November 15, 2019

Weekly Parsha: Tzav

One verse, five voicesEdited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

It shall be made with oil on a shallow pan, after bringing it scalded and repeatedly baked; you shall offer a meal offering of broken pieces, [with] a pleasing aroma to the Lord. –Leviticus 6:14

Miriam Yerushalmi

Why offer broken pieces? Wouldn’t a whole offering be more honorable? 

There’s a Chasidic saying: “Nothing is more whole than a broken heart.” This verse seems to hint at a step-by-step process to achieve that state of a perfect offering to HaShem. 

First, “it shall be made with oil”: Oil represents the wisdom of HaShem, of Torah, the essential ingredient in our offerings and our lives. 

“In a pan,” a vessel: In Chassidus, prayer is the vessel which prepares our body to contain the holiness of our soul, Torah and mitzvot. 

“Shallow”: a minimal level of prayer is enough to start the purification process. 

Then “scald” with boiling water: Water is Torah; by learning and fulfilling the Torah until its waters boil within us, we wash away our negative traits. 

After that, bake repeatedly: Our learning has to “bake” long enough to become ingrained — we have to learn Torah thoroughly, again and again, so that we don’t come away with a half-baked understanding. 

“Repeatedly baked”: There are three progressively more complete ways of bringing an offering. First, folded — the ingredients are combined, but not intrinsically, i.e., awareness of the mitzvoth. Second, baked — the surface is golden but the inside remains soft, we do the mitzvot without complete commitment. Third, fried —the oil permeates everything, the Torah’s wisdom reaches our inner soul. 

Finally, “offer it as broken pieces”: With our feelings of negativity broken away, detached and powerless, we are made wholesome. Now, humble and refined, we give off “a pleasing aroma” to HaShem.

Shaindy Jacobson
Director, Rosh Chodesh Society (JLI)

It is dawn on Friday. I am in my kitchen preparing to host a large number of guests for Shabbat dinner. The shallow pan glistening with oil, the pretzel challah dough scalded in a salty baking-soda solution, the twice-baked biscotti cooling in the corner, the broken pieces of chocolate almond bark artistically arranged on a platter. The incredibly pleasing aroma fills my kitchen, wafting toward every nook and cranny within the walls of my home, and beyond … to the garden, the backyard, the courtyard … to the courtyard of God’s home, the holy Temple.

This is my meal offering. This is the meal offering of every Jewish woman tasked with the duty of building a mini sanctuary within her very heart — birthed in the privacy of her family’s home and blessed to extend across continents.

As I contemplate the timeless meal offerings of our collective generations of upright, remarkable women, I am reminded of what we are taught in Deuteronomy (8:3), “Not by bread alone does man live, rather from that which emanates from the mouth of God …” 

While in the Diaspora, the pan may be shallow, the dough scalded, repeatedly baked, the pieces broken — yet, we are forever uplifted by the glistening oil and the knowledge that the aroma we produce is pleasing to our creator.

For every meal we offer is but a reflection of acknowledgment that our relationship with God embraces each and every physical and spiritual offering that He extends to us in his supreme kindness.

Salvador Litvak 

How can scalding and repeatedly baking flour create an aroma that pleases the source of all being? Apparently, humans also are capable of causing pain to the Almighty: “And the Lord regretted that he had made man upon the earth, and he became grieved in his heart.” (Genesis 6:6)

This is the ultimate act of humility. God is infinitely greater than any mortal, yet a) God feels pleasure/pain from our actions, and b) God wants us to know we have this power. 


Every parent grants power to children. When they hurt, we hurt. When they cause pain, we hurt even worse. When they do the right thing, we feel pleasure. When they do the right thing because we ask, we kvell even more. Indeed, Rashi explains the pleasing aroma of a sacrifice in just this way. See Leviticus 1:9. 

The only way to avoid these emotions is not to have kids. God took on this burden when God created us, and in fact, it’s a much greater burden than we can imagine. We see the pain our children feel and hurt because of it. God experiences our pain. Every single pain felt by every single person. 

And that is why we must take God’s emotions seriously. We need to have compassion for the eternal. The commandment to love God isn’t just about reciting the Shema twice a day. It’s about shouldering some of God’s pain, and giving God any pleasure we can by doing the right thing, just because God asked.

Rabbi Gabriel Botnick
Mishkon Tephilo, Venice

Two grain offerings unique to the Kohanim are discussed in this chapter: a standard grain offering, which is baked as matzah and then eaten; and this special offering for when a Kohen is anointed. This offering is not only baked, but also fried in small pieces — and then burned instead of consumed.

These two offerings speak to the nature of the priesthood and what it means to be a spiritual leader. The plain matzo represents the humility required. Refraining from eating the baked and fried pieces alludes to the necessity of self-restraint. The brokenness of the offering not only warns the priests to be sensitive to the broken spirits of the people Israel, but also serves as a reminder of their own brokenness — for indeed, no leader should consider themselves entirely without flaw. 

Any leader who fails to embrace these traits not only fails to serve his or her people, but also fails to serve God. And even though we may not all be spiritual leaders, each of us is expected to strive for such spiritual excellence. Surely we will stumble in our endeavors, and few of us will ever achieve our goals, but remaining committed to the task is precisely the service that God desires — despite our failures, we are not free to desist from the struggle. 

The aroma of these grain offerings may indeed be pleasing to God, but certainly not as pleasing as the air of humility we can attain by internalizing the lessons they teach.

Rabbi Miriam Hamrell
Ahavat Torah Congregation

Why is the Torah so meticulous about this meal offering? This verse not only tells us what type of baking pan we should use, but also how to cook it. Rashi writes that it has to be boiled, baked, and finally broken into pieces and fried in a special pan. At the end, this priestly offering should be presented not “well done” or “raw,” but rather “medium.” Amazing balance!

Raphael Hayyim Basila, in 1560 in Italy wrote in Minhat Shai 78, that this is the only place in the Torah we read about such a practice. This is a Korban Toda-Mandatory Thanksgiving Offering, and it is done only by Aaron, the high priest, and his sons during the consecration rites of the Tabernacle. Keli Yakar, in 1580, adds that this is similar to Hametz, which has to be burned before Pesach. Hametz is equivalent to our Yetzer H’rah, evil inclination, our pride. He writes that, “from all the Midot, our character dimensions, this is the most important.” Why? Too much or too little is not good. We must find the balance. Hazal agrees and adds that this is similar to the thread of a spider. First, we barely see or feel it, but then it creates an impenetrable web. 

Just like Aaron, when we come to consecrate our Tabernacle, our Mishkan with God, we find the balance and we leave our egos out. This should be followed not only with God but also with every person in our life. Amen.