This Week’s Torah Portion

I discuss the weekly Torah portion with Rabbi Rabbs every Monday at 7pm PST on my live cam and on YouTube.

This week’s Torah portion (parasha) is Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36.

Watch the complete video.

* Leviticus is about getting close to God. Korban, the Hebrew word for offering, means to grow close. It’s not easy to get close to God. Leviticus is not easy.

* An offering can be disqualified as pigul if the person performing the blood service had improper thoughts (Artscroll). Oy, how many mitzvahs I would not get credit for if this edict were generally true, but it is not. It is not true for mitzvahs between man and man. But when it comes to man-God mitzvahs, what’s in your heart is vitally important.

* Lev. 7:20 “His soul will be cut off.” Artscroll: Ramban stresses that the very mention of kares in the Torah demonstrates that there is eternal reward for the soul, not to mention 72 virgins (is there anything in Jewish text promising eternal sensual rewards for the righteous?). If there were not such an unimaginable degree of spiritual bliss awaiting the righteous soul after it leaves the body, there could be no such thing as kares after death.

* We really don’t know what it means when the Torah says, “His soul shall be cut off from his people.” It’s Torah-speak for “very bad.” It’s weird it does not say, “God will cut his soul off.” Instead, the person cuts himself off from his people. It beats an inquisition.

* I thought Jewish law mandated the slaughtering of animals with a sharp blade across the neck, yet in the sanctuary, the priests supposedly killed the chickens with a sharp fingernail. What’s up?

* Why aren’t we allowed to eat the animal fat in offerings? Because it has cholesterol?

* The Jewish path to God does not depend upon spontaneity. Judaism is unromantic religion (while Christianity is romantic religion) in the formulation of Rabbi Leo Baeck:

For the romantic, he wrote, “everything dissolves into feeling; everything becomes mere mood; everything becomes subjective. … Fervently, the romantic enjoys the highest delight and the deepest pain day after day; he enjoys the most enchanting and the most sublime; he enjoys his wounds and the streaming blood of his heart. … Experiences with their many echoes and billows stand higher in his estimation than life with its tasks; for tasks always establish a bond with harsh reality. And from this he is in flight. He does not want to wrestle for his blessing, but to experience it, abandoning himself, devoid of will, to what spells salvation and bliss.” And again: “Everything, thinking and poetry, knowledge and illusion, all here and all above, flows together in a foaming poem, into a sacred music, into a great transfiguration, an apotheosis. In the end, the floods close over the soul, while all and nothing become one.”

* Torah is practical, even prosaic. You only bring offerings for unintentional sins, but that you are required to bring offerings for such sins shows that while these sins may be unintentional, you are still responsible. The Torah narrows the realm of the accidental. Think of that man in the Talmud who fell off a building and accidentally had relations with a woman below him. It may have been unintentional but he was still responsible. We must be very careful when we walk around on roofs that we don’t fall off and accidentally have relations with women.

That something is unintentional does not absolve you of moral responsibility. Try to come up with some inadvertent sin for which you have no culpability.

Most “car accidents” are not accidents, but ineptitudes and examples of incompetence. It’s not an accident when someone drives drunk. (Dennis Prager)

The New York Times reports May 11, 1994:

CHICAGO— As the religion professor delivers a lecture to his students at the Chicago Theological Seminary, a school official sits nearby with a tape recorder, a kind of word cop, in case the professor says anything sexually offensive.

The 63-year-old professor, Graydon Snyder, is being monitored after a sexual harassment ruling in a case that many scholars say illustrates the Orwellian consequences of stringent codes intended to enforce political and moral rectitude on campuses.

In a discussion of the role of intent in sin, Professor Snyder recited a story from the Talmud, the writings that make up Jewish civil and religious law, about a man who falls off a roof, lands on a woman and accidentally has intercourse with her. The Talmud says he is innocent of sin, since the act was unintentional.

A woman in the class was offended, not by the sexual theme but because she believed the story justified brutality toward women. She filed a complaint against Professor Snyder, an ordained minister who has used the Talmudic lesson in the classroom for more than 30 years.

* Rituals affect us. Charlton Heston was affected by playing Moses and Rafe Fine says he became a worse person playing the Nazi commandant in Schindler’s List.

* There are no generic sins of lust or pride or gluttony in Judaism. It’s prosaic. It depends on what you do. Sins are actions, not thoughts or orientations.

* A woman is as obligated to bring an offering as a man.

* This system depends upon a conscience. Atonement means you are responsible for your behavior. People have to know whether or not they have sinned for this system to operate. It’s not like a modesty committee comes around and tells people they’ve sinned and need to bring a sacrifice. This system will only work with God-fearing people and if they take it seriously, it will morally elevate them.

* The system distinguishes between sins of ignorance and inadvertence. There are different types of unintentional sins.

* The sacrificial system is like the 12-steps program of confessing sin, recognizing the need for a higher power, and taking steps to undo wrongdoing. You have to reconcile with God and man in both systems. (Milgrom, p. 274)

These are the original Twelve Steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

* From blogger Niciedo: In ancient Israel, this Yom HaKippurim — day of purifications — that begins tonight served a very specific purpose: cleansing the Temple for impurity. As Biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom has shown, moral offenses — sins against the commandments of God — were believed to create tum’ah, the mystical manifestation of death, the same way that dead bodies and dead animals and genital discharges did. If the Torah is a tree of life, violating its commandments whether intentionally or unintentionally cut away at the tree of life and brought about the manifestation of death. Unlike the impurity caused by a dead animal or menstruation, which remained confined to objects in space, the moral impurity created by sin was airborne. In ancient Israel, in the world of the book of Leviticus, this airborne miasma of impurity was collected in the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary as the dwelling place of God, the source of life and holiness, was the opposite charge of the death-caused impurity and attracted it like a lightning rod and stored the impurity like a capacitor.

However, God’s presence could not long abide amidst impurity and that impurity needed to be removed. Just as the impurity from physical causes varied in degree — contact with a dead animal only required a bath in a mikveh, contact with a dead human required a seven-day purification with water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer — the moral impurity had different strengthes. The impurity caused by an unintentional sin by an average individual would penetrate the courtyard of the Sanctuary and contaminate the Outer Altar — where the sacrifices were burned. This could be removed by the blood of a chattat or purification offering. The unintentional sins of a chieftain or king or the courts was more serious because of the national implications: it penetrated into the Holy Place and contaminated the golden altar where the incense was burned. There was a purification sacrifice for this, too, which was more elaborate and required blood smeared on the golden altar and spinkled on the curtain of the Holy of Holies. Blood was the detergent of choice because it was the symbol of life — and only life can conquer and purge away the stain of death.

* Religion prior to the Torah was not about moral elevation and how to get close to God. It was about manipulating the gods and demons to your own advantage. “The wisdom teachings of the ancient Near East were unanimous in advising witnesses not to testify.”

This Torah sacrificial system helps people racked by guilt relieve their burden. It presumes a society that takes God seriously.

Psychiatrist Stephen Marmer says that 40 years ago when he started practicing psychiatry, his patients’ biggest problem was guilt. Now it is narcissism.

* Four reasons for ancient sacrifices. (Milgrom, p. 440)

* Chapter eight. Aaron and his sons are consecrated as priests. It is important to mark significant transitions in life with rituals and ceremony. This is the beginning of formal worship in ancient Israel.

* If the altar was holy, then scumbags and murderers would want to hang out there to become sanctified. (Milgrom, p. 455)

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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