare time," served as leader of Cairo's Jewish community.

Lets first quote some relevant texts:

Lev.7:23 "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: You shall eat no manner of fat of ox, or of sheep, or of goat ";

v. 26: "You shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of bird or of beast, in any of your dwellings.”

Compare this verse from last week’s portion Parashat Vayikra: 

Lev.3:17: "It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that you eat neither fat nor blood.”

Torah scholar Nechama Leibowitz has compiled a selection of relevant notes for us to use in our examination of these dual prohibitions. Should these verses be relevant for us today? Or do they belong to a period when the Tabernacle and/or Temple were present? In the total number of Commandments compiled by the Sefer Hahinukh (which follows RaMBaM's List of Commandments) the author lists the prohibition of eating fat and blood in our parasha (Tzav) and not earlier in Parashat Vayikra, nor does he refer to that verse (3:17), where it appears for the first time. That seems rather peculiar of Moshe doesn’t it? The Targumim (Aramaic translations of the Torah) are compared to the standard Masoretic translation of today. First the Masorah:

Lev. 7:24 "And the fat of the beast that died and the fat of that which was torn by beasts may be put to any use, but you must not eat it.”

Now compare Targum Yonatan:

Lev. 7:24 “The fat of a beast which became disqualified while being slaughtered or died during a plague and fat of an animal that was torn by a beast – may be used for any work. However, the fat of a kosher animal may be offered up on the altar, but must not be eaten.”

Nechama Leibowitz informs us: R.Naftali Hertz Wiesel [writes]: According to the Translator Yonatan "this was said to that generation" – the Desert generation.

Now let us check in with RaMBaM and the Chazal to see if they can add some insights: The Guide for the Perplexed – III:48: The fat of the intestines makes us very fat, interrupts our digestion and produces cold and thick blood, it is more fit for fuel. Blood and nevela (flesh of an animal that died of itself) are indigestible and harmful as food.”

Sefer Hahinukh – Commandment 147: Not to eat [fat]: That we not eat [fat] of a pure (i.e., permitted for consumption) animal, as it is stated (Lev.7:23) "You shall eat no manner of fat of ox, or of sheep, or of goat .” I have already written about the prohibition of eating [unclean food] in Parashat Mishpatim (Commandment 73) that since the body is the vessel for the soul through which it functions, and according to one's merits and temperament one will understand the way of the intelligence of the soul that there is in him and will follow its advice. It is for this reason that one must endeavor to see to the fitness of his body that it should be healthy and strong. It is well known that one's food influences the functioning of the body and its good or bad health, since the body wears out daily and healthy and good flesh will be replaced through good nourishment and bad food will have a deleterious effect. Hence it is one of G-d's great kindnesses bestowed upon us, His chosen people, to keep us from all food that is harmful to our bodies and produces harmful moisture. This is the principle in its simple sense in all forbidden food, as stated above. It is well known that fat clings to the body and produces bad moisture.

Sefer Hahinukh – Commandment 73: Not to eat trefa (unclean food): Not to eat of trefa, as it is stated (Ex.22:30): "You shall not eat any meat torn by beasts in the field.” Of the reasons of this Commandment is the fact that the body is the vessel for the soul through which it functions, and without which its (the soul's) work can never be accomplished. Hence it (the soul) comes in its (the body's) shadow and not to its detriment, since G-d would not cause ill but only good to all. Thus the body is between its hands, like the tongs in the hand of the blacksmith with which he accomplishes his work which if strong and able to hold (grip) the objects the craftsman will achieve good results, but if the tongs are not good the vessels will not be serviceable. Likewise if there is a defect of any kind in the body, the function of the mind will be affected accordingly. It is for this reason that our perfect Torah keeps us away from anything that damages it. 

