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Parasha Tzav (Command): Defeating Death

TZAV (Command!)
Leviticus 6:1–8:36; ; 1 Corinthians 15:1–58

“The LORD said to Moses:  ‘Command [Tzav צַו] Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the law of the burnt-offering.’”  (Leviticus 6:8–9)

tefillin_kippah_tallit_Torah scroll_synagogue _morning prayer

A Jewish man wearing tefillin (phylacteries), a kippah (head covering), and a tallit (prayer shawl) holds a Torah scroll in a synagogue during morning prayer.

Last week, in Parasha Vayikra, God spoke to Moses from the Tent of Meeting, giving him the laws of the offerings (korbanot קָרְבָּנוֹת), detailing the circumstances under which they would be offered in order to draw close to God.

This week’s Parasha is entitled Tzav, which means to order or command.

What was God instructing Moses to command Aaron and his sons?  He was commanding the Jewish priesthood (lineage of Aaron) to observe their rights and duties as the kohanim (priests), who in Parasha Tzav are commanded to keep the fire on the altar burning and never to extinguish it.  (Leviticus 6:13)

For this reason, when we light our Shabbat candles on Friday night to usher in the Sabbath, it is customary not to blow out the flame but to let the candles burn down completely.

And although the fire no longer burns on the Temple altar, and our Shabbat candles burn until they go out, may our hearts always burn brightly with the fire that God Himself lit there, never to be extinguished by the cares of this world.

On Friday night, it is customary to kindle Shabbat candles just before the arrival of the Sabbath. (Photo by Robert Couse-Baker)

On Friday night, it is customary to kindle Shabbat candles just before the arrival of the Sabbath.  (Photo by Robert Couse-Baker)

In Tzav, the priests are given the procedure for offering the obligatory sacrifices on behalf of all the nation of Israel.  As these offerings are read in the synagogue, however, few will connect those offerings to the death and resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus), which we remember during Passover season.

Nevertheless, those offerings are essential to our understanding of what Yeshua accomplished on the tree.  They comprise the following five categories: the burnt offering, the meal offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering.

1.  Korban Olah (קרבנ עלה – Burnt Offerings)

“Let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD.”  (Leviticus 1:3)

The Korban Olah is a voluntary offering that is to be completely burnt.  Nothing is to be eaten.

To offer it, the worshiper brings a male animal without blemish to the door of the Tabernacle.  A male or female dove or pigeon can be offered if a person does not have the means to offer a bullock, ram, or goat.

The Israelite then places his hands upon the head of the animal offering with the knowledge that this innocent animal is about to pay the price for his sin.  

After the worshiper asks Adonai for forgiveness, the animal is slaughtered.


Israeli sheep

2.  Minchah (מִנְחָה – Meal Offerings)

Tzav also describes the duties for the Minchah (present or gift) or the Meal Offering in which the people of Israel also give grain offerings.

The priests burn a fistful (Kometz) of this offering on the altar and eat the rest.

Often the choicest flour is mixed with oil and salt to make a cake, but it cannot contain leaven or honey.

Leaven is associated with sin, pride, hypocrisy, false teaching, and worldliness (1 Corinthians 5:6–8, Luke 12:1, Galatians 5:9, Mark 8:15).

Leaven and salt represent two entirely different actions:  salt preserves, while leaven radically changes substances.  

Although honey has a pleasant smell when it boils, it smells bitter and unpleasant when it burns.  The offering is to be sweet smelling, as is the incense offered with it.

The priest makes an offering (Source: Internet Archive)
The priest makes an offering (Source: Internet Archive)

While this Parasha seems to specify grain, elsewhere we see also vegetables and animals given for a Minchah (Genesis 4:3–4; 1 Samuel 2:15–17).

Both Cain and Abel offered a Minchah and not a Korban Olah.  Cain and his offering were not accepted, and Abel and his offering were.

Abel offered a fat portion of the firstfruit of his flock; however, the Bible does not indicate that Cain brought the firstfruit of his produce.  It just says that he brought the fruit of the ground.

