Parshat Tzav 5780: Kohanim and Inherited Roles vs Earned Roles

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Tzav is being sponsored by Dr. Dov and Debbie Rosen and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for the success of their children. To the Rosen family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3


Parshat Tzav 5780: Kohanim and Inherited Roles vs Earned Roles

by Moshe Burt

In our Parsha, Tzav is Moshe’s command from Hashem to Aaron HaKohen and his sons to take up and clothe themselves in their Vestments, their garments of service in the Mishkan, and to begin their daily Avodah (service and offerings in the Mishkan).

For seven days, Moshe taught Aaron HaKohen and his sons the laws of their Avodah in the Mishkan. (You might say that they were given, as one could term it in the US, OJT from Shemayim.) On the eighth day, Aaron and his sons began their Avodah.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash (page 568) explains our Parshat’s title: Tzav in this way:

Tzav — Command. Up to now, commandments regarding the offerings were introduced with “Amartah” = say (Sefer Varikra Perek 1, posuk 2) or “Dabeir” = speak. The Sages explain that the more emphatic term, “Tzav” = command, implies that the Kohanim are being urged to be especially zealous in performing this service, and that this exhortation must be repeated constantly to future generations (citing Sifra: Kiddushin 29a).

That is to say that Hashem demands consistency between enthusiasm and constancy of service as well as constant diligence in following of the sequence of service, as Divinely outlined — exactly to the letter.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash renders translation of the opening posukim of our Parshat:

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Command [Tzav] Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the law of the elevation [Olah] offering: It is the elevation offering [that stays] on the flame on the Mokdah [Altar, in this context], all night until the morning, and the fire of the Mizbeiyach should be kept aflame on it.” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 6, posukim 1-2)

The sefer “Torah Gems”, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg (page 254) cites R’ Menachem Mendl of Kotzk to explain the use of the word “mokdah” regarding the first reference to the Altar in our opening posukim:

The word used for “Altar” here is “mokdah”, and by tradition, the letter “mem” in “mokdah” is smaller than the other letters. This teaches… that the burning enthusiasm one has for Torah study and prayer should not be visible to all, but must remain deep in the heart, in the depths of one’s soul.

Just a note here: Other translations, such as that in the sefer “Torah Gems” Volume 2, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg (page 252), render the Olah offering as the Burnt offering. Explanation of the significance of the use of the term “Burnt offering” will appear shortly.

We are taught in our Parsha about the two flames which burn continuously; the flickering light of the Menorah and the powerful flame of the Mizbeiyach (the altar where the various offerings to Hashem were brought). These two flames which burned constantly teach us that a balance must exist between strength and power and modesty and humility. These fires teach us about maintaining a consistency between enthusiasm and constancy. (citing L’lmod Ul’Lamed, Rabbi Mordechai Katz, Parsha Tzav, pages 103-104)

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash (ibid) goes on to explain “monetary loss” as it relates to the Kohanim, seemingly explaining the significance of the use of the term “Burnt offering”:

In order to perform this… [offering] service, Kohanim must give up their regular means of earning a livelihood. This financial sacrifice is particularly acute in the case of an elevation-offering, from which the Kohanim receive nothing, since all of its meat is burned on the Mizbeiyach. Even though its hide goes to the Kohanim, that is hardly sufficient to make up for their loss of income. (citing Gur Aryeh)

According to Ramban, the “monetary loss” refers not to the service of the offering but to the financial burden of an offering… Every Kohen must bring a meal-offering on the first day of his service in the Beit HaMikdash, and a Kohen Gadol must bring a similar offering every single day.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash renders to English Sefer Vayikra, Perek 6, posuk 13 and further explains the previous paragraph (page 561):

“This is the offering of Aaron and his sons, which each shall offer Hashem on the day he is inaugurated: a tenth-ephah of fine flour as a continual meal-offering [Mincha Tamid]… half of it in the morning and half of it in the afternoon.”