This is the simple explanation for all the forbidden kinds of food. And let us not wonder if the harmful effect of some of them is unknown to us and to the medical experts for the trustworthy Healer Who warned us about them is wiser than they, and how foolish he who thinks that only what he can understand can cause damage or bring benefit, you should realize that it is for our benefit that the reason and the harm has not been revealed, lest men, convinced of their great wisdom, will rise and maintain that the harm caused by certain things declared by the Torah exists only in a certain place where this was decreed or only with a certain person who determined it. Lest one of the foolish be persuaded of this, their reason has not been revealed, to save us from this error.

Abrabanel: Leviticus Chapter 3: … and several reasons have been given for why actually G-d chose fat and blood to be offered up on the altar, and why He forbade Israel their… consumption? … the fourth reason that has been given is that health and beauty cause sinning, and blood causes good health and fat generates beauty. The one whose blood boils sins, as the youngsters do, and fat also causes sinning, as it is stated (Deut.32:15), "Yeshurun grew fat and kicked" – it is therefore that G-d commanded to burn on the altar the two bodily elements that cause sinning, as an allusion that it is proper for a person to burn and annul his desires and all that causes him to sin…

And I add a sixth midrashic reason: sin is associated with the red color and forgiveness is represented by white, as the Prophet states: "If your sins will be like scarlet – they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool" (Is.1:18). The Lord therefore commanded to offer up on the altar the blood as an allusion to confessing their sins before Him, in the spirit of "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord" (Ps.32:5), and that they offer up also the fat as an allusion to forgiveness, as it is stated, "Yours is the power to forgive" (ib.130:4). Thus the blood and fat were offered up to indicate that just as the sins come before Him, so also does forgiveness come from Him. 

Compare RaMBaM’s reason for the prohibition of eating chelev to his reason for the prohibition of the consumption of blood! What is the difference between the two reasons? Rambam Guide for the Perplexed III:46: “Although blood was very unclean in the eyes of the Sabeans (pagans), they nevertheless partook of it, because they thought it was the food of the spirits, and by eating it man has something in common with the spirits, which join him and tell him future events, according to the notion that people generally have of spirits. There were, however, people who objected to eating blood as a thing naturally disliked by man. They killed a beast, received the blood in a vessel or in a pot, and ate of the flesh of that beast, whilst sitting round the blood. They imagined that in this manner the spirits would come to partake of the blood which was their food whilst they (the people) were eating the flesh and thus the love, brotherhood and friendship with the spirits were established because they all dined together at one table and in one group, that the spirits would appear to them in dreams, inform them of coming events and be favorable to them.” 

Leibowitz sums up our thoughts: People accepted such ideas in those days, they were general, and their correctness was not doubted by the common people. Therefore the Torah – which is perfect in the eyes of those who know it – and seeks to cure mankind of these lasting diseases forbade the eating of blood, and emphasized the prohibition in exactly the same terms as it emphasizes idolatry: "I will set My face against that soul that eats blood etc." (Lev.17:10). The same language is employed in reference to him "who gives of his seed unto Molekh,” "then I will set My face against that man etc." There is, besides idolatry and eating blood, no other sin in reference to which these words are used, for the eating of blood used to lead to a kind of idolatry, the worship of spirits. (The Torah) declared the blood pure and made it the means of purifying what it was sprinkled upon: "And sprinkle it upon Aharon and upon his garments etc. And he shall be hallowed and his garments" (Ex 29:21). Furthermore (the Torah) commanded the blood to be sprinkled upon the altar, and the whole service was performed by pouring it out and not by collecting it. And (the Torah) says, "and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement" (Lev.17:11) and there it is poured out, as it is stated, "And he shall pour out all the blood" (Lev.4:18). Let’s move on.

Brother to Brother

In chapter eight of our parashah we find Moshe playing the unusual role of High Priest himself, in that HaShem instructs him to anoint his brother Aharon and the sons of Aharon for the office of priests. An important point is brought out in verse three. We learn that the entire community assembled within the proximity of the entrance of the tent of meeting. Obviously everyone could not fit within that small space, yet HaShem had them gather there for a very important purpose I believe.

