Parshat Tsav: Picnics at the Temple

Parshat Tsav: Picnics at the Temple


In Tzav, God instructs Moses to tell Aaron and his sons how to do the hardcore holiest of holy high priest things – that is, how to perform the heavy-duty animal and meal offerings which happen in the Sanctuary. First and foremost, keep the fire burning, that’s super important. These sacrifices are purification rituals to purify the individual as well as the community. This is how the burnt offering works – the sacrificed animal has been burning on the altar all night and the next morning the high priest gets dressed in his linen tunic and trousers and gathers the ashes from the burnt offering and puts those ashes next to the altar. Then the high priest changes out of his linens, puts on some jeans, and brings the ashes to a clean place outside of the camp. Now it’s totally essential that the fire doesn’t go out. The high priest must put fresh wood on the fire every morning, a continuous fire must be burning, it shall not go out. Never! Ever! For the meal and the high priest offerings, Aaron’s sons take a handful from the flour that’ll be used for baking the daily meal offering and then mix it with frankincense so it smells good when it’s burning; It shall be completely burnt; it shall NOT be eaten. Got it? Meanwhile, here’s the recipe for the daily meal offering which should be eaten by the high priests: take about nine cups of really good flour and divide it, for half in the morning and half in the evening. Mix it with oil in a shallow pan. Bake it through a couple of times and burn the broken pieces, which are sort of like crackers. Chow down! It’s supposed to be eaten. Next up is the sin offering — an ox or sheep or goat is slaughtered according to the rules — now that is okay to eat too, but it has to be eaten in a holy place, that is, in the courtyard of the Tabernacle, which is one heck of a place for a picnic. Anything that touches it will become holy – awesome! It can be eaten by every male among the high priests – check it out: it is a holy of holies. If it’s cooked in a clay pot, the pot has to be broken and tossed out every time, but if it’s cooked in copper, the pot can be washed and used again. Don’t be wasteful; use copper every time! Then comes the guilt offering – same rules for slaughtering as the sin and burnt offerings. The priest makes sure the fat from the meat smokes on the altar as a fire offering to the Lord. Finally comes the thanksgiving peace offering (which, after the burnt and sin and guilt offerings, is kind of a relief) and involves baking bread and crackers in addition to sacrificing and cooking an animal. Make sure it’s eaten on the first or second day; any leftovers have to be thrown out on the third day no matter what! Good idea, because there were no refrigerators back then, right? And then God told Moses to bring Aaron and his sons, and the garments, and the anointing oil, and the sin offering bull, and the two rams, and the basket of crackers, and assemble the whole community at the Tabernacle’s entrance. Once everyone was there, Aaron and his sons took a bath (Oy! In front of everybody?), and Moses dressed them each in a special high priest outfit, and sprinkled everything, including Aaron and his sons, with the anointing oil, sanctifying them, making them the holiest of totally holy priests. The bull and the rams were then slaughtered and the crackers were added on, and the whole thing went up in smoke on the altar – woosh! And then Moses said, “Okay, you can have a snack after all that anointing… As Jews, we always have a bite to eat after services.” As we read this parsha, we recognize the importance of ritual in our own lives. In ancient times, these rituals filled all five senses: the Israelites could hear the burning wood crackling on the altar; see the smoke rising from the altar; smell the aroma of meat, crackers, and frankincense; taste the leftovers; feel the ashes, flour, and animals. Think about meaningful rituals in your own life, what might they be? Our love for God and the community is like the holy fire that the ancient high priests were entrusted with. Our own inner fires have to be tended, or we lose our connection with God. Keep that fire going! Producer: Sarah Lefton Animation Director: Nick Fox-Gieg Animation: Colleen MacIsaac Editorial Director: Matthue Roth Theme Music: Tim Cosgrove Written and Narrated by Jennifer Joseph Sound Recording: Sarah Lefton

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