Tzav (Lev. 6:1 – 8:36)

This week: a coveted cleaning job, the “why” of sacrifices, and the ordination of Aaron and his sons.  First, more on the olah, the burnt (totally) offering. After it burns overnight, only ashes remain. The priest, dressed in linen ritual garments, removes the ashes, placing them next to the altar. Then he changes into something more suitable for taking out the trash and takes the ashes outside the camp.  This, according to the Mishnah, was a highly sought-after job, so much that, after a priest broke his leg when pushed by another racing to claim the honor, a formal rotation was set up (Yoma 3:1). It was even claimed in later commentaries that one priest had actually killed another in such a race (Reuven Hammer, A Year with the Sages: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion (2019), p. 228).

This week, we get more into the details associated with the various sacrifices. In the back of ArtScroll’s Stone edition of the Chumash, there are several pages of tables summarizing how, what, when, where, and by whom each type of sacrifice should be offered.  You also learn where an animal is slaughtered; how
blood is applied to the altar, where specifically, and how many times; and what happens to the meat: if it’s eaten, where, when, and by whom.  After years of doing this, a priest would probably have internalized the details, but I think it would have been useful to have a condensed crib sheet nearby.  Note that, while the Torah presents mechanics, the rabbis in the Mishnah are concerned with the priest’s intent during the process; wrong intent means invalid sacrifice.   

Finally, Aaron and his sons are ordained by Moses, in front of the assembled people.   Moses washes Aaron and his sons with water, dresses Aaron in High Priest garb, sprinkles anointing oil on the Tabernacle and everything in it and the altar, and then on Aaron, and dresses Aaron’s sons.  Then, Moses sacrifices a bull (sin offering), a ram (burnt offering), and a second ram (ordination offering). Other elements of the ordination involve blood dashing and dotting, unleavened bread, fat, and more anointing oil, detailed in the rest of Chapter 8.  The ordination is not simply a celebration, but a period of expiation for Aaron and his sons as well (8:34). It takes seven days, during which Aaron and his sons remain on guard at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

One musical note (pun probably not intended): The slaughter of the second ram, the ram of ordination, is marked in the text by a shalshelet, a cantillation sign which occurs only 4 times in the Torah and which is a sign of hesitation.  Is Moses hesitant about giving up the priestly duties? Or maybe he’s hesitant about giving them up to Aaron and his sons per se?  We shall see if concern is justified.

Shabbat shalom,


When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

Selected answers:

  • Just invite them over for the barbecue and they will forgive you.
  • I think that smiting is not in fashion any more. I smite be wrong, but unlikely.
  • Yes, with fire and brimstone preferably. (This one’s my favorite. IGP)
  • Only if you really, really like them. Because remember that if you smite them, they will be, by definition, smitten. So only smite the cute ones.

(Judaized. Dead link – I’ve sent this out a couple times before.)
Ten reasons why men should not be ordained as rabbis 
1. Men are too emotional. Their conduct at sporting events proves this. 
2. A man’s place is in the military. 
3. Some men are so handsome, they will distract female worshipers. 
4. Male physiology indicates that men are more suited to tasks like chopping down trees, unearthing rocks, and wrestling with wild animals. It would be “unnatural” for men to do other forms of work. 
5. In the Bible, the male Israelites persist in losing faith and disobeying God.  Indeed, the phrase “Children of Israel” is more accurately translated “Sons of Israel.”  Their poor judgment and lack of faith represent the character of their gender. This justifies the subordinate position all men should take in matters of spiritual formation. 
6. Men are overly prone to violence. “Real” men prefer to settle disputes with immature displays of prowess and domination. Thus, they make poor role models and are dangerously unstable in positions of leadership. 
7. To be an ordained pulpit rabbi today is to nurture the congregation. Nurturing is not a traditional male role. Through all history, women have proven more skilled at nurturing and more naturally attracted to it. This makes women the obvious choice for ordination. 
8. In Genesis, man was created before women, obviously as a prototype.  Thus, men represent an experiment. Women represent the crowning achievement of creation, a more perfect image of God’s intent for humanity. 
9. For men who have children, the rabbinic duties may distract them from their responsibilities as fathers. 
10. Men can find meaningful and satisfying roles in synagogue activities without being ordained. They can still sweep sidewalks, repair the roof, and maybe even lead portions of worship services on Father’s Day. By embracing such traditional roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the synagogue. 


Personal note from 2008: Note that Moses had to wash Aaron and his sons before anointing them. I remember when my husband and I decided that one of his child care duties was to bathe our infant daughter nightly. Problem: she didn’t like it.
It reached a point where he was concerned that she would not be able to
relate to him well because she would associate him primarily with
something she strongly disliked. Then he put her little bathtub on top of
the bathroom counter and she was entranced, because the way the mirrors
met at the corner of the bathroom allowed her to see three Rozzies.
Problem solved!


From 2014: Ashes: Shirley Temple and Marsha Mae Jones

Speaking of ashes – Because Shirley Temple died recently, Turner Classic Movies showed several of her movies last Sunday in her memory.  There was also a clip of Marsha Mae Jones (1924-2007), who had co-starred with her in “Heidi” (as nice rich girl Klara, with Mary Nash as the nasty housekeeper) and then in “The Little Princess” (as mean rich girl Lavinia, with Mary Nash as the nasty headmistress).  As the adult Marsha Mae recalled, the two girls had been very friendly during “Heidi,” so she didn’t want to be Lavinia.  For her part, Shirley had no trouble adjusting.  After a scene in which Shirley (as Sara Crewe) dumped a whole coal scuttle full of ashes on Lavinia’s head, the moppet asked the director, “Can we do that again?”


‘Clearly the smartest kid in the class’: Student brings massive cheat sheet to exam after professor didn’t specify ‘inches’ for the 3×5 card each student was allowed

PUBLISHED: 09:32 EDT, 22 September 2017 | UPDATED: 07:07 EDT, 23 September 2017

It was the first test day of the semester on Tuesday for assistant college professor Reb Beatty and his accounting class at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland. 

‘First test day of the semester and as always, I allow a 3×5 notecard,’ Beatty wrote.

‘Today, a student (identified as Elijah Bowen) shows up with this.

tph cheat sheet

‘Sure enough, it is 3×5… feet. As precise as I am, apparently I never specified inches and therefore yes, it was allowed. 

‘Well played and lesson learned for me.’ 

The photo was first posted to Instagram before being shared on Facebook where it’s received more than 20,000 ‘reactions’ and been shared more than 17,700 times.

Social media users praised the student’s ingenuity in outwitting the professor.

‘This student has an eye for detail… That’s an excellent quality in accounting,’ wrote one user.

‘Clearly the smartest kid in class,’ commented another.

One user joked: ‘I would like to interview this person for [a] future position [with] my company.’

(I had a calculus teacher who also allowed a 3×5 card, but I think he did specify inches.  I managed to cover both sides with the semester’s material in such tiny print that I marveled at it.  I kept the card for years. I don’t think I’d be able to read it today.  IGP)

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