Tsav: Investiture

Moses did as the Lord commanded him. And when the community was assembled at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, Moses said to the community, “This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.”
Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. He put the tunic on him, girded him with the sash, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him, girding him with the decorated band with which he tied it to him. He put the breastpiece on him, and put into the breastpiece the Urim and Thummim. And he set the headdress on his head; and on the headdress, in front, he put the gold frontlet, the holy diadem — as the Lord had commanded Moses…
He poured some of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him. Moses then brought Aaron’s sons forward, clothed them in tunics, girded them with sashes, and wound turbans upon them, as the Lord had commanded Moses…And Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood that was on the altar and sprinkled it upon Aaron and upon his vestments, and also upon his sons and upon their vestments. Thus he consecrated Aaron and his vestments, and also his sons and their vestments.
Moses said to Aaron and his sons: …You shall not go outside the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the day that your period of ordination is completed. For your ordination will require seven days. Everything done today, the Lord has commanded to be done [seven days], to make expiation for you. You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, keeping the Lord’s charge — that you may not die — for so I have been commanded. (Vayikra 8:4-13, 30, 31-35)

The people crowd and stare up mutely
at the line of men, disrobed,
upright as a row of cedars
lit by rays of early sun.

Each in turn steps forward as
his skin is washed in sacred rite,
the cleansing water trickles down
in pools upon the courtyard floor.

The High Priest first is clothed in layers
tunic, sash and robe are tied,
invested in the mark of service
his head anointed then with oil.

His acolytes in turn stand forward
to be attired in priestly garb,
their faces solemn as they ponder
Whom it is they come to serve.


In an article on Parashat Tsav entitled Transparent Leadership, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/transparent-leadership/ Rachel Farbiarz comments “For as long as people have organized themselves into civil societies, corruption has placed its thumb on the scales of justice, diverted the flow of essential resources, and helped turn the wheels of power…Beside the economic burdens, corruption levies a perhaps even more damaging psychological toll, under which ordinary citizens come to feel powerless in the face of corruption’s constant, common debasements…
“Testament to the timelessness of corruption’s havoc, the Torah repeatedly exhorts Israel’s leaders to resist venality.” Farbiarz suggests that Parashat Tsav conveys this message in a more subtle manner “through the exquisite choreography of the ritual consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests.”
First, the investiture ritual was a public affair, taking place before the eyes of the entire people. We are told that Moses assembled Israel at the entrance to the Tabernacle where everyone, Rashi explains, was miraculously accommodated. We learn that the new priests were to stay at the Tabernacle’s entrance for the entire seven day period of the investiture, lest they die.
Farbiarz says, “The metamorphosis of Aaron and his sons into kohanim, or priests, was thus a process wholly transparent to the nation. All of Israel watched as Moses bathed Aaron and his sons. They stood witness as Moses clothed the naked initiates in tunics and girded them with sashes; as he wrapped his nephews’ heads with turbans; as he bedecked his older brother with the urim v’tumim, the jeweled breastplate of the High Priest (Leviticus 8:6-34).”
The people watched Moses demonstrate the rites of the korbanot to the first priests; they saw how he sprinkled sacrificial blood on Aaron and his sons, on their thumbs, toes and ears and on their vestments. Farbiarz suggests that this intricate ceremony of ordination transmitted a powerful message of “mutual responsibility between priest and nation.” She continues, “That the nation witnessed Aaron and his sons laid completely bare and then costumed bit by bit, chastened the priests to remember that critical to their holy transformation was the nation’s intimacy with their humanity. The nation, in turn, was vested with the awesome trust implied in witnessing the initiates change from naked, vulnerable men into God’s – and the people’s – servants.”
She submits that the “investiture’s peculiar pageantry” further conveys that the priests’ service was intended to be carried out in an altruistic spirit of dedication. “To both the nation and the initiates, the macabre image of Aaron and his sons, their garments, and extremities covered with sacrificial blood, conveyed a humbling message: Henceforth, the priests’ lives were to be like the korbanot with which they were entrusted–sacrifices to God on the nation’s behalf. The priesthood was emphatically not to be a life of self-aggrandizement and personal profit, but one of service and accountability to others.”
However, although this was a notably public spectacle of the ordination underscoring the priests’ accountability to God and the community, and thus exemplifying the priesthood at its best, it was a unique occurrence, a ritual that was never repeated. And the priesthood was later degraded by corruption and greed. Farbiarz notes, “The holy institution thus tragically succumbed to precisely what the investiture seemed crafted to derail: the powerful tendency of public institutions to become the people’s victimizers, rather than their servants, when transparency and accountability are abandoned.”
Finally, she points out that widespread corruption is rife the world over. In the world’s most impoverished countries, corruption is one of the most serious obstacles to progress, affecting nearly every aspect of life in these societies.
She mentions the courage of individuals around the world who frequently endanger themselves by exposing and fighting corruption. She concludes, “Their struggles lend hope that the priestly investiture’s emphasis on transparency and accountability will take root in their own communities and throughout the world.”

