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Tsav – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This is the week when the Temple sacrificial rites are set out.

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־משֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying

The “Tzav”, (translated as “the Command”) to which Sedra refers, sets out the instructions that Moses will relay to the Leviim concerning practices relating to sacrifices in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. Some of those things within the Parasha this week are still with us.

The command to burn a continuous fire on the altar became the Ner Tamid above the Ark. The Baal Shem Tov felt that as Jews it is vital, to have fire in the soul. Menahem Mendl of Kotzk saw it as indicating steadiness and directedness keeping an internal, concealed flame.

When we recite the “HaGomel” prayer after illness we recall the thanksgiving offering, the “Korban Todah”

Being a leader is not easy. It requires the ability to relate not just to the present but to consider the history of the past and with a sense of what the future may hold. The Temple would be lost and the rites would eventually disappear. Did Moses anticipate this?

There is a rare cantillation note, known as a “shalshelet “, which appears in the Torah in only four places. Each time it is a sign of uncertainty. It first appears when Lot is asked to leave Sodom, again when Eliezer goes out to look for a wife for Isaac and for the third time when Joseph refuses to sleep with the wife of Potiphar. The fourth and last time the note appears is in today’s Sedra just as Moses is about to make the sacrifices to anoint Aaron.

The question raised by Tzav, which is all about different kinds of sacrifice, is not “Why were sacrifices commanded in the first place?” but how did Judaism survive without them?

Jews did not abandon the past. We still refer to the sacrifices in our prayers. The Conservative movement in America for a time edited the Siddur to remove references to the fire offerings and even the final petition of the Amidah asking for the reconstruction of the Temple in our lifetime.

Surviving without sacrifices for almost two thousand years we adapted and faced the future whilst remembering and honouring our past. We created institutions like the synagogue and houses of study to sustain Jewish identity.

In the blessing known as “Hagomel”: we give thanks to “Who bestows good things on the unworthy”.

To be a Jew is to offer thanks. It is “the continual fire within our soul”

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