Parshas Tzav A Well-Red ParshahBy Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying, "This is the statute of the Torah
which G-d commanded, saying, 'Speak to the Children of Israel, that they
should take for you a Red Heifer ...'." (Bamidbar 19:1)
This week we read the third of the four special parshios for this time of
year -- Purim-Pesach time -- called "Parashas Parah." The "parah" referred
to is, of course, the Red Heifer that was prepared and used to purify those
defiled by contact with the dead -- crucial for a person about to sacrifice
and eat from his Passover-Offering. Hence, the reading of this parshah in
advance of Pesach.
Over the course of six thousand years of history, there will only have been
ten such Red Heifers -- the tenth being found during and signaling the time
of the Moshiach. The first was the one sacrificed and prepared by Moshe
Rabbeinu himself in the desert. According to the who say that Moshiach will
be the reincarnation of Moshe himself, then, the first and last will have
been prepared under the guidance of Moshe Rabbeinu.
Maybe this will help to explain the above posuk, and Rashi's explanation of it:
"They (the Jewish People) should take for you (Moshe) ... It will always be
called by your name, i.e., 'the cow that Moshe prepared in the desert'."
Why would the mitzvah of Parah Adumah (Red Heifer), more than any other
mitzvah, be associated with Moshe Rabbeinu? Because, like Moshe Rabbeinu
and Pesach itself, the Parah Adumah represents a threshold to freedom --
For two reasons. First of all, spiritual purity is an indispensable aspect
of being free, something spiritually impure people will not relate to and
understand. However, the prophet makes the association for us in the
following posuk that alludes to the Final Redemption:
"I [G-d] will remove the impure spirit from the land ..." (Zechariah 13:2)
The second reason? That has to do with the opening words of the parshah,
which Rashi explains:
"G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying, 'This is the statute of the Torah
which G-d commanded...' Because the Satan and the Nations of the World
taunt Israel, saying, 'What is this commandment and what reason is there
for it?' Therefore, it is written 'statute,' [as if to say] 'It is a decree
from Me, and you have new permission to question it!'." (Rashi, Bamidbar
What is the biggest obstacle to redemption there is in this generation?
Ironically, it is the very vehicle that so many believe is their ticket to
freedom: human genius. Man's intelligence is his most prized possession,
and the sky's the limit when it comes to where his mind is allowed to go
And, we have been so successful and clever about so many things that we
have come to believe in our own minds to such an extent that we have come
to feel quite unlimited. When once there was a time that the lack of
understanding of something in creation humbled us, now, instead, it is a
red flag in front of our eyes goading us on to understand that too.
"The greatest mysteries of life," we tell ourselves confidently, "will be
unraveled in time."
Not so -- not so at all.
We've missed the point. The point wasn't the unlimitedness of man's mind;
it was understanding the unlimitedness of the mind of G-d. The point of all
the stars, planets, and galaxies, wasn't to make us believe in G-d less; it
was to help us appreciate His infinity even more. All of it -- ALL OF IT --
was to bring us up to a point of understanding that we don't understand,
Can anyone really understand the mind of G-d?
Not on their own -- not without first recognizing that all understanding
belongs to G-d, as did Moshe Rabbeinu. It is this recognition that
transforms a person from being a simple human genius to a conduit for the
Divine light. It is this ultimate statement of humility that "allows" G-d
to fill our minds with Divine understanding.
THAT is the threshold to freedom, and that is one of the ways that Parashas
Parah helps to make our final preparations for the freedom of Pesach and
the Seder. And, as we will soon see, b"H, this very idea is implied in the
word "tzav" -- "command" that begins this week's parshah.
G-d spoke to Moshe saying, "Command Aharon and his sons, saying, 'This is
the law of the Burnt-Offering; the Burnt-Offering shall be on the place of
the fire on the altar the entire evening until the morning, and the fire of
the altar shall be ignited with it.'." (Vayikra 6:1)
Every mitzvah G-d told Moshe was a commandment; why specifically here does
the Torah include the word "command"? Explains Rashi:
"The term 'command' means to be zealous, now and throughout the
generations. Rebi Shimon said: The posuk needed to enthuse here because
there is a loss involved." (Rashi)
What Rebi Shimon means is that, unlike most sacrifices officiated by the
kohanim, the Burnt-Offering (the kind to which the Continuous-Offering
belonged) provided little physical return, since all of it was consumed on
the altar. That is the "loss" being referred to by Rebi Shimon, and, the
reason why the kohanim have to be coaxed into being as serious about
offering this sacrifice as any other from which they usually can eat the
However, of the many concepts alluded to by the Korban-Olah
(Burnt-Offering), one continues on the theme of the previous d'var Torah.
