Thoughts on Parashat Tzav and Shabbat Hagadol

This week’s parasha is Tzav, “command,” Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36.[i][ii] Much of this week’s parasha continues to deal with the parameters of the sacrificial system instituted by Hashem, and then ends with the ordination Aaron and his sons. Interestingly, this week the LORD reiterates a command from Vayikra, last week’s parasha, “It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood” (Leviticus 3.17). In this week’s parasha the injunction reads,

“Moreover, you shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwelling places. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.” – Leviticus 7.25-26

Before anyone says that these are just antiquated Toraic laws that have no relevance on us today, consider the following. After Noach left the ark and began the process of repopulating and restoring the earth, the LORD said to him, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9.4). Then in the Book of Acts we read,

“Therefore, my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” – Acts 15.19-20

So, from Noach to the early ecclesia, which includes the Torah, all mankind, not just Israel, is instructed not to eat blood. But, as Rabbi Sacks asks, “[w]hat is so wrong about eating blood?”[iii] In answering his question, Rabbi Sacks notes that Maimonides [iv] observes the linguistic commonality between eating blood and idolatry as noted in the following two verses from Leviticus:

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.” – Leviticus 17.10

“And if the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, then I will set My face against that man and against his clan and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring after Molech.” – Leviticus 20.4-5

Each of the three passages in Leviticus mentioned above, state that the person who transgresses the command will be “cut off from his people” by Hashem. The judgment mentioned in Leviticus 17 and 20 also includes “I (Hashem) will set My face against that man.” While some might consider the link between eating blood and idolatry a bit of a stretch, Acts 15 actually links the two, “things polluted by idols, and … blood.” It would appear that the early leadership of the ecclesia would have agreed with Maimonides.

This week’s Haftarah deviates from the norm as it is Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach, which begins with the Seder, Monday evening, the 14th of Nissan/April 10th. The reading for Shabbat Hagadol is Malachi 3.4-24.[v] As is normal for the prophets, this passage includes words of correction and judgment, as well as a word of hope and restoration. One of the greatest promises in all Scripture is HaShem’s assurance to Israel, “Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of Hosts (Adonai-Tzva’ot)” (Malachi 3.7). With all of Israel’s stubbornness and transgression, Hashem continues to desire a relationship with His am segula.

On the other hand, the passage also contains a chilling discourse on the state of those who have lost sight of true service to HaShem.

“You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of Hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’” – Malachi 3.14-15

As was often the psalmist’s complaint, the wicked and unrighteous appear to succeed and the righteous, the one who walk after the LORD seem to struggle continually. As the writer of Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1.2). In another translation it says, “Futile! Futile! says Kohelet. Completely meaningless! Everything is futile!”[vi]

Malachi is traditionally known as a postexilic prophet, dealing with the social and religious problems of the people. As in the Wilderness, things were not going as well as the returnees had hoped and the attention to the things of the LORD were waning once again. Addressing this concern HaShem states,

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of Hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of Hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” – Malachi 3.19-22

There will come a day when the scales are righted and the righteous will prevail; not because of their righteousness, but because of Hashem’s faithfulness to His covenant established at Horeb (Sinai). With this faithfulness in mind, Rav Shaul exhorts his readers “[f]inally, be strong in the LORD and in the strength of His might.” (Ephesians 6.11)

Lastly, as we prepare to enter into the mo’ed of Pesach (Exodus 12.14; Leviticus 23.5-7), remember that this is a memorial of our redemption from slavery and oppression by the power and might of our God, ADONAI Tzav’ot. And He brought about this deliverance, not because we deserved it, but because of His promises to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Yaacov. He did not have to rescue us, He chose to do so.

Pesach Sameach

[i] Unless otherwise noted, used throughout is The Holy Bible, English Standard Version with Key Numbers (ESVS) by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, 2016. OakTree Software, Inc. Version 5.4.

[ii] If you are using a standard Christian Bible, you will find that 6.1 is 6.8 in your translation, if using the Tree of Life Version or Complete Jewish Bible the verse order follows the standard Hebrew order.

[iii] Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Covenant and Conversation, A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible, Leviticus: The Book of Holiness, Jerusalem: Maggid Books, 2015, 116.

[iv] Ibid., 116. Cf., Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, III:46.

[v] In the Christian Bible, Malachi 3.4 – 4.6.

[vi] Tree of Life Bible (TLV), Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society 2015.

Previous articleEthiopian Haggadah connects the generations
Next articleFriday Prayer Points – April 7th, 2017
Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.