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Shabbat Tzav Para

Leviticus 6:1-8:36 - Humans First

by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

We continue reading this week about the sacrifices. A controversial issue that challenges us to this day. Were they temporary as Maimonides controversially implied in his “Guide to the Perplexed”? A way of weaning the Israelites off what was then and remains today in parts of the world, the most common way of worshipping gods and showing one’s gratitude and allegiance? Hence one might deduce that they were not necessarily something to be revived.

Or were they intrinsic and we are expected to see one day, the Temple rebuilt, and the sacrifices restored? Even if it is unclear how and in what way this would happen. The rabbis skirt the issue by saying that Elijah must return to tell us exactly what to do. My position is something of a hybrid.

The Book of Vayikra contains two main themes, Sacrifices, and Morality. It starts with the Hebrew word ויקרא (And He called). But the last letter א is smaller than all the other letters and the word could read ויקר which means an accident or happenstance. The word is used in the Torah (Numbers 23:4) when God appears to Balaam “accidentally”. In other words, it is not a complete appearance but an inferior one. This could imply that the section dealing with sacrifices is secondary, not primary.

We do not know for certain why some letters in the Torah are large and others small. Though Midrashim try to explain them all. These nuances are part of the Masoretic text where the books of the Bible were standardized and canonized and the Masoretes included all the variations both in words and script.

Perhaps the Torah hints that public worship, however important it is for the community and the people, is not as important as human relations and the second art of the book that deals with morality. The difference between laws relating human beings to God in contrast to laws between humans. The small Aleph is telling us that sacrifices are not the priority. This is reflected in the Law that where there is a conflict between the human need to help others, and religious rituals for God, the human need takes priority.

A similar lesson about the importance of humanity can be learned from the Torah both last week in Vayikra and this week in Tsav. There are lists of which animals can be sacrificed. Oxen, sheep, goats, birds, and purely vegetarian, flour, oil, and spice, baked or fried grains. Lists of different kinds or reasons for sacrifices. Communal and personal covering a very wide range of conditions and circumstances. The wealthy would want to give more. But the variety and choice of what to give meant that even the poorest could contribute something. Everyone was important. No one should feel unwanted or undervalued.

The Midrash says that Shelamim, Peace Offerings, from the word Shalom, are the most important symbolically because they bring peace to humanity. Because the Shelamim were shared with everyone. Priests and laymen alike had a good meal from them. But it was up to everyone to decide how much to give the priests. Because priests were at the mercy of the donor, they had to be nice to them. That forced them to come off their high horses and relate.

To consider the needs of the ordinary person. Once again, matters between humans and God can be subordinated to matters of human relations. Religion is important but people are more.

Shabbat Shalom



Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.


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