For, every detail of the sacrifices, and every specific of the procedure
for offering them, like the Mishkan itself, represented some aspect of
creation undergoing rectification at that time in that way.
Hence, if certain parts of the sacrifices are never consumed by humans, but
only by the altar, then there is a reason for that and a message as well.
Likewise, if ALL of the sacrifice is consumed by the altar -- as in the
case of the Burnt-Offering -- then, there is a powerful message in that as
well, as if to say, the benefits of this sacrifice and the rectification it
brings are not for man, at least not at this stage of history.
Hence, the Korban-Olah was also a reminder of the intellectual boundaries
of man, in order to keep him from thinking that he could grow beyond his
human limitations. He was allowed to be the vehicle through which the
sacrifice could take place, but not a "consumer" of its contents.
However, the kohanim WERE allowed to keep the hide of the Burnt-Offering,
certainly a personal benefit. However, one does not consume such matter
internally, and even though the hide had financial value, in a system as
holy as that of sacrifices, money was the most chitzoni (superficial)
The fact this sacrifice was to burn all through the night, which, always,
is symbolic of exile, indicated that understanding the limitations of man's
mind, and the inherent need to be subservient to the mind of G-d, is the
only source of survival for the Jew throughout his long and many exiles. In
fact, exile is the result of just the opposite belief!
However, it is from THIS light that burned throughout the night (exile)
until the morning (redemption) that the altar (the heart of the Jewish
people) is ignited, then, and in the future generations. When Moshiach
comes, the faces of those who doubted Torah and thought to "outsmart" G-d
will drop when Heaven turns to the torch-bearers of Torah to build the
Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Theirs was a "continual-offering," and their reward will be to maintain
that continuity all the way into Eternity.
There are a lot of details with respect to the many sacrifices mentioned
throughout the Torah. Therefore, it is appropriate to provide somewhat of
summary of some of those details here before going on with the rest of the
To begin with, the "sh'chitah" itself had to be performed during the
daytime itself, and not at night. In general, the ritual slaughtering of
animals, which requires extreme precision to avoid rendering the animal
unkosher, is done, ideally, only during daylight hours.
The blood of the animal drained into a certain container from which it was
sprinkled on the altar. The kohen responsible for receiving the blood had
to constantly stir it to keep it from congealing. This was extremely
important, because, as mentioned above, the sprinkling of the blood on the
altar was the main part of the atonement process. Its blood, for the most
part, was in place of OUR blood, especially in the case of Sin-Offerings,
representing the physical component of the life.
The limbs of the animal were burned upon the altar, and ideally, also
during the day. However, if it took the night as well until morning to do
so, this did not render the sacrifice invalid. The burning of the limbs for
the sake of Heaven symbolized the need for man to devote his limbs to the
will of G-d, running to do mitzvos and not the opposite.
Some sacrifices were holier than others, called "Kodshei Kodashim" - "Holy
of the Holies." The Burnt-Offering is an example of such a sacrifice.
Others were less holy, called "Kodshei Kallim" -- "Holy of the Lighter
[Sacrifices]"; the Thanksgiving-Offering was such a sacrifice.
The meat of Kodshei Kodashim was eaten only by the kohanim, within the
Azarah (Temple Courtyard) for the duration of one day and a night. The meat
of Kodshei Kallim could also be eaten by the person who brought the
sacrifice, even though he was not a kohen, and anywhere in Yerushalayim, up
to two days and one day (except for the Thanksgiving-Offering and the ram
of the Nazir, which was eaten only over a period of one day and a night,
and the Passover-Offering, which was only eaten the night of Pesach).
Meat that remained past the specified time for its eating became unfit and
was called "Noser"; it required burning. Meat that was taken outside the
specified place of eating also became unfit and was not allowed to be eaten
anymore. For every mitzvah there is a time, because each mitzvah creates a
special tikun for the Jewish people and the entire world. If we allow that
time to pass, then, even though the act can be the exact same, still, the
window of opportunity for tikun may have already closed, rendering the act
If in the process of performing any one of the four details of sacrificing
there is intention to eat the meat after the prescribed time, or, to burn
the limbs after the set time of doing so, the sacrifice becomes "piggul,"
and eating from this sacrifice will bring the punishment of kores
(excision). When serving G-d, one's intentions must be accurate and
correct; when praying to G-d, one must keep his or her mind in the proper
intellectual and spiritual domain.
There are six intentions necessary for the sacrifice to be kosher and to
fulfill the obligation of the one bringing it (Zevachim, Mishnah 46b). It
has to be offered, 1.) as a sacrifice, 2.) on behalf of the one who brought
it, 3.) as the offering it was intended to be, 4.) as a Fire-Offering
(i.e., to be consumed on the altar), 5.) to create a "smell" (for Heaven),
6.) to be pleasant (to G-d). As Rashi points out (Vayikra 1:9), the
"pleasant smell" is the fact that we have carried out the mitzvah as per
the Torah's instructions, symbolized the smell of burning meat rising
However, to avoid the possibility of such mistakes, the Court made a
standing-condition that the intentions were established only by the one
offering it, who was less likely to err.