We can infer from this that Cain did not offer the Minchah in faith or with a right attitude (Hebrews 11:1–2, 4; 1 John 3:12).

Cain became embittered when God rejected both him and his offering; however, God graciously told him that if he would do well, he would be accepted.  Cain rejected Adonai’s advice, and things went from bad to worse.  

He did not repent, choosing instead a path of rebellion that resulted in him killing his brother.

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”  (Genesis 4:7)

Cain is resentful that Abel's offering is accepted

Cain is resentful that Abel’s offering is accepted

3.  Shelamim (שְׁלָמִים – Peace Offering)

The Shelamim (which is related to the word shalom) is a voluntary offering that expresses a sense of wellbeing, praise, and thanksgiving, such as when Jacob and Laban made a treaty with one another.  (Genesis 31:54)

This offering is similar to the burnt offering; however, while male or female animals are acceptable, birds are not.  The animals are not fully burned as are the burnt offerings; only specified portions of fat and internal organs are placed on the altar.

A portion of the Shelamim, without the blood, is to be eaten by the priests and even by the one offering up the sacrifice.

Kotel-tallit-Torah scroll-tefillin-siddur

Jewish men pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

4.  Chatat (חַטָּאת – Sin Offering)

Chatat are offered for unintentional sins (Leviticus 4:1–4), sins due to carelessness or inadvertence.

The status of the offender dictates the class of chatat.  If the offender is the high priest or the whole community of Israel, it is considered a more serious transgression because it impacts the welfare of the entire nation.   A young bull is required, and it is burned outside the camp.

If the offender is a leader, such as the king, a male goat is to be brought.

If it is an individual, a female sheep or goat is to be brought.  For these latter two, the priests are to eat the sacrifices within the Tabernacle grounds.

The chatat is also required for three sins of omission:  withholding testimony; becoming impure due to an interval of forgetfulness; and violating an oath unintentionally.

Sefer Torah-yad

Reading from the Torah scroll

5.  Asham (אָשָׁם – Guilt Offering)

Leviticus 6:5–7 details the guilt offering of a ram for the following:  unintentionally using sanctuary property for personal use; forestalling punishment for one’s sin when one is uncertain one has sinned or for unknown sin; and lying under oath or defrauding a person in regards to a found article, a deposit, loan, etc.  

For an Asham, it does not suffice to simply offer a sacrifice.  The offender has to make restitution plus add an additional fifth of the value.

In fulfillment of Scripture, Yeshua was not only pierced for our sins, paying the penalty of death for them, He also became our restitution, our guilt offering to God for those sins.

“And the Lord wished to crush him, He made him ill; if his soul makes itself restitution, he shall see children, he shall prolong his days, and God’s purpose shall prosper in his hand.”   (Isaiah 53:10)

A shepherd tends his flock at a tourist attraction recreating first century village life in Israel.

A shepherd tends his flock at a tourist attraction recreating first-century village life in Israel.

Even though Yeshua made restitution back to God for our sinfulness, confession and restitution is still our moral responsibility to one another when we sin against our fellow man.

Yeshua taught that we are to seek out those we have wronged and get right with them before coming to the altar with any offering.  (Matthew 5:23–26; Leviticus 5:16).

Feeling guilty when we sin is healthy; it’s a sign that we must make amends. But to keep feeling guilty after restitution has been made and the sacrifice has been paid is not healthy.

We can receive Yeshua’s sacrifice as our own once we acknowledge our guilt and make amends.  While the guilt offerings on the altar of the Temple only covered sin, Yeshua’s death and resurrection actually removed sin for all time.

As Yochanan (John) said when he saw Yeshua coming to him at the Jordan River, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  (John 1:29)

We can say, then, that Yeshua’s offering was both chatat (sin) and asham (restitution).

“Messiah was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”   (Hebrews 9:28)

Execution Stake, Good Friday, death

Though Yeshua endured an agonizing death to atone for the sin of the world, He rose again on the third day.  Because He was completely sinless, death could not hold Him.  Had He not borne our sins, He wouldn’t have died at all.

