Leviticus 6:1(8)–8:36; Jeremiah 7:21–8:3, 9:22(23)–23(24); Malachi 3:4–24; Hebrews 9:11–28
“Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt!” (Deuteronomy 25:17)
Because this is the Shabbat that falls before Purim (Feast of Lots), which begins Saturday night, it has a special name: Shabbat Zachor (Sabbath of Remembrance).
Special portions of Scripture are included to remember the attack of Amalek on the Israelites when they came out of Egypt.
While it may seem odd to remember an attack that happened so long ago, God commanded the Jewish People to wipe them out and never forget them.
“When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God … you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:18–19)
In the Shabbat Zachor portion of the reading (1 Samuel 15:2–15:34), God commands King Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15:2–3)
But Saul fails to carry out God’s command and spares the life of Agag, the king of Amalek:
“But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.” (1 Samuel 15:9)
For this disobedience, God regrets choosing Saul as king and decides to give the kingdom to another:
“Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out My instructions.” (1 Samuel 15:10–11)
Why is this special Scripture portion read just before Purim?
It is because the anti-Semite in the book of Esther, Haman, who tried to annihilate all the Jews of Persia, is believed to have descended from the Amalekites.
Esther 3:1 describes Haman as being an Agagite—a descendant of Agag the Amalekite king.
The story of Saul’s disobedience demonstrates how very important it is that we obey God’s tzav (command)—the title of this week’s Parasha.
Failure to do so can have destructive consequences even in future generations.
Sadly, to this day Israel has enemies like the Amalekites and Haman who try to wipe the Jewish state off of the map.
One day they will all perish and even the memory of their name will be blotted out from under heaven.
“All who devour you will be devoured; all your enemies will go into exile. Those who plunder you will be plundered; all who make spoil of you I will despoil. But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds.” (Jeremiah 30:16–17)
Israel will live in peace and security with the Messiah ruling and reigning from Jerusalem, the Holy City.
“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when this city will be rebuilt for Me…. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.’” (Jeremiah 31:38, 40)
Keeping the Holy Fire Burning
“Give Aaron and his sons this command [tzav]: ‘These are the regulations for the burnt offering: The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” (Leviticus 6:2 [6:9])
Last week, in Parasha Vayikra, God spoke to Moses from the Tent of Meeting and gave him the laws of the korbanot, the animal and meal offerings that were to be brought to the Sanctuary.
In this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moses to command Aaron and his sons to perform the required sacrifices.
As well, it describes the ordination of Aaron and his sons and their seven-day consecration period.
The Parasha begins with the command for the burnt offering (korban olah), as well as the command to keep the fire burning on the altar continually.
Every morning, the priests were to shovel the ashes of the olah and to kindle wood in the fire to keep it burning.
This reveals the continuity of our service to God in the offerings and prayers, one kindling the next.
As well, as priests of the Lord, we are to keep a fiery enthusiasm burning in our hearts for our relationship with God.
It is natural that there are times when the fire burns down to a lower level, but we must never let the fire totally go out.
We must tend to the fire by removing the ashes and placing fresh kindling in the embers lest our service becomes routine and our fire for the Lord dies.
“Fire is to be kept burning upon the altar continually; it is not to go out.” (Leviticus 6:6 [6:13])
Laws of Kashrut: Keeping It Kosher
“You are not to eat the fat of bulls, sheep, or goats…. For whoever eats the fat of animals of the kind used in presenting an offering made by fire to ADONAI will be cut off from his people. You are not to eat any kind of blood.” (Leviticus 7:23–26)
Parasha Tzav also introduces the Biblical dietary laws called kashrut.
These kosher laws specify that the fat of animals used as offerings may not be eaten. Additionally, consuming blood, which is also connected to the sacrifices, was prohibited.
The blood of the offering was to be sprinkled on that altar, symbolizing the life of the person bringing the offering.
Elsewhere in Leviticus, the importance of blood is emphasized:
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Leviticus 17:11)
These commandments are not strictly about health; they are about obedience.
In the 12th century sage Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon’s Guide for the Perplexed, he states that the dietary laws “train us to master our appetites… and not consider eating and drinking the end of man’s existence.” (Guide 3:35)
Offerings and Obedience in Haftarah Tzav (Prophetic Reading)
Sacrifices are the main topic of this week’s Torah and Haftarah portions.
In this week’s Haftarah (Prophetic reading), the Prophet Jeremiah rebukes the people telling them that God is first and foremost concerned about His relationship with them and obedience, which protects that relationship:
“Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat flesh. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way [derech] which I command you, that it may be well with you.’” (Jeremiah 7:21–23)
The word derech used in Jeremiah 7:23 means way, journey, road or manner, and it reveals that obeying God is following Him, and not our own inclinations. When we follow our own ways, we don’t make any progress; we go backward.
“But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.” (Jeremiah 7:24)
Even the highest of offerings is less important to God than personal, day-to-day conduct.
Both the sacrifices and the commandments revolve around having a good relationship with God and drawing near to Him.
They are about being the people of God and nurturing the personal and private connection with Him. It is less about the outward performances that can be devoid of inward reality.
Yeshua essentially uses this same word that Jeremiah uses, derech, when He proclaims, “I am the Way [derech], the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6)
In fact, the disciples of Yeshua originally were called People of the Way (derech).
When we follow Yeshua, He shows us the way in which we should go.
“For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” (Psalm 1:6)
This week’s Parasha presents us with the choice to either follow our hearts, as society often pressures us to do, or to obey God.
Oftentimes, our own personal happiness is foremost in our minds; however, God is more concerned with our obedience, which leads to strength of character and holiness.
We sometimes contrast the seemingly greater emphasis in the Tanakh (Old Covenant) on law and obedience with the grace and mercy in the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant).
We must keep in mind however, that the New Covenant also emphasizes keeping His commands and proper attitude toward obedience as a demonstration of our love for God.
“This is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)
Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) said, “If you love Me, keep My commands.” (John 14:15)
When we receive through Yeshua a new heart and a new spirit, we desire in our innermost being to walk in obedience and to please the Lord.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.… I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27)
Jeremiah’s rebuke concerning the sacrifices does not imply that God despises the offerings that He Himself instituted. He is emphasizing the importance of understanding and knowing Him, and emulating His character.
“Let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” (Jeremiah 9:24)
Even Yeshua presented offerings in the Temple.
But what, specifically, were the people of Israel doing that so offended God? They were following the detestable practice of the pagan nations to burn their children in the fire as sacrifices to false gods.
“They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter My mind.” (Jeremiah 7:31)
For this terrible sin, God vowed to banish them into exile and make the Land desolate.
“I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.” (Jeremiah 7:34)
Despite the judgment that Jeremiah announced, he is often called the Prophet of Hope because even with all that came upon his people, he never lost hope in the mercy and loving kindness of God.
He understood that God would fulfill all His promises to His people.
The re-birth of the modern state of Israel, the return of the exiles, and the agricultural revival of the land itself is proof positive that our God is loving and merciful and that all His promises to Israel are true.
“Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit…. He who scattered Israel will gather them.” (Jeremiah 31:5, 10)