• Rav Yaakov Beasley




Parashat Tzav



By Rabbi Yaakov Beasley




Our parasha consists of two parts – chapters 6 and 7, which add details to the laws of the korbanot previously outlined in Parashat VaYikra, and chapter 8, which begins the narrative of the consecration ceremony of the Mishkan – the installation of the kohanim.   This division reflects the fundamental nature of this parasha as being a “priestly parasha” – as opposed to the laws of sacrifices as outlined last week, which were directed to the whole people, our parasha begins:  Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the law of the burnt-offering …


In discussing the law of the meal-offering (korban mincha), the parasha states the following regulations for the kohanim:

7 And this is the law of the meal-offering: the sons of Aaron shall offer it before Hashem, in front of the altar. 8 And he shall take up therefrom his handful, of the fine flour of the meal-offering, and of the oil thereof, and all the frankincense which is upon the meal-offering, and shall make the memorial-part thereof smoke upon the altar for a sweet savour unto Hashem. 9 And that which is left thereof shall Aaron and his sons eat; it shall be eaten without leaven in a holy place; in the court of the tent of meeting they shall eat it. 10 It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their portion of My offerings made by fire; it is most holy, as the sin-offering, and as the guilt-offering. 11 Every male among the children of Aaron may eat of it, as a due forever throughout your generations, from the offerings of Hashem made by fire; whatsoever touches them yikdash.

What is the meaning of the ending – yikdash?  Similarly, the plural pronoun bahem (them) implies that whatever yikdash describes or prescribes applies to the other “offerings of Hashem” mentioned in the earlier section of the verse.   The previous verse mentioned the sin-offering and the guilt offering (chatat and asham).  The link is made explicit several verses later, when describing the chatat offering:  Whatsoever shall touch the flesh thereof – yikdash (6:20).  The word also appears twice in Sefer Shemot in similar contexts.  The end of chapter 29 notes that regarding touching the altar, “Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar, and sanctify it; thus shall the altar be most holy; whatsoever touches the altar yikdash” (v.37), as well as touching other utensils of the Mishkan: “And you shall sanctify them, that they may be most holy; whatsoever touches them yikdash”.


What do these four clauses, all containing the word yikdash, mandate?  Does the word describe a process where the item transmits kedusha (holiness or sanctity) to the person who touches it (or the object being touched)?  Or, does it depict a state which requires that either the person or the object becomes tamei (“impure”), requiring purification, so that the word yikdash prescribes the necessary future action?  The Targumim (traditional Aramaic translations of the text) consistently interpret the word yikdash as the ambiguous term yitkadash.  In Shemot 29:37, the Targum Yonatan explains this approach – whoever is from the sons of Aharon, yitkadash; however the rest of the Jewish people are forbidden to approach the altar, or else they will be incinerated from the glowing fire from Hashem.   By contrasting the status of the Kohen with the non-Kohen, the Targum Yonatan is suggesting that the word yitkadash implies the past-reflexive, meaning that someone who wishes to approach the holy objects should first purify themselves (similar to Moshe’s instruction to the people before the Giving of the Torah at Har Sinai in chapter 19).  This is fundamentally the approach of the Rashbam, Chizkuni, and the Ibn Ezra in chapter 29.


In Chapter 30, however, the Ibn Ezra gives a different interpretation:

We learn from [the case of] ‘If a man is carrying sacrificial flesh’ (Chaggai 2:12), that our verse is to be understood literally, that [just as] if sacrificial meat touches…foodstuffs they become sanctified, so also with the sacrificial altar, as it also is kodesh kodashim (most holy).”


According to this approach, there is a ‘contagious’ effect to kedusha.   His proof text comes from a question that the prophet Chaggai asked the priests (apparently as a test):


 11 'Thus says Hashem of hosts: Ask now the priests for instruction, saying: 12 If one carries hallowed flesh in the skirt of his garment, and his skirt touches bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any food, shall it be holy?' And the priests answered and said: 'No.' (Chaggai 2:11-12)

The proof appears to be implied in Chaggai’s question.  No question is asked regarding the skirt of the holder itself; it is taken for granted that the meat form the sacrifice transmitted a level of holiness to the garment.  The only question is whether something that received holiness from a sanctified object could ‘pass it forward’.


Another point must be noted in the Ibn Ezra – the emphasis on the kodesh kodashim.  The Torah only mentioned the word yikdash by the korban mincha, chatat, and the asham.  All of these are examples of kodeshai kodashim.  In the case of shelamim, however, the word does not appear.   It may be that only those items on a higher level of sanctity can transmit kedusha.


The Talmud, interestingly enough, dealt with the meaning of the word yikdash on a case by case basis, depending on the context and circumstances.  Regarding contact with the altar, the rabbis referred the “all” to what was considered appropriate for the altar (i.e. - a sacrifice that had been acceptable when brought to the sanctuary but was subsequently invalidated due to a technicality). While this item should not be placed upon the altar, if it was, however, the sanctity of the altar transmits holiness to it and it is allowed to be burnt on the altar (BT Zevachim 83, also 87a regarding the utensils of the Mishkan).  In Chaggai, the word yikdash was understood to be an euphemism for impurity, not holiness (BT Pesachim 16b-17a).  In our parasha, the Rabbis understood the word yikdash to refer to any food that touched any of the sacrificial items and only when the food physically absorbed from them. This is not a transmission of abstract holiness from item to item; only when the “holy” was sensed to be tangibly present to some degree in an affected item was a transfer deemed to have occurred (Zevachim 97).


Developing the Ibn Ezra’s observation that this discussion does not refer to kodeshai kalim (sacrifices of lesser sanctity – the shelamim), we note that this word is also glaringly lacking in one other section – the korban olah – the offering that is totally burnt on the altar.  Both verse 11 and 20 refer to cases where the kohanim are eating from the offerings.  Apparently, the Torah is discussing a specific case whose level of holiness falls between the holiest sacrifice, the olah, entirely consumed by the altar fire, and the shelamim, which can not only be eaten by non-priests, but sometimes, not even on the premises of the Mishkan.  Clearly, the specific concern is where the kohanim are eating of these offerings, indicating that the Torah is concerned that something may go wrong when the kohanim eat.  It cannot be that the kohen who touches his food become sanctified - they are already sanctified and the Torah does not define any further category of sanctity for them.  Kohanim are required to eat from these sacrifices, on a regular basis.  With this understanding, we understand the need for an additional warning.  Like the Targum, we should interpret the word yikdash as being prepared and pure.  The Torah adjures the Kohanim that before they begin to eat, they must be purified.  Without the warning, we can imagine that unlike the acts of slaughtering the sacrifice, the sprinkling of the blood and the bringing of the pieces of the altar to be burnt, Kohanim would not have looked upon the natural and necessary act of eating with the same gravity and seriousness as the other sections of the service mentioned above.  Instead, they may feel that having completed their efforts, they can “relax” and and enjoy their “reward”.  Therefore, the Torah brings an additional warning “yikdash” – be fully focused on your responsibilities and status even when engaged in the apparently mundane act of eating.