Mincha Kohen/The priestly meal-offering. This meal-offering is offered on three occasions: Every Kohen must offer it once in his lifetime — the first time he performs the service in the Beit HaMikdash; The Kohen Gadol must offer it when he assumes office and every day thereafter [thus, the term “Tamid” = continual].

And so we learn that our collective service of Hashem, as with the Kohanic service in the Beit HaMikdash, must be consistently enthusiastic,zealous and constant.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin enters into questions and discussions regarding Kohanim and inherited roles vs earned roles in Judaism in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra (pages 43-48):

Why is the priestly role within Judaism inherited and not “earned?” Why is honor given, to this day, to a Kohen simply because of his lineage? Are we not all “equal” in Hashem’s eyes? If we are equal, shouldn’t our society be a meritocracy?

Certain roles within our tradition are inherited in perpetuity. All male descendants of Aaron are automatically Kohanim, while all [other] males descended from the tribe [shevet] Levi are… Levi’im (those who serve within the Beit Hamikdash). Within each family of Jews, first-born males are accorded specific rights. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Devarim, Perek 21, posuk 17)

…Men and women [in Judaism] have different halachic obligations from birth. (Rabbi Goldin citing Mishna Kiddushin 1:7) Once David becomes king [melech] all authentic royalty descends from the Davidic dynasty. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 1:7-10) Even identity as a Jew is unalterably inherited through one’s mother. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 68b) According to Halacha while someone can… convert to Judaism, a born or converted Jew cannot “convert out.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 44a)

On the other hand, other critical roles within Judaism are clearly earned. Although the Torah is silent on the subject, Midrashic literature clearly reflects the position that Hashem’s choice of Avraham is far from arbitrary. Instead, the first patriarch secures his position as progenitor of the Jews only through years of lonely philosophical struggle and search. (Rabbi Goldin citing Zohar 1:86a, Midrash Rabbah Breish’t 38:13, Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar, 14:2) Moshe, the paradigm of leadership and the progenitor of Rabbinic leadership, rises to greatness as a result of his own initiative. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemot Perek 2, posukim 11-12) Sages, scholars, Rabbis and teachers across the ages earn their positions of authorship by dint of scholarship and character. More than a few of the scholars of the Mishna and Talmud rise from humble origins, including Shmaya and Avtalyon, Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, Reish Lakish and others. (Rabbi Goldin citing Tamud Bavli Gittin 57b, ibid, Yoma 35b, ibid, Ketubot 62b, Pesachim 49b, Rambam’s Introduction to the Mishne Torah, Talmud Bavli Bava Metzia 84a respectively)

Perhaps… the greatest proof of the transcendence of earned rights over birthrights can gleaned from the moment of our nation’s birth. …The national era of our people’s history begins with the Yetziyat Mitzrayim [Egypt] and the Revelation at Sinai. Revelation, in fact, becomes both the moment of our nation’s birth and the defining event for individual affiliation with that nation.

Here… is graphic proof of the value and power of an inherited role. Through pogroms and persecution, wrenching exiles and attempted extermination, a segregated subgroup of honored priests preserves a heritage encoded in its very DNA. Scattered to all corners of the globe, with little or no connection to each other, the Kohanim pass down a tradition from father to son — a tradition of service in a Beit Hamikdash long gone, and of an honored role in a Beit Hamikdash yet to come.

What accounts for the success of this faithful transmission? How do the Kohanim maintain their identity with such unerring accuracy across the generations?

The answer would seem to lie in the very character of inherited privilege, a tradition of honor bequeathed across the ages. Interweaving pride, familial loyalty and intergenerational responsibility, such status acquires greater significance specifically because it is inherited. The Kehunah becomes a precious heirloom, connecting each child to parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and generations long gone.

What follows is an excerpt from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s summary of Parshat Tzav (ibid, Sefer Vayikra, page 35):

Parshat Tzav closes as Hashem delineates the rituals designed to consecrate Aaron and his sons as Kohanim. These rites culminate with a seven-day inaugural period, leading to the eighth day on which the Kehunah (priesthood) will be officially launched.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.