Parashas Tzav – The Torah of Offerings

By Avner Friedmann

The first part of this Parshah discusses the various sacrificial offerings that were brought in the Mishkan, the portable tabernacle that travelled with the Jews during their sojourn in the desert, and later, in the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It concludes with the following verse[1]: “This is the Torah of the elevation offering, the meal offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the inauguration offerings and the feast peace offering, which Hashem commanded Moshe on mount Sinai, on the day He commanded the Children of Israel to bring their offerings to Hashem, in the wilderness of Sinai.”

In the Talmud,[2] Reish Lakish explains the verse to mean that with whoever engages in the study of Torah, it is considered as if he offered the sacrifices. Rava, on the other hand, says that the verse means that the Torah literally replaces the need for sacrifices and therefore whoever engages in the study of Torah does not need to bring them. This is to say[3] that the study of Torah atones for one’s sins just as the sacrifices did.

The Holy Zohar states[4] that in this verse Moshe is telling the Jewish people, “Let them immerse themselves in the study of Torah, especially by learning the subjects of these offerings in all their details, and it will protect them against all harm”. The Zohar states further[5] that the Torah carries greater weight than all the offerings in the world. A person who is occupied in the study of Torah, himself becomes an offering, so to speak. As he sacrifices himself in the fire of Torah, the words of his mouth become like the fragrance of the smoke on the altar. If there is a decree in heaven to punish him, G-d forbid, his Torah study purifies him as does a mikvah (Purification Pool). The decree is canceled and he becomes a “Pleasant Aroma” to Hashem.

The Maharal of Prague[6] asks this question: “How can we say that learning about a sacrifice can actually replace the physical act of offering it? If that was the case, couldn’t we say that learning about the mitzvah of Sukkah and Lulav should also be considered as if he actually performed these mitzvoth?  But in truth, we cannot say this. Therefore, it must mean something else. The Maharal answers, “Sin causes a person to be distant from Hashem, G-d forbid. The sacrifice, on the other hand, brings him close to Hashem and removes him from the impurities of sin, as we know that the word Korban (sacrifice) means “Coming Close”. Learning Torah brings the same results. By learning Torah a person distances himself from the temptations of sin, and by not sinning, he no longer has the need for the atonement achieved by sacrifice. It is as if he has already brought the sin offering, though of course, sacrificial offerings which are not directly associated with personal atonement still need to be brought.

Even when a person does not study Torah for the sake of heaven, the light of the Torah puts him on the right path and eventually he will come to study it for the sake of heaven, as it states[7], “A person should always study Torah and do mitzvot, even not for its own sake, because from learning it not for its own sake, he will come to learn it for its own sake. And as it states[8], “If only they had left Me but kept my Torah. Then the luminary in it would have caused them to revert to goodness.”

The advantage of Torah over the sacrifices is that Sacrifices could only be brought when the Temple was standing. Learning Torah, however, can be done at any time or place, regardless of whether the Holy Temple is standing or not. In addition, as the Talmud states[9], the protection that results from performing a mitzvah, be it a sacrifice or any other mitzvah, can be temporary, as a subsequent transgression may cancel the positive effect of the prior mitzvah. However, it can never cancel the effect of Torah study. Torah protects a person always!

Fortunate are those who cleave to Torah and fulfill the verse, “You shall contemplate it day and night”[10]. Through Torah they merit life in this world and life in the World to Come, as it is says[11]: “To love Hashem your G-d, to listen to His voice and cleave to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days…”[12]

[1] 7:37.

[2] Menachot 110a.

[3] Rashi there.

[4] Vayera 100.

[5] Zohar Kedoshim 80b.

[6] Tiferet Yisrael, Perek 70.

[7] Pesachim 50b

[8] Yerushalmi Chagigah 1:7

[9] Sotah 21a.

[10] Joshua 1:8.

[11] Devarim 30:20.

[12] Zohar Ki Tisa 194a.

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