Tzav – “Give the command”

The second parasha today is entitled Tzav – an imperative verb meaning “Give the command” from the same word we get mitzvah. It covers Leviticus chapters six through eight. God tells Moses to command Aaron and his sons how to carry out their priestly duties. The previous chapters had to do with the offerings from the perspective of the people. These chapters concern the offerings from the perspective of the priests.

The parasha opens by describing the process of restitution when one person has defrauded another; either finding lost property and lying about it or having been entrusted with something and lying to the owner saying it was lost or stolen in order to keep it. The person who did this had to make full restitution plus one fifth of the item’s value. The guilt offering to the Lord cannot be made unless and until complete restitution to the owner has been made. The lesson here is that we must make our relationships with one another right before we presume to come before the Lord. Yeshua confirmed this when he said, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering”.

One of the first commands is that fire be kept burning continually on the altar; it was never to go out. Both the historian Josephus and the rabbis tell us that during the time of the Second Temple there was a special day set apart for everyone to contribute wood to the Temple, so that the supply would never run out, and the fire be kept going.

The lampstand (menorah) that once stood in front of the Temple, coupled with this commandment that fire be kept burning continually on the altar, is the basis for the traditional ner tamid – the perpetual light found above the ark in most synagogues. It is a reminder of the days when the Temple still stood, and represents the hope that it be built once again.

Chapter seven describes the peace offerings. These were particularly significant because they were altogether voluntary. With the peace offering, a person might simply want to show gratitude to God for something good He did for them, or for His mercy. But the peace offering was also a very serious matter – anyone who ate any of the meat of a peace offering in a state of uncleanness would be put to death!

The most significant of the peace offerings was the thanksgiving offering. If you had been delivered from an enemy attack, or healed from a sickness, or had taken a vow during a time of distress and were now safe and sound, you could bring a thanksgiving offering.

Then there was the free-will offering. Perhaps for no other reason than that your heart moved you to thank God for His goodness and kindness you might bring a free-will offering. The rabbis regard the thanksgiving offering to be of the highest order, declaring that during the Messianic Age, whereas all other sacrifices will have served their purposes, these will continue on.

Peace offerings illustrate how much more is possible than mere minimalist religion – “playing church”. In every generation there have been those who did the least possible in order to “get by”, and those who had a vibrant, living relationship with God. The peace offerings were, in that sense, a kind of barometer of one’s devotion to the Lord.

Chapter eight describes the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests in fulfillment of God’s command. Their ordination, if you will, was an elaborate ceremony. There were washings and anointings and ceremonial robes and head coverings and the sacrifice of a bull and two rams. Some of the blood of the second ram was put on Aaron and his sons’ right ear lobes, their right thumbs and the big toe of their right feet. It paints a picture for us, of the need for those who would serve God to have attentive ears, obedient hands and cautious feet. The mind, the will and the ways of a man of God must all be submitted to God. There can be no compartmentalization.  A man’s private life and the public discharge of his duties are not separate, unrelated matters. The whole man must be consecrated to God. So should it be for all of us who are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.

A few closing thoughts…

When I thought about the Torah demanding an additional one-fifth penalty (20%) of the value of anything taken by fraud, I was reminded of Zaccheus; the wealthy and despised tax collector of Jericho. So desperate was he to catch a glimpse of Yeshua, the miracle-working rabbi about whom he’d heard so much, that as Yeshua came into town, Zaccheus climbed up into a sycamore tree, risking public humiliation just to see Him. And when Yeshua came right over to him, called him by name and asked to dine at his home, Zaccheus was so overcome with joy and gratitude that he immediately pledged to divest himself of half his estate, and to pay back 400% to anyone he had defrauded. That was a day of genuine salvation.

But not everyone appreciated what Yeshua did for them. Consider the man at the pool of Bethesda who had been lame for thirty-eight years, whom Yeshua wondrously healed. Not only did this guy not bother to thank Yeshua for His kindness, but ended up reporting Him to the religious authorities.

And consider the incident that took place while Yeshua was on His way to Jerusalem for the last time. Ten lepers in a village came and begged Him to have mercy on them. Yeshua granted their request, and as they left, all ten were instantaneously healed! Yet only one of the ten came back to thank Him, and it turns out he wasn’t Jewish. Yeshua marveled at the ingratitude. May God help us not to be like that.

In fact, the Hebrew word Yehudi – Jew – is from the verb yadah, to “give thanks or praise”. So the true Yehudi isn’t necessarily the one with all the outward religious trappings; but rather the one who from his or her heart thanks God and gives Him praise. Be that person.