Tsav: The Vigil

You shall not leave the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the day that your period of ordination is completed. For your ordination will require seven days. Everything done today, the Lord has commanded to be done to make expiation for you. You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, keeping the Lord’s charge [vigil] — that you may not die — for thus I was commanded. Vayikra 8:33-35)

The sacred fire is kindled still:
no flood could douse the blaze;
protected through the centuries
the light has been sustained.

But labyrinthine palisades,
accretions of the years,
were zealously constructed
to insulate the flames.

Far out on the periphery
the glow is faint and cool,
and those who seek the radiance
must penetrate the maze.


Parashat Tsav opens with a description of the ritual burnt offering and continues immediately with the injunction, shortly after repeated, that the fire on the altar should burn perpetually and not be allowed to die out. The Rabbis teach that the Torah itself is analogous to this fire – a gift of  God requiring humans to tend it and perpetuate it. The parashah concludes with the investiture of the priests.
In his book The Fire and the Cloud: Contemporary Reflections on the Weekly Torah Reading, Rabbi David Bigman notes that after the sanctification of the priests and the Tabernacle, Moses instructs Aaron and his sons to remain inside the Tabernacle for a week. He remarks that before we address the content of Moses’ instruction, we immediately notice the strange phrase with which Moses concludes, “…for thus I was commanded”. Rabbi Bigman wonders why Moses added these words – surely it is obvious that the command has been given by God. He suggests it indicates a need to strengthen Moses’ words and he speculates what in this passage might require explicit divine endorsement.
He says that the passage itself contains a reasonable explanation. Moses tells the priests to keep God’s “charge,” or as Rabbi Bigman translates it,”vigil”. He continues, “…if this were not written in the Torah, one would be forbidden from saying it! Is God in need of a vigil? Does He need to be guarded? This is a surprising anthropomorphism – it is as if God were physically present within the Tabernacle, constantly protected by His attending priests.”
Rabbi Bigman explains that Moses has to add the words “for thus I was commanded” in order to rectify the misapprehension that the aim of the vigil is to protect God, when in fact it is simply because He decreed it. He suggests that these ideas apply in our own day and age, “It is clear to us that God is not in need of our protection, but don’t we sometimes treat Him and His Torah as if they were? It would seem that the decrees of the early Rabbis that extended the purview of the commandments touch the heart of this question. Does our Torah really need to be protected by extending the range of its prohibitions? Isn’t it within the Torah’s power to protect its own observance?”
Rabbi Bigman cites the Talmud (Yevamot 21a) in which Rabbi Kahana comments on a very similar phrase in the final verse in Parashat Acharei Mot: “You shall keep My charge [vigil]…” (Vayikra 18:30) which led the Rabbis to the concept of “making a fence around the Torah” – expanding the domain of the prohibited to protect the Torah, now and in the future, from inadvertent violation. Rabbi Bigman pinpoints the Sages’ dilemma in the balancing of two opposing tendencies, “On the one hand, they are commanded to set up a “vigil” to ensure the observance of the Torah; on the other hand such moves may be inappropriate, since they assume the Torah is in need of protection. More than anyone else, those charged with overseeing the practical observance of the Torah must avoid creating the impression that they are its “guardians.” Their role is to establish only those halakhic decrees necessary to allow people to observe the commandments while remaining aware that the Torah itself has no need for their protection.”

