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Parasha Tzav (Command): Shabbat HaGadol and the Secret of Passover

Tzav (Command!)
Leviticus 6:8 (1)–8:36; Malachi 3:4–24; Mark 7:31–8:38

“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)

A Jewish man prays wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries).

A Jewish man prays wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries).

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, who in Parasha Tzav are commanded to always 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.

May our hearts, however, always burn brightly with the fire 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.

Those offerings comprise the following five categories: the burnt offering, the meal offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering.

Korbanot Olah (עלה קרבנות 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)

Korbanot Olah are voluntary offerings 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

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 burned 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.

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

Salt and leaven represent two entirely different things: salt preserves things, while leaven changes them radically.  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).

The priest makes an offering (Source: Internet Archive)

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

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

It is interesting that both Cain and Abel offered a Minchah and not a Korban Olah.  Cain and his offering were not accepted and Able and his offering were.

Abel offered a fat portion of the firstfruit of his flock; however, the Bible does not indicate that Cain brought firstfruit of this produce.  It just says that he brought the fruit of the ground, which seems to indicate that the quality of the offering was substandard.

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

When God rejected Cain and his offering, he became embittered.  God graciously told him that if would do well, he would be accepted.  Cain, however, chose not to follow Adonai’s advice, most likely because of unbelief.  That’s when he 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

Shelamim (שְׁלָמִים Peace Offering)

The Shelamim (which is related to the word shalom) is a voluntary offering that expresses a sense of well-being, 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 were acceptable, but not birds.  They are not fully burned as are burnt offerings, but only specified portions of fat and internal organs were placed on the altar.

A portion of the Shelamim is to be eaten by the priests and even by the one making the offering.

Kotel-tallit-Torah scroll-tefillin-siddur

Jewish men pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

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
  • violating an oath unintentionally
Reading the Torah scroll

Reading the Torah scroll

Asham (אָשָׁם Trespass 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.

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.

Judaism and the Treatment of Animals

Some may wonder if the Jewish People, through this endless sacrificing of animals, were being instructed by God to be cruel to animals?

In Judaism, animals are to be loved, properly cared for, and treated with kindness.  For example, cattle are to be fed before their owner sits down to eat (Deuteronomy 11:15).

It is important to understand that the Torah emphasizes the humane treatment of animals and distinguishes that “a righteous man regards the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10)

Furthermore, the Talmud (oral law) provides instruction on how to slaughter animals for food in such a manner as to inflict as little pain as possible.

If one treats animals humanely, having high regard for all life, then seeing an animal perish for one’s sins would painfully underscore the desire to not sin, rather than seeing it as an easy payment for wrongdoing.

A page from a Passover Haggadah with colorful art.

A page from a Passover Haggadah with colorful art.

Shabbat HaGadol

“For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that comes shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.”  (Malachi 4:1)

This Parasha is read on the Sabbath that precedes Pesach (Passover).  That’s right!  Pesach is next week!

It is a special Sabbath called Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Sabbath).  For the Haftarah (prophetic portion), Malachi 3:4–24 is read. This prophecy references the coming of the Messiah—the Day of the Lord!

Hearing that the Day of the Lord is coming soon is good news for those of us who look to Yeshua’s (Jesus) return for our redemption; but for those who reject the Lord and work wickedness, it will be a terrible day of judgment. 

13 year old-Orthodox Jewish boy-Torah scroll

A Jewish boy wearing tefillin (phylacteries) carries the Torah.

In this chapter of Malachi, the way of teshuvah (repentance) back to the Lord is described in terms of giving.  The whole nation of Israel was under a curse because they had robbed God by not bringing their tithes and offerings; but great blessings were promised those who would obey God’s command to give.

“Bring the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency.”  (Malachi 3:10)

Before the coming of this day, however, it is traditionally believed that God will send Elijah the prophet—the one who never died but went up to heaven alive in a fiery chariot.  For this reason, a place is set at every Passover Seder (ritual meal) for Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) in the hopes that this will be the year he arrives, signaling the imminent coming of the Messiah.

“Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”  (Malachi 4:5)

The Four Questions in an English Haggadah.

The Four Questions in an English Haggadah.

On Shabbat HaGadol, the Haggadah (The Telling) is read in preparation for Pesach.  Specifically, the Four Questions are read.

The first questions is, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The word haggadah is derived from lehagid, which means to tell.

The Zohar (Jewish mystical book) states that lehagid has the connotation of revealing a secret.  Furthermore, it states that the word Pesach (Passover) comes from Peh Sakh, which means the mouth opens and speaks.

As Believers, we understand that Passover does indeed contain a great secret; it looks forward to the redemption of mankind through the coming of the Messiah. Indeed, Yeshua fulfilled Passover perfectly.

May we open our mouths and boldly speak of why this night is different than all other nights!

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