SALT - Sunday, 5 Adar I 5779 - February 10, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted the procedure which God commanded Moshe to follow when offering the eil ha-miluim – the special sacrifice brought by Aharon and his sons as part of their consecration as kohanim.  As we read in Parashat Tetzaveh (29:20-25), Moshe was to slaughter the ram and then place some of its blood on several parts of the kohanim’s body.  He was then to sprinkle its blood on the altar, and afterward take blood from the altar, mix it with the shemen ha-mishcha (anointing oil), and sprinkle the mixture on the kohanim and on their garments.  Moshe was then to complete the sacrifice by placing the animal’s fats on the altar.
            The Ramban, commenting to Sefer Vayikra (8:30), notes a discrepancy between God’s commands to Moshe here in Parashat Tetzaveh, and Moshe’s fulfillment of these commands, as described by the Torah in Sefer Vayikra.  The Torah there tells that Moshe first offered the sacrificial fats on the altar before taking some of the blood from the altar and sprinkling it with the oil on the kohanim.  This is in contrast to the series of commands which appear here in Parashat Teztaveh, which require Moshe to first sprinkle the blood on the kohanim and only then place the fats on the altar.  The Ramban suggests that Moshe understood from God’s commands that the fats were to be offered before the sprinkling, because God made it clear that the sprinkling marked the moment when Aharon and his sons officially became kohanim: “You shall sprinkle [the blood and oil] on Aharon and on his garments, and on his sons and on their garments, whereupon he and his garments will be sacred, and his sons and his sons’ garments…” (29:21).  As this act conferred the status of priesthood upon Aharon and his sons, the Ramban writes, it was clear to Moshe that this should be the very last stage of the consecration process.  He therefore first completed the offering of the sacrifice before sprinkling the blood on the kohanim, which was to be the final stage.
            The Ramban does not explain, however, why God first mentioned the sprinkling before the offering of the fats.  If the intention was that the sprinkling should be done last, then, seemingly, this stage should have been mentioned last, and not before the offering of the fats on the altar.
            Netziv, in his Ha’ameik Davar (Shemot 29:21), advances a different theory.  In principle, he writes, the blood should have been sprinkled on the kohanim immediately after its sprinkling on the altar, for a simple, practical reason: the blood would slowly but steadily drip down the side of the altar, and so unless it was taken quickly, it would not be available for sprinkling.  In issuing His commands, then, God indicated that the blood should be taken from the altar and sprinkled on the kohanim immediately, without delay.  However, when Moshe performed this ceremony, a miracle occurred, and the blood stood in place after it was sprinkled on the altar, without trickling down.  Moshe therefore understood that he was to first perform the standard procedure of sacrificial offering, by placing the fats on the altar, before performing the unusual ritual of taking blood from the altar and sprinkling it on the kohanim.  Netziv explains that the command was formulated in the manner that would be followed if the kohanim were not worthy of this miracle, but ultimately, they were worthy, and so Moshe followed a different sequence, first offering the fats on the altar and then sprinkling the blood on the kohanim.