There are obviously many other details regarding the precise and proper
offering of sacrifices, and the officiating kohanim had to be well-versed
in all of those details. Judaism places extremely high value on human life,
and animal life as well; such care was expressed by the zealousness of the
kohanim to make the sacrifice as meaningful as possible.
One of the more Kabbalistic rectifications achieved through any kind of
ritual slaughtering was the subduing of the forces of creation that tend to
reduce and hold back the light of G-d -- Gevuros - something made
necessary, initially, by the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil. Subsequent moral deterioration has only served to increase
the Gevuros in creation, to strengthen them, and therefore, the need to
subdue them as well.
Today, without a Temple, we are not permitted to sacrifice animals.
However, sh'chitah for eating purposes still does, on some level,
accomplish the same task (that other forms of slaughter cannot). However,
there is no greater way to subdue the forces of Gevuros -- and evil in
creation -- than self-SACRIFICE for moral causes, and the service of G-d.
Ultimately-speaking, it is the only REAL sacrifice that makes the
difference to G-d, for, as the Talmud concludes: Whether a little or a lot
- just as long as your heart is directed toward Heaven.
A song of Assaf: G-d stands in the assembly of G-d -- in the midst of the
judges He will judge. How long will you judge lawlessly and favor the face
of the wicked?(Tehillim 82:1-2)
The third day of creation represented a turning point. The second day
brought the concept of schism into reality, but the third day represented a
resolution of that schism, just like Ya'akov was the resolution of
Avraham's (Chesed-Kindness) and Yitzchak's (Gevurah-Strength) natures - the
holy harmony of the trait of "Tifferes."
In fact, in the sefiros, Chesed represents the right arm, Gevurah the left
arm, but Tifferes represents the body, so-to-speak. The body is where most
of the life-support system of a human being is located, which indicates the
centrality and level of completion represented by Tifferes and the third
day of creation. According to the Talmud, since it was the say that:
G-d said, "Let the waters beneath the Heaven be gathered into one area, so
that dry land may appear." (Bereishis 1:9)
-- it is the day that "that G-d uncovered the world with His wisdom and
prepared it for His chosen assembly." (Rosh Hashanah 31a).
Regarding the tehillah itself:
A song of Assaf (Tehillim 82:1)
Who was Assaf? According to the Radak and the Malbim, Assaf was the
righteous king Yehoshafat, the king of Yehudah and direct descendant of
Dovid HaMelech. During his reign, he "gathered" (hence, "assaf," which
means "gather") judges throughout the land, and impressed upon them their
supreme responsibility to G-d to judge righteously:
G-d stands in the assembly of G-d -- in the midst of the judges He will
judge. How long will you judge lawlessly and favor the face of the wicked?
It is not enough that corrupt judges and lawyers twist the judgment to suit
their needs, but, they even prefer the company of people who request it.
"Wicked" here doesn't mean only murderers and those who commit major
felonies, but, as the Talmud points out, it refers to all those who corrupt
the legal system for self-gain, and, without remorse.
"What can I do? It is the way of the world" is never, according to the
Torah, a valid reason to break the Torah. Because it is a mitzvah that is
so easily trampled on, society as a whole must be on vigilant guard against
such violations. However, any legal system that does not take into account
the will of the Al-mighty is not likely to remain free of corruption. As
the Talmud promises:
Judges who judicature honestly cause the Divine Presence to descend upon
the entire people of Israel. (Sanhedrin 7a)
There is something else about Yehoshafat that reveals his greatness. The
Yehoshafat got up and proclaimed, "I have no strength to kill or pursue
my enemies. Rather, I will recite songs of praise, and You, G-d, will wage
war." (Pesichta, Eicheh Rabbosai 30)
This is the true trait that shows Yehoshafat's link to his great ancestor,
Dovid HaMelech. Just as Dovid came before Goliath with the Name of G-d with
which to do battle against the Philistine giant, so, too, did Yehoshafat
place all of his faith in G-d's redeeming powers.
Find an honest and fair judge anywhere in the world, and you will find a
similar quality of humility. Likewise, if this trait is missing, it will be
hard for the judge to weigh the cases in any real, objective manner. For:
Arise O G-d - judge the earth! (82:8)
And, as we learn from many places throughout Tanach, one of the chief
traits the Judge of Judges - G-d Himself - exhibits is humility. For,
humility is the basis of objectivity, and objectivity is the basis of any