2002This week's Torah portion, Tzav (Leviticus chapters 6-8), is like much of the end of the book of Exodus and keeps in line with the first five chapters that opened the book of Leviticus. Gone are the narrative sections that animate the book of Genesis and most of the book of Exodus. Instead, we find detailed lists of the laws concerning different types of sacrificial offerings (chapter 6 & 7) as well a description of the ritual installation of Aaron and his sons as priests (chapter 8).
Laws of Sacrifice
There are many commentaries that skillfully explain the intricacies of the sacrificial system. Our Sages, both ancient and modern, have also shown tremendous ability in creatively teasing these texts in order to show off the legal, moral, ethical, historical and spiritual conclusions that can be reached by comparing and contrasting these verses to other texts or stories found in our tradition.
At times, explanation is provided without words. Proximity is enough. We see this each time we follow a Torah reading with a selection taken from the prophetic writings, otherwise known as the Haftarah reading. This week's Haftarah reading begins with 17 consecutive verses taken from Jeremiah 7-8 and concludes with 2 verses from the end of Jeremiah 9.
Selections from the Haftarah for Parashat Tzav:
Jeremiah 7: 30-34
30. For the children of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight, says the Lord; they have set their detestable things in the house whereon My name is called, to defile it.
31. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded not, neither came it into My mind.
32. Therefore, behold, the days come, says the Lord, that it shall no more be called Topheth, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter; for they shall bury in Topheth, for lack of room.
33. And the carcasses of this people shall be food for the fowls of the earth; and none shall frighten them away.
34. Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land shall be desolate.
22. Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches;
23. But let him that glories glory in this, the he understands, and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises mercy, justice and righteousness, in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord.
Your Haftarah Navigator
1. The form of these passages is quite different from this week's Torah portion. How does the tone of these passages differ from the Torah reading this week?
2. Why is a passage from the Torah dealing with ritual connected to a passage from the book of Jeremiah decrying idol worship and describing the destruction that will follow as punishment?
3. How do the verses from Jeremiah 7 compare to the verses from Jeremiah 9?
4. Why do we conclude this week's Haftarah with two verses from Jeremiah 9 that do not immediately follow the passages from Jeremiah 7 & 8?
A Midrash taken from Sifrei (Deuteronomy), Parashat B'racha, Section 1:
V'zot Ha-B'racha - and this is the Blessing (Deuteronomy 33:1):
Since Moses had initially spoken harsh words to the Israelites... he now delivers words of comfort to them... All of the prophets followed Moses' lead since they would start out by speaking harshly to the Israelites and then deliver words of comfort to them... Thus, Jeremiah declared (Jeremiah 7:34): "Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land shall be desolate." Later on (Jeremiah 31:13), he delivered words of comfort to them: "Then shall the maiden rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together; (for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice for their sorrow)."
Your Midrash Navigator
1. According to this passage, Moses' words of comfort come in the 33rd chapter of Deuteronomy, which is the second-to-last chapter of the Torah. Is Moses remembered for the harsher approach he took throughout earlier sections of the Torah? Why or why not?
2. The model highlighted in this passage is to follow rebuke with kinder sentiments. Is this always the best route?
It is quite shocking to read the Haftarah this week minus the appended words of comfort. Equally surprising is the first appearance of the phrase "the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride" in Jewish writing (for those of us familiar with the Hebrew original, the words are: Kol Sason, v'Kol Simcha, Kol Chatan v'Kol Kalah). This phrase appears three other times in the Hebrew bible, all of them in Jeremiah's prophetic work. Jeremiah will use this phrase to criticize the Israelites two more times, however, when he uses this phrase for the final time (Jeremiah 33:11), it is on a bright and optimistic note. It is this same tone of true happiness and celebration that we import into the seventh wedding blessing and the songs we sing around our tables, whether at camp, at conventions, or at meals. As we now see a Jerusalem and Israel caught in the throes of violence and witnessing bloodshed and sorrow, we pray that the sounds of joy and gladness epitomized by couples, friends, and visitors filling the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem speedily return.
Prepared by Rabbi Andy Koren, Campus Rabbi, Hillel Foundation at the University of Florida.