Oops, We Did It Again: Tzav 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: Do you believe, as Sigmund Freud did, that there is no such thing as accidents? Are even our sloppiest moments tinged with at least a drop of our true feelings and desires? Alternatively, as a lesser thinker put it, does stuff just happen?

As God walks Aaron and his sons through the final rehearsal before the inauguration of the Israelite sacrificial cult, we are warned that some offerings will not be given with ideal intention.

The Pitch: “He led forward the bull of sin offering. Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the head of the bull of the sin offering, and it was slaughtered. Moses took the blood and with his finger put some on each of the horns of the altar, purifying the altar; then he poured out the blood at the base of the altar. Thus he consecrated it in order to make expiation upon it.” (Leviticus 8:14-15)

First Swing: “Moses said, ‘From the moment that the Lord of the Universe commanded that contributions be brought to the Sanctuary, each Israelite pushed himself so as to have brought donations without full willingness.’ To preclude the possibility that stolen property be dedicated to the sanctuary – and donation given without full willingness were considered to be stolen goods even if stolen from oneself – this expiation was offered.” – Sifra

Second Swing: “The Torah says that, ‘He atoned for the altar.’ This indicates that he atoned for the altar itself, for any sin of robbery or coercion. There was concern that the leaders may have coerced unwilling people to bring gifts for the Tabernacle. It may also have happened that some Israelites did not want to give gifts for the Tabernacle, but when they heard the announcement that gifts had to be brought, they gave against their will. It would then be considered as if the Tabernacle were built of things that were given unjustly. Moses therefore had to sprinkle blood on the altar to atone for any such misdeeds.” – Targum Yonatan

Third Swing: “The notion that the same application of the blood of the purification offering can simultaneously decontaminate the consecrate is intrinsically wrong. The realms of impurity and holiness are incompatible with each other and their admixture is lethal. Impurity and holiness must be kept apart at all costs. Thus an object must first be emptied of its impurities before it may be sanctified. This necessitates two discrete processes: first decontamination and then consecration.” – Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentaries make different points about the altar’s purification: Targum Yonatan thinks the Israelites might not be enthusiastic enough about bringing sacrifices, while Sifra seems to think they will be too enthusiastic about doing so. To Milgrom, the peoples’ states of mind are not necessarily the issue – rather, the main point is to eliminate all potential contamination. What are the risks of acting without proper intention? Do we take a chance of dire consequences, as echoed in Milgrom’s commentary? How do we know when we are acting with a “proper” amount of intention – as in, not too little, and not too much? Is acting with intention in our religious lives different than doing so in our secular lives? If so, how so?

On Deck at Emanu-El: We’re just a week away from a new spiritual experience at Synagogue Emanu-El. Don’t miss our special Shabbat with Shir Hadash on Friday, April 1st (services at 5:15PM, with an FNL dinner to follow) and Saturday, April 2nd (a special song session Danish & D’rash at 9:00AM, and services to follow at 9:30AM). And before then, sample some tracks at https://soundcloud.com/shirhadashhea to get a taste of what we will be singing!

The Big Inning at the End: Baseball is still an engine for healing and renewal. The latest example took place this week in Havana, Cuba, when the Tampa Bay Rays squared off with the Cuban national team, in the first game involving Major-Leaguers in Cuba in almost two decades. This was a remarkable symbol of cooperation and solidarity between two nations working toward a spirit of diplomacy and openness. No, baseball alone doesn’t cause world peace, but it can provide a common language that can launch us to more significant conversations.

Shabbat Shalom!