Yeshua Is Prepared for Burial

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus [Yeshua]. … With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.”  (John 19:38)

On Good Friday, Believers remember the horrific death that Yeshua suffered on our behalf.

Believers also read how Joseph (Yosef) of Arimathea and Nicodemus (Nakdimon) came to Pilate to ask for Yeshua’s body.

Because Jewish burial customarily takes place within 24 hours, in keeping with Jewish practice, they sought to bury Yeshua right away.

They also prepared Yeshua’s body for burial with tahara, ritual purification.  In this ritual, the body is cleansed and then dried and dressed in takhrikhim, a simple white shroud (Mark 15:46–47).

“Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Yeshua’s body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.”  (John 19:39–40) 

Jesus, stained glass, burial, death, resurrection

Although Yosef and Nakdimon carefully prepared Yeshua’s body for burial, when the women came to the tomb after High Shabbat had ended, it was empty and the burial linen was left to the side. Yeshua had already risen from the dead.

Yeshua had already risen from the dead.

When Yosef and Nakdimon performed the mitzvah (command) of preparing Yeshua’s body for burial, they were performing the duties of the Khevra Kadisha, a burial organization that ensures the body is correctly prepared for burial and protected from desecration.

By wrapping Yeshua in linen, they were practicing the custom of takhrikhim, providing the proper burial garment for the deceased.

Since the Sabbath was quickly approaching, there was insufficient time to complete the preparations before the holy day of the Passover began; therefore, Yeshua was placed in a sealed tomb until the close of the High Sabbath day.

Thus, Yeshua was buried in a rich man’s tomb in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:

“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”  (Isaiah 53:9)

death, resurrection, Jesus, Yeshua

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

However, more important than how Yeshua was buried is that He rose from the dead and gained victory over death.  Hallelujah!

Both spiritual and physical death has been defeated through Yeshua’s victory, as Rabbi Saul of Tarsus (Paul) said:

“But Messiah has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits [bikkurim] of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man [Adam], the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Messiah all will be made alive.”  (1 Corinthians 15:20–22)

This is the Good News that we want to share with all Jewish people so that they can be sure of their place in the olam habah (the world to come).

Jewish prayer, Kotel, Jerusalem

A Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

If Death Is the Result of Sin, How Could Yeshua Die Sinless?

“The Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  (1 Corinthians 5:7)

Since Yeshua’s death, burial, and resurrection occurred in a Hebraic context, examining Jewish customs surrounding death, burial, mourning, and resurrection can further our understanding of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

Creation, including mankind, was not intended to suffer death.

The first book of the Torah, Bereisheet (Genesis), reveals death as the judgment of God upon mankind for their spiritual fall in the Garden of Eden.

After Adam and Chava (Eve) failed their test of obedience, God said: 

Garden of Eden, death, life

When Adam and Eve sinned, all of mankind came under the curse of the broken law. Yeshua redeemed us from that curse.

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground [adamah], since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  (Genesis 3:19)

The name Adam was taken from the word for ground or earth — adamah, since the man (Adam) was taken from the ground (adamah).

This Hebrew wordplay reveals a spiritual truth:  sin has brought physical death to all mankind and, with it, a return to the earth (adamah).

Thus ends a person’s physical existence on earth, with the spirit separating from the body.  Yeshua’s death, however, was not due to His own sin, since He was sinless.  He died when He took upon Himself the sins of the world and all the guilt that comes with it.

“But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins.  And in Him is no sin.”  (1 John 3:5) 

Resurrection Sunday, Jesus, Yeshua, death, life

The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John report that Yeshua was handed over to the Roman soldiers, who clothed Him in a ragged scarlet cloak, jammed a crown of thorns on His head, and mocked Him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Thankfully, Yeshua’s death wasn’t the final word.

Just as He promised, death couldn’t hold Him (John 2:18–22; Matthew 26:31–32).

“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  (Romans 4:25)

The sting of death is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56), and in Yeshua, death has lost its sting!

Therefore, we can live confidently without any fear of death or dying, as we know that when we pass from this life, our lives continue eternally with our loving Father in Heaven. 

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