Remember that it was Aharon—this same individual now being inaugurated as the High Priest of the people, which perpetrated the building of the golden calf! Yes, Aharon was the officiator of that gross incident. Yet, by demonstrating in full view of everyone assembled that HaShem was still choosing him as his anointed one, chosen to fulfill a very important and vital function within the community, the people catch a glimpse of the awesome forgiveness and mercy of their Heavenly Father!

Consider the truth of this passage from a previous portion of the Torah:

A very interesting genealogical list appears in Sh’mot 6:14-30, and at first glance, seems to be sort of "out of place" with the narrative flow. We must remember that the people were greatly discouraged as a result of the cruel forced-labor of their task masters, as well as the recent turn of events with the punishment inflicted as a result of the apostasy of the golden calf, and that they, as ordinary human beings, were subject to doubt and disappointment (see Sh’mot 6:9). I believe that the list appears early on in the story to sort of "validate" the authority of Moshe and his prophet/brother Aharon. In fact Moshe the human author of the book of Sh'mot seems to indicate this detail of their ministry more than once, in verses 26, 27. In other words, there should be no mistake as to who exactly Moshe and Aharon were.

And who were Moshe and Aharon? Why, they were the very ones standing before the people now being demonstrated as HaShem’s anointed chosen ones! I’m sure that the golden calf incident wasn’t completely erased from the memories of these two great leaders, or from the people as well. Imagine what they must’ve been thinking that day! Were they perfect? Far from it! Would they yet make serious mistakes in the future to come? Would HaShem still punish them for these shortcomings? Well, I think you get the idea. By reading ahead into the narrative we find that even though they were chosen for an awesome task which placed them in the very presence of God—sometimes on an everyday basis, their lives were lived out the same way that HaShem expects us to live as his children today….

…by faith.

Anointed? Surely! Right down to their decorated belts (read 8:6-13, 30)! It is easy sometime to place the “Old Testament saints” into some sort of different reality of life than that of our own today. We imagine that with all of that glory radiating from the Holiest Place that they were more than human and that it was easy to serve God. We complain that we live in a day and age when the voice of God is difficult to hear. Did Moshe and Aharon really have it easier?

What about our LORD Yeshua? He was 100% human just like Moshe and Aharon—just like you and me! 100% human and yet 100% God! Moreover, the Torah tells us that, in facing temptation—he did not sin! What an awesome reality for me to rest my faith in! Moshe and Aharon sinned, and HaShem forgave them. They turned around and sinned again, and still HaShem forgave them! And these were the two men that handled all of that “holy stuff” that we are reading about in our current Torah portion! Where does that place you and me?

Yeshua became like us—frail and human, so that he might intimately identify with our weaknesses—including Moshe and Aharon—and thus become our ultimate High Priest! Because of his anointing we are also counted as anointed! Consider these closing words from the book of Messianic Jews (Hebrews):

“For both Yeshua, who sets people apart for God, and the ones being set apart have a common origin—this is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers when he says,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”


“I will put my trust in him,…”

and then it goes on,

“Here I am, along with the children God has given me.”

Therefore, since the children share a common physical nature as human beings, he became like them and shared that same human nature; so that by his death he might render ineffective the one who had the power over death (that is, the Adversary) and thus set free those who has been in bondage all their lives because of their fear of death.

Indeed it is obvious that he does not take hold of angels to help them; on the contrary,

“He takes hold of the seed of Avraham.”

This is why he had to become like his brothers in every respect—so that he might become a merciful and faithful cohen gadol in the service of God, making a kapparah for the sins of the people. For since he himself suffered death when he was put to the test, he is able to help those who are being tested now.” (Vv. 11-18)

The closing blessing is as follows:

“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,
v’chay-yeh o’lam nata-b’tochenu.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.

(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have given us your Torah of truth,
and have planted everlasting life within our midst.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.




[2] Ibid.