Parshat Tzav: The Olah

“Command Ahron and his children. This is the law of the Olah. The Olah should remain on the hearth of the altar the entire night, until the morning. And the fire of the altar should remain ignited upon it.” (VaYikra 6:2)

The Olah sacrifice is completely burned upon the altar. The Kohanim and the owners do not receive a portion for their own consumption. The Olah is offered during the day. This requires that the slaughter and the performance of all other aspects of the service take place before nightfall. The same law applies to all other sacrifices. Our pasuk deals with this last requirement. Assume a sacrifice is brought to the Mishcan. All parts of the sacrificial service are performed up to the placement of the offering upon the altar. Suddenly, night falls. Our pasuk explains that if all other aspects of the service have been performed during the day, the offering may be placed upon the altar at night. According to this explanation, the pasuk does not consist of a command. It is permitting the placement of sacrifices upon the altar at night.

Rabbaynu Yitzchak Karo offers an alternate explanation of the pasuk. He maintains that the pasuk is communicating an obligation. The Olah sacrifice must burn on the altar through the night. Probably, this is not obligatory for all Olah sacrifices. It is likely that this requirement applies to the last Olah of the day. This was the Olah offered as the daily afternoon Tamid offering. Why must an Olah burn upon the altar during the night? The answer requires an understanding of the purpose of the Olah. The commentaries differ on this issue. Rabbaynu Yitzchak Karo maintains that the Olah was brought in order to atone for inappropriate thoughts. He further explains that these thoughts are more frequent during the night. The Olah burned during the night to atone for these contemplations. Rabbaynu Yitzchak Karo seems to maintain that the night is associated with instinctual fantasy. It is easy to reject nighttime reveries as alien to our real personality. Rabbaynu Yitzchak Karo suggests that through these thoughts we can view our inner self. We may not be able to completely control these thoughts. However, we must recognize that these fantasies stem from the material element of our nature. Our responsibility is to work toward uprooting these fantasies and to move towards a more spiritual existence.

“And the Kohen should wear linen vestments and linen pants he should wear upon his flesh. And he should lift the ashes of the Olah consumed by the fire from the altar and place them near the altar.” (VaYikra 6:3)

Each morning a portion of the ashes was removed from the altar and placed near the altar. This is a positive command. It is an element of the service in the Mishcan and is only performed by a Kohen. The Kohanim wear special garments when performing the avodah ­ the service ­ in the Mishcan or Bait HaMikdash. These vestments consist of four garments. The Kohen is required to wear these garments when removing the ashes. Maimonides explains that the garments worn during this service are not exactly the same as those worn during other elements of the avodah. The vestments worn for the removal of the ashes are of slightly lesser quality. Maimonides explains the reason for this requirement. It is inappropriate that garments used for the removal of the ashes be worn when performing the more elevated aspects of the service. He expresses this concept with a parable. A servant would not serve a meal in the same clothing worn when cooking the food. This explanation presents a problem. Based upon Maimonides reasoning, it is appropriate for the Kohen removing the ashes to put on fresh garments after this service. However, Maimonides does not seem to provide the reason the garments worn for removal of the ashes must be of lesser quality! In order to answer this question we must more carefully consider the function of the garments worn by the Kohen.

These vestments are very carefully and beautifully designed. Maimonides explains that the Kohen is dressed in these garments and only then may he perform the service in the Temple. This seems to imply that these special vestments are required to glorify the avodah. Through wearing these special vestments, the Kohen demonstrates the sanctity of the service. Now it is possible to understand Maimonides’ position. How do the garments glorify the avodah? They are reserved exclusively for the service. This exclusive designation is essential to their function. If these vestments are worn casually and at other times, their special status will be lost. They can no longer demonstrate honor for the avodah. Similarly, it is not be appropriate to allow these garments to be worn for the removal of the ashes. This detracts from the elevated status of the vestments. Nonetheless, the removal of the ashes is part of the daily service. The removal also requires that the Kohen wear his special garments. How can these two considerations be reconciled? Maimonides responds that the Kohen wears a set of the special vestments when removing the ashes. However, these are not of the same quality as the garments worn at other times. Now the problem has been solved. The Kohen wears the appropriate garments. Yet, the vestments worn at other times retain their exclusive designation.

“And if the flesh of the Shelamim sacrifice will be eaten on the third day, it will not be accepted. It will not be accounted for the one who offered it. It will be disgusting. And the one who eats from it will bear his sin.” (VaYikra 7:18)

The Shelamim sacrifice is shared between three “parties.” A portion is burned on the altar. A portion is given to the Kohanim. The rest is awarded to the person bringing the sacrifice. The consumption of the sacrifice is a mitzvah. The Kohanim and the owner participate, through consumption of the sacrifice, in this mitzvah. No portion of the sacrifice may remain unused. Rabbeynu Avraham ibn Ezra offers an interesting explanation for this law. A portion of the sacrifice was offered on the altar. This portion was part of a larger whole ­ the entire animal. The offering of the “part” sanctifies the “whole” from which it is derived. Any failure to respect the sanctity of the remaining portion, is a failure to respect the portion offered. Therefore, all parts of the Shelamim must be consumed. No portion can be discarded.

Ibn Ezra applies this reasoning to another area of halacha. The Holy Temple and its altar may be constructed of stones. The Torah specifies that only whole stones may be used. Ibn Ezra explains that practical considerations underlie this law. The inclusion of a portion of a stone in the Temple would have sanctified the entire stone. Any portion not used in the Temple would have required special treatment. It would be impossible to assure that these fragments received this treatment. To avoid this problem, only whole stones were used. No leftover remained.

“And all blood you should not consume in all of you dwelling places, whether of an animal or a fowl.” (VaYikra 7:26)

Rashi comments that this pasuk intends to teach an important lesson regarding the prohibition of consuming blood. This prohibition is not related to the land of Israel. The consumption of blood is prohibited both in the land of Israel and in exile. It is a personal prohibition. It applies regardless of location. Why does the Torah need to teach this law? Most commandments are not related to the land of Israel. Why might one connect and limit this prohibition to the land of Israel? The Talmud explains in Tractate Kiddushin that the prohibition of consuming blood is discussed by the Torah in the context of the obligation of offering sacrifices. Sacrifices cannot be offered in exile. Therefore, one might imagine that the prohibition of consuming blood is also limited to the land of Israel. What is the connection between the consumption of blood and sacrifices? As the Talmud recognized, the prohibition of consuming blood is mentioned in the section of the Torah that discusses sacrifices. The blood of the animal plays a central role in sacrificial process. It is sprinkled on the altar. This is integral to the atonement process. The Torah implies that the consumption of blood involves an inappropriate use of this element of the animal. The blood can only be “consumed” by the altar. It may not be consumed by the individual. Consuming blood is a misappropriation of this substance. The connection between this prohibition and sacrifices can now be appreciated. In exile sacrifices cannot be offered. Therefore one might conclude that consuming blood does not involve a misappropriation. The Torah needs to tell us that this is not the case. Even in a place that sacrifices cannot be offered the blood is prohibited.

Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Ma’aseh HaKarbanot, 4:1-2. Rabbaynu Yitzchak Karo, Toldot Yitzchak, Commentary on Sefer VaYikra 6:2. Rabbaynu Yitzchak Karo, Toldot Yitzchak, Commentary on Sefer VaYikra 6:2. Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Temidim U’Musafim 2:10 Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh 33. Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra, Commentary on Sefer VaYikra, 7:18. Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer VaYikra 7:26. Mesechet Kiddushin 37b.