Thoughts on Tzav

This week’s parasha is Tzav, Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36. The haftarah is Jeremiah 7:21-28 (Chabad) or 7:21-8:3 (traditional) & Jeremiah 9:22-23 (23-24 in most Christian Bibles). The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 8:48–59.

This week’s parasha and haftarah seem to present a paradox. What exactly is a paradox? After consulting the all-knowing Google, the simplest explanation I found was,

A paradox is a statement that, despite apparently valid reasoning from true premises, leads to an apparently-self-contradictory or logically unacceptable conclusion. (

A well-known example a paradox is the Liar paradox, which offers up the simple sentence: “This statement is false.” If this is true, then the sentence is false, but if the sentence states that it is false, and it is false, then it must also be true! So, the sentence is both true and not true at the same time. (

Now to the paradox in this week’s readings. Tzav like Vayikra (last week’s parasha) deals with the various sacrifices that Bnei Yisrael was to bring before Adonai. Tzav specifically deals with the procedural activity of the priests in the handling of the various sacrifices. Thus, the first eight chapters of Leviticus deal with sacrifices and burnt offerings. Furthermore, in both parashot Vayikra and Tzav we repeatedly read that HaShem commanded Moshe to command or tell Israel how and when to perform the sacrifices,

“Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, and tell them: When anyone of you brings an offering to ADONAI…”(Leviticus 1:2) or ADONAI spoke to Moses, saying: “Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the Torah of the burnt offering…” (6:1-2)

But, when we turn to the haftarah, HaShem states that he did not command Israel to offer sacrifices,

Thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat the meat! For on the day that I brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt I did not speak to them nor did I command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices,but I explicitly commanded them: ‘Obey My voice and I will be your God to you and you will be My people. Walk in all the ways that I command you that it may go well with you.’” (Jeremiah 7:21-23)

In the larger context, Jeremiah seems to have been dealing with idolatrous worship of the Assyro-Babylonian Astarte (Ishtar) or Queen of Heaven, a cultic practice that was found in Jerusalem at least since the days of King Manasseh (2 Kings 21:3). It appears that both Samuel – remember last week’s haftarah where Samuel told Saul that to obey is better than sacrifice – and Jeremiah seem to indicate that sacrifices are somehow contrary to the desires of HaShem. If this is so, why is there so much attention given in the Torah to the performances of sacrifices?

To answer this, let’s begin with a short discussion on the connection between keva and kavanah. An easy way to explain the differences is the example of prayer. In prayer, keva is the fixed or established form, the words that are said at specific times and in a specific manner; these are predetermined, fixed actions. On the other hand, kavanah is the attitude or motivation with which we say the words, meaning of which should come from our heart stemming from a desire to serve and please our LORD. Ideally there should be a blend of the two, keva giving the basic form and structure to kavanah and kavanah giving the heart and meaning to keva.

Let’s now apply the aspects of keva and kavanah to this week’s potential paradox. Keva is the chukim (statutes) and the mishpatim (judgements) that HaShem commanded Moshe to relay to Bnei Yisrael. These are the how tos and occasionally the whys of what is to be done in our relationships with one another and with HaShem. But as I noted in last week’s Thoughts, without love, all of the rules and regulations are merely words on a page. Love is part of kavanah, but it is only one aspect of it. Kavanah also encompasses the ability to recognize what needs to be done, as well as the ability to choose between the words on the page and the needs of the moment. Kavanah keeps things in perspective and maintains the proper attitude and motives for keeping the keva. Remember Yeshua’s words in Matthew 5, where he repeatedly said, “you have heard it said, but I say to you….” Not once did he nullify or set aside a single word of the Torah. Instead, he amplified the Torah giving a renewed or clearer understanding to the kavanah behind the obedience of the keva. After Rav Shaul asked rhetorically if the “Law” is sin, he immediately responds, “the Torah is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good,” (Romans 7:7 & 12). Yeshua himself said that he had not come “to abolish the Torah or the Prophets… but to fulfill them,” (Matthew 5:17).

So we see that what appeared to be a paradox is not so much a paradox but a need for clarification. The fact that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), does not nullify the validity of the sacrifice. However, the obedience must stem from kavanah, the proper intent, reasons and relationship to the whole counsel of HaShem. If fulfillment of the sacrifice is done improperly, if it takes precedence over our relationship with HaShem or negates the commands of our responsibilities and care toward one another then obedience becomes keva, a fixed form and something done by rote. I believe that Yeshua’s confrontational remarks to the Pharisees show that he was challenging them to look at their traditions and religious observance to determine if they were serving the LORD from kavanah or simply by keva.

…you have neglected the weightier matters ofTorah—justice and mercy and faithfulness. It is necessary to do these things without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

I believe that the Apostle John sums thing up quite well. First, he quotes Yeshua as saying, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,” (John 13:35). Then later John writes to his community, “Now we know that we have come to know Him by this—if we keep His commandments,” (1 John 2:3). May we all heed the words to John’s community.

Shabbat Shalom

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