In the introduction to his book, For God’s sake!? Perspectives on Chumrot [Stringencies], Chaim Burg briefly surveys how the Jewish people has undergone a tumultuous history and radical changes: from desert nomads to an agricultural society; from twelve disparate tribes to a unified and later divided kingdom; from life in its sovereign land to a scattered people in Diaspora, and then back to its own land. The major thread that traverses the entire story is the Torah – wherever they were, the Torah guided every aspect of their lives. The Torah, given at Sinai, remains unchanged, but the Halachah, the practical application, can change and has done so. Burg points out, “To remain viable in the varied history of the Jewish people, practices of Jewish law had to go through changes, adaptations and variations. These are reflected in the multitude of customs, practices and rabbinic decisions over the years.”
Burg notes that aspects of practice could be changed because of “Halacha’s (Jewish law’s) internal, built-in flexibility” and rulings could be less or more stringent as long as they fell within the framework of Torah. He adds that changes were introduced to protect the observant way of life, or to protect the people, sometimes from the surrounding population.
He remarks that Halachic decisions by rabbis both famous and less so, have varied from the very strict to the very lenient. The tendency, he notes, has been to choose the more conservative and stringent opinions because the assumption is that the flow would always tend to increasing leniency over time. And he notes, “…when we look at so many of the practices and rulings of the current era we see that leniency (kulah) is out – stringency (chumrah) is in.”

In her book, Off the Derech: Why Observant Jews Leave Judaism, How to Respond to the Challenge, Faranak Margolese has a chapter entitled “Narrow definitions of being observant” in which she says, “Being properly observant today involves meeting a very narrow and well-defined criterion that involves not only halachah but also a host of other requirements regarding beliefs, dress, conduct, and other things that inherently have nothing to do with religiosity.” She notes, “This is particularly problematic when our definitions of proper observance have more to do with our own expectations than God’s. When our definitions move outside the realm of halachah as they often do, they have the added undesired effect of replacing God and His Torah as the measure of what is right with ourselves.” She adds that narrow definitions blur the understanding of proper observance, “Narrow definitions make the road sometimes too narrow to walk; they create an all or nothing attitude, blur the real meaning of what it means to be frum [observant], and displace God as the measure of proper behavior. This makes it all too easy to go off the derech [path] – or rather to fall off of it.” Margolese concludes that ultimately, differentiating between halachah and chumrah and broadening the road as much as possible facilitates orientation somewhere on the highway of Jewish life.

Tsav: Sweeping out the ashes

The priest shall dress in linen raiment…and he shall pick up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a pure place. (Vayikra 6:3-4).

Arising to the sunlight
bleary-eyed and weary
recalling yesterday’s despair.

Putting on today’s fresh robes
smoothing down the turbulence
wrought by battling shadows.

Combing out the tangles
matted in the frenzy
of last night’s restless dreams.

Rinsing out the bitterness
with cool translucent water
sluicing the corrosion away.

Reverently sweeping out
the ashes of last night’s offering:
suddenly fresh promise dawns.


Rabbi Tsvi HaCohen of Riminov points out that the word for ashes is deshen which, he teaches, is an acrostic for “davar shelo nechshav – something which is of little significance.” He says [we need] to raise up even the things which seem negligible and put them by the altar, and bring them to a place of holiness.
Rabbi Menachem HaBavli is quoted in Itturei Torah on Parashat Tsav, on the phrase, “and he shall pick up the ashes” as follows: “This is one of the 613 commandments, to raise up the ashes from the altar every day, to remove the charred remains of the burnt sacrifices. And there is, in this, a symbol and an instruction, that after the one who sinned has brought his offering before God and confessed over it, he is not to be reminded of his past sin, but we are enjoined to wipe out its traces and forget it.”
In his book, The Language of Truth, The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Arthur Green quotes the Sefat Emet: “The commandment to remove the ashes hints that as we burn up the waste in our lives, we are uplifted each day, and then we are given new light. This redemptive process is with us every single day.”