Vayikra-Tzav – “And He Called-Give The Command”

We have two parashas this Shabbat, Vayikra (“And He Called”), which begins the book of Levitcus, and Tzav (“Give the Command”), which takes us through chapter 8. Leviticus isn’t considered a particularly exciting book of the Bible, but if we are to understand the significance and the necessity of Messiah Yeshua’s sacrifice, which accomplished the forgiveness of our sins, and our reconciliation with God, then this is a book we should appreciate.

Chapters one through four describe burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings and sin offerings. Chapters five and six describe guilt offerings, and after that, the focus is on the role of the priests, beginning with Aaron and his sons.

For the olah – the burnt offerings, a distinction is made (one which I honestly hadn’t paid attention to before) between animals brought from the herd, versus from the flock. I used to think of them synonymously. But whereas a herd consists of cattle, larger animals like cows and oxen, which in groups tend to follow one another, and have to be driven where they need to go, a flock consists of sheep or goats, which follow a shepherd. God gave Israel different instructions for different types of animals.

Grain offerings (mincha), whether made in an oven, on a griddle, or in a pan had to include fine flour, oil, frankincense, and salt, but never any leaven, since leaven symbolizes sin, especially that of pride, which Adonai detests. And, every grain offering had to include salt. Salt was highly valuable, and essential to life in the arid Ancient Middle East. To offer something of great value to the Lord shows that we value Him. Also, honey was never to be used. The word translated as honey is more broad than honey from bees. It refers to sweetening agents of any kind. We can understand why no leaven would be used, but why no honey? The answer is… we don’t know. We can only speculate. He didn’t say why.

Peace offerings (sh’lamim) included a specific prohibition. Chapter 3, verses 16-17 say, “all fat is the Lord’s. It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall not eat any fat or any blood.” The prohibition against consuming blood is one of just four that applies equally to Gentiles in the New Covenant, according to Acts 15. Fat isn’t mentioned there, most likely because, whereas blood is sacred, and is prohibited no matter what, fat was most likely allowable, provided that it wasn’t from an offering to the Lord.

The Sin offerings (chatat) described in chapter 4 reveal something important. If a priest or a leader of the people sinned, a bull would be required as a sacrifice, whereas for a regular Israeli, a goat or a lamb was sufficient. The principle we can take from this is that those who represent the Lord and those who are in authority, because of the privilege they enjoy, also bear greater responsibility, and are more strictly judged.

Chapters 5 and the first part of 6 describe a wide variety of civil and criminal offenses for which Guilt offerings (asham) would be required, and instructions for what was to be sacrificed to the Lord and how they were to be carried out. These chapters also make it clear that unintentional sins are no less demanding of atonement than willful, high-handed sins. God is holy, and His righteous standards are non-negotiable. We must not lie to ourselves about good intentions somehow making sin acceptable.

Our second parasha, Tzav, opens by describing the steps for restitution when someone has defrauded another over property. The offender must make full restitution and add one fifth of the item’s value. The guilt offering to Adonai cannot be offered until after complete restitution has been made to the victim. The lesson here is that we must repair our relationships with one another before we presume to come before the Lord.

In chapter 7, we revisit the sh’lamim – peace offerings. These were especially significant, as they were altogether voluntary. For example, a person might be at peace with God and simply want to thank Him for His mercy and kindness. That is where the peace offering came in – given purely from a heart filled with gratitude. But it was also a very serious matter – anyone who ate the meat of a peace offering in a state of uncleanness was to be put to death!

Peace offerings illustrate how much more is possible than mere minimalist religion. Serving the Living God was meant to be so much more than obligation. Listen, there have always been those who are just going through the motions, doing the least possible in order to get by; but then there are others who have a vibrant, living relationship with God. In that way, peace offerings were a good barometer of one’s devotion to the Lord.

Chapter 8 describes the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests to Adonai. It was an elaborate ceremony, with washings and anointings and ceremonial clothing and the sacrifice of a bull and two rams. Some of the blood of the second ram was put on Aaron’s and his sons’ right ear lobes, right thumbs and the big toes of their right feet. It’s a picture 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 in submission. It puts the lie to the notion that our lives can be compartmentalized. A man’s private life and the public discharge of his duties are not separate, unrelated matters.

A few takeaways from these parashas.

  1. The sacrificial animals in all these offerings were to be flawless. Principle: give God your first and best, not the ‘leftovers’.
  2. The Israelis were not at liberty to ‘worship according to their feelings’. Those sacrifices had to comply with God’s instructions. Principle: He was and is holy, and we must honor Him in the way we order things. Our feelings cannot be the measure of it.
  3. There was no such thing as ‘do-it-yourself’ sacrifices in Israel. There had to be mediators (priests/High Priest). The notion that anyone can come to God through their own efforts or merit is absurdly arrogant. And now that the New Covenant has come, there is only one Mediator and High Priest for Jew or Gentile, and that is Messiah Yeshua.

May our worship of God be in spirit and in truth.