A Bissel Torah – 04/03/2020

Parashat Tzav – Miracles

Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36) continues the description of the sacrifices that we read about in last week’s parasha(Vayikrah). In this portion (Tzav) we find details about the performance of the olah (burnt offering), minhah (meal/gift offering), hattat (purification offering), asham (responsibility offering), and zevach shlamim (sacrifice of well-being).  The parasha then describes the ordination ceremony for Aharon and his sons, and the dedication of the mishkan, the Tabernacle.

1. Tanach – Leviticus Chapter 8

10. And Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the Tabernacle and all that was in it, and sanctified them.

The text of our parasha seems to take the existence of the anointing oil as a given. The rabbis in the Talmud felt differently about it.

2. Talmud – Mas. K’rithoth 5b

Our Rabbis taught: And Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle. Rabbi Judah said: Many miracles happened from the beginning until the anointing oil which Moses made in the wilderness was used up. There were originally only twelve logs(approximately one gallon); consider how much of it must have been absorbed in the boiler, how much in the roots of the spices, and how much of it was burnt by the fire, and yet with it were anointed the Tabernacle and its vessels, Aaron and his sons throughout the seven days of the consecration, and the high priests and kings.

Why did the rabbis consider the anointing oil to be a miracle? Why would it be important to have the anointing oil made in the desert be used for the anointing of the future High Priests and Kings? Why would these communal leaders be anointed?

The rabbis had an interesting concept of miracles. One example is the text below:

3. Pirkey Avot, 5:7

Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in the (Jerusalem) Temple: no woman miscarried from the smell of the sacrificial meat; the sacrificial meat never became putrid;   no fly was ever seen in the slaughterhouse; The High Priest never became ritually impure on Yom Kippur; the rains never extinguished the fires of the woodpile; no wind dispersed the column of smoke; no defect was found in the omer, the two loaves, or the showbread; the people stood pressed together, yet knelt in ease; no scorpion or serpent ever injured anyone in Jerusalem; no one complained, “It is too crowded for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem.”

The functions of the Tabernacle shifted to the Temple during the reign of King Solomon. These miracles described in the Pirkey Avot point out to the logistics of the sacrificial cult. Have you ever thought that those things could have been a problem during Temple times? Why are the rabbis describing those things as miraculous? If you could imagine being in Jerusalem, during the holidays, while the Temple(s) stood, what would you consider to be a miracle? And what are the miracles that happen in our days in Jerusalem?

4. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who is man?

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

How does AJ Heschel understand miracles in our times? How are we supposed to live our daily lives in light of his ideas? How his insight on daily living connects with the texts we just read?

We are approaching the holiday of Pessah. As we read the Haggadah, we encounter many miracles that happened to our ancestors as they left Egypt. Parashat Tzav invites us to consider the miraculous nature of our existence. For what modern miracles are you grateful today?

Bivrachot shalom uvryiut,
Rabbi Lia Bass