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SALT | Tzav 5784 - 2024



Parashat Tzav begins with the mitzva of terumat ha-deshen, the daily sweeping of the ashes that had collected on the altar overnight. What message underlies this mitzva?

We present here several of the explanations offered.

The Sefer Ha-chinukh adopts perhaps the simplest approach, that the terumat ha-deshen serves a strictly aesthetic function.  It is only appropriate that the altar, upon which offerings are brought to God, should remain clean, and the terumat ha-deshen helps maintain a proper standard of orderliness.

The Chovot Ha-levavot (in “Sha’ar Ha-keni’a”) suggests a much different explanation.  He claims that the terumat ha-deshen is meant to humble the kohen as he begins his day of avoda in the Temple.  Understandably, a good deal of pride was associated with the holy service, the exclusive privilege of the kohanim.  As he begins his service in the morning, a kohen must perform what might appear as a demeaning task, cleaning the altar from ashes, which would eliminate any arrogant feelings that may have overcome him.

Yet a third approach is presented by Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch.  The ashes that the kohen must clear away are the remnants of the sacrifices brought the previous day.  Sweeping the altar thus symbolizes the opening of a new page, closing the book on yesterday and beginning a new chapter today.  Rav Hirsch suggests that this ritual comes to teach a profound lesson in life – that we must concentrate on the present.  Whereas, undoubtedly, we must always build upon the work performed yesterday, and upon the accomplishments of our predecessors, at the same time, our primary focus must be directed towards today’s work and responsibilities. Our goals and duties of days gone by are not necessarily the same goals and tasks that call our attention today. We do ourselves a grave disservice by assuming a degree of parity between the challenges of yesterday and yesteryear, and those confronting us today.  In any given situation, careful consideration is necessary to determine the specific responsibilities that arise, and we must understand that the means of dealing with the issues of today need not directly correspond to the approaches taken to problems of the past.


The first mishna in Masekhet Megilla tells of the special provision instituted by Chazal for the “benei ha-kefarim,” the villagers, allowing them to read the Megilla several days before Purim.  According to Rashi’s understanding, the villagers did not have anyone in their own communities to read the Megilla, and they therefore had to travel to the cities for the reading.  Since the villagers would anyway come to the cities on Mondays and Thursdays, the market days, to sell their produce, Chazal allowed them to have the Megilla read on the Monday or Thursday immediately preceding Purim. This would spare them from having to make a special trip to the city for Megilla reading on Purim day.

Tosefot (in Masekhet Yevamot 14a) ask a compelling question against Rashi’s interpretation.  It emerges from Rashi’s approach that the villagers needed someone from the city to read the Megilla for them.  But how could someone from the city read the Megilla on behalf of the villagers earlier than the fourteenth of Adar?  A basic halakhic principle dictates that one can fulfill an obligation on someone else’s behalf only if both parties share the given mitzva to be performed.  Since the townspeople must read the Megilla specifically on Purim day itself, they have no obligation on, let’s say, the 12th of Adar.  How then, can someone from the city read for a villager earlier than the fourteenth?  In fact, Tosefot cite the ruling of the Yerushalmi that someone who lives in a walled city, who must read on the 15th, cannot read the Megilla for others, who have an obligation on the 14th, and vice-versa.  Similarly, then, we would expect that someone from a city could not read the Megilla for the villagers earlier than Purim day. Tosefot therefore suggest other possible readings of this mishna.

Rav Zalman Nechemya Goldberg of Jerusalem suggested the following resolution for Rashi’s position. He claims that the Yerushalmi’s ruling cannot necessarily be extended to the case of the villagers.  When it comes to the walled cities and non-walled cities, we deal with two entirely different obligations.  The people in a walled city have a completely different mitzva than do those in other cities.  The first group must observe a festival on the 15th, the latter group on the 14th. The two do not share the same obligation.  This is not the case regarding the villagers and the townspeople.  These two groups all share the same obligation to read the Megilla and observe Purim on the 14th of Adar.  The provision allowing the villagers to read the Megilla earlier does not signify a different obligation, but rather a change in technicality – a different date for the practical fulfillment of the obligation.

On what basis can we make such a claim?

Rav Zalman Nechemya explains based on a careful analysis of a Gemara in Masekhet Ta’anit 18b.  The Gemara there discusses the “Megillat Ta’anit,” a book written in the period of the Second Temple recording many quasi holidays instituted to commemorate various miracles that occurred – including the 14th and 15th of Adar.  On all these days, the Megillat Ta’anit says, one may not fast or conduct a eulogy.  (With the exception of Purim and Chanukah, none of these holidays remained in force after the Temple’s destruction.)  The Gemara says that Megillat Ta’anit forbids all Jews – both in walled cities and elsewhere – from fasting or eulogizing on either day, the 14th or the 15th.  Meaning, both days are festivals for both groups of people – those who observe Purim on the 14th, and those who do so on the 15th.

What kind of obligation is this, for walled city residents to observe a quasi holiday on the 14th, and for others to observe a quasi festival on the 15th?

The Ba’al Ha-ma’or (beginning of Masekhet Megilla) claims that what we have here are two distinct types of festivals.  First, Megillat Ester establishes a festival for walled city residents on the 15th, and for others on the 14th. As far as the Megilla is concerned, for those celebrating Purim on the 14th, the 15th has no festival status whatsoever; it is a regular weekday.  Only by force of the later decree in the Megillat Ta’anit does the 15th of Adar become a quasi festival for 14th-day celebrants. But this is not Purim; it is instead a mini-holiday established by Megillat Ta’anit.

With this in mind, Rav Zalman Nechemya explains, we can understand quite clearly why the ruling in the Yerushalmi poses no problem for Rashi’s view.  Someone from a walled city cannot read the Megilla on the 14th for someone from a regular city because the reader is not included at all in the festival of the 14th.  This halakha has no bearing on the situation of the villagers on the Monday or Thursday preceding the 14th.  Both the villagers and the townspeople are obligated in the Purim of the 14th, only Chazal permitted an earlier Megilla reading for the villagers. Therefore, even someone from the city can read the Megilla on their behalf.


How old must a child be for halakha to allow him to read the Megilla on behalf of the congregation on Purim?  Instinctively, we would perhaps assume that the moment a child turns thirteen he qualifies to serve in this capacity, just as a thirteen year old boy is eligible to read the Torah every Shabbat.  In truth, however, the matter is not as clear as it may seem.

Essentially, a child attains the halakhic status of a gadol (adult) only after he completes his thirteenth year and he shows signs of physical maturity (specifically, hair growth). Generally, however, we assume that upon reaching adulthood a child has indeed begun the process of physical development, and we therefore allow a thirteen year old boy to read from the Torah and lead the synagogue services.  We do not conduct any sort of examination to determine his physical status. But halakha allows us to make this assumption only with regard to mitzvot de-rabbanan – those halakhot legislated by Chazal, including Torah reading and tefila.  When it comes to Torah obligations, however, we do not allow a young man fulfill the obligation on behalf of others unless we have confirmed physical maturity (i.e. he has begun shaving).  Thus, many poskim forbid a recent bar-mitzva boy from reading Parashat Zakhor on the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim, as we generally assume this reading a Torah obligation.

Which brings us to Megilla reading.  Whereas we generally view all the mitzvot of Purim as rabbinically ordained obligations, they actually belong to a different category – “divrei kabbala,” referring to mitzvot introduced in the Tanakh (after Matan Torah).  The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 696:7) writes that for this reason, the mitzvot of Purim are considered equal to Torah obligations.  The Shulchan Arukh thus rules that an onein (someone who ch”v lost a relative but has yet to bury him) may partake of wine and meat and Purim.  The personal obligation to observe aninut, which includes the abstinence from wine and meat, cannot override the communal “Torah” obligation of Purim celebration.

Accordingly, then, a youngster would not be allowed to read the Megilla for the congregation unless he has begun growing facial hair, since we treat Megilla reading as a Torah obligation. (Obviously, he can still read for himself.)  Interestingly, then, a thirteen year old boy would be allowed to read the Torah on Purim morning, but we cannot have him read the Megilla five minutes later!

The poskim do make one important qualification concerning this halakha, and that is a distinction between the nighttime Megilla reading and the daytime reading.  The Megilla itself required only the daytime reading; the obligation to read the Megilla on Purim night was instituted later. Therefore, the nighttime reading clearly does not have the status of a Torah requirement, and a recent bar mitzva boy can, in fact, read the Megilla on Purim night on behalf of the congregation.


Among the issues discussed by the poskim concerning synagogue procedure on Purim day is the situation of a berit mila on Purim.  Generally, we perform a berit mila after the completion of the entire service.  On Purim, this would mean delaying the berit until after the reading of the Megilla. The Rema (693:4), based on the Maharil (Minhagei Ha-Maharil, Hilchot Purim 11), rules that the berit should be performed before the Megilla reading, rather than afterward.  The Maharil bases his position on the Gemara’s comments in Masekhet Megilla (16a) concerning the famous verse in Megillat Ester, “The Jews enjoyed light, joy, exuberance and honor.”  The Gemara (as brought by the Maharil; his version differs slightly from that of our texts) interprets “light” as a reference to Torah learning, and “joy and exuberance” as alluding to berit mila.  The Maharil claims that it follows from this juxtaposition between Torah and mila that should a berit mila become necessary on Purim, it should take place immediately following Torah reading