For the week ending 3 April 2004 / 12 Nisan 5764

Parshat Tzav

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Torah addresses Aharon and his sons to teach them additional laws relating to their service. The ashes of the korban olah the offering burnt on the altar throughout the night are to be removed from the area by the kohen after he changes his special linen clothing. The olah is brought by someone who forgot to perform a positive commandment of the Torah. The kohen retains the skin. The fire on the altar must be kept constantly ablaze. The korban mincha is a meal offering of flour, oil and spices. A handful is burned on the altar and a kohen eats the remainder before it becomes leaven. The Parsha describes the special korbanot to be offered by the Kohen Gadol each day, and by Aharon's sons and future descendants on the day of their inauguration. The chatat, the korban brought after an accidental transgression, is described, as are the laws of slaughtering and sprinkling the blood of the asham guilt-korban. The details of shelamim, various peace korbanot, are described, including the prohibition against leaving uneaten until morning the remains of the todah, the thanks-korban. All sacrifices must be burned after they may no longer be eaten. No sacrifice may be eaten if it was slaughtered with the intention of eating it too late. Once they have become ritually impure, korbanot may not be eaten and should be burned. One may not eat a korban when he is ritually impure. Blood and chelev, forbidden animal fats, are prohibited to be eaten. Aharon and his sons are granted the breast and shank of every korban shelamim. The inauguration ceremony for Aharon, his sons, the Mishkan and all of its vessels is detailed.


The Constant Fire

"a constant fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall never go out." (6:6)

Throughout their journeys in the wilderness, the Jewish People carried with them the Mishkan. The word Mishkan comes from the word in Hebrew which means "to dwell." Through the Mishkan, G-d caused the Divine Presence, the Shechina, to dwell amongst the Jewish People.

There was an altar in the courtyard of the Mishkan. On it burned three different fires. On the eastern side of the altar was the maracha gadola, the "large arrangement". On this largest fire, the korbanot sacrifices were offered. On the southwestern corner there was another fire that was used solely to ignite the pyre of the golden altar inside the Mishkan on which the incense was burned.

And there was a third fire which had no fixed place but could be made anywhere on the outside altar. This fire had one purpose and one purpose only to fulfill the words of the Torah in this weeks portion : "a constant fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall never go out." Come rain or shine, weekdays and Shabbat, this fire never went out. It burned all the forty years that the Jewish People were traveling in the desert. In fact, it burned without interruption for a total of over one hundred years, in the desert, fourteen years in the Mishkan at Gilgal, and fifty-seven years in the Mishkan at Nov and at Givon. Two pieces of wood had to be added to the fire twice a day. One in the morning at the time of the morning offering, and one in the afternoon at the time of the afternoon offering.

One might ask, why were three fires necessary? Wouldnt one have sufficed?

These three fires can be understood as three aspects of our relationship with G-d:

The large fire represents our external service; the performance of the mitzvot, the obligations of prayer at its fixed times throughout the day and throughout the year. Because it was the largest fire, it was the most visible, just as our external duties as Jews are the most visible, be they the giving of charity or the care of the orphan and the widow. These are things that are as visible as a large fire.

However there was another fire whose function outside was for no other purpose than to kindle an internal fire. That fire teaches us that we must take our exterior service and use it to kindle the interior fire. That internal fire represents the duties of the heart: our belief and trust in G-d and our constant striving to be better people. Thats something you cant see from the outside, but like the incense that is burned on the golden altar, it emerges from within a person with a scent that is unmistakable.

The third fire can me moved anywhere, but it must never go out. This represents the undying fidelity of the Jewish People to G-d throughout our long and difficult Diaspora. Even though we have had to move from one corner of the world, our devotion to G-d has never been extinguished by an unkind world. Whether in the light of morning, or the impending darkness of approaching night, throughout our long history, the Jewish People have always placed the kindling on the altar of our devotion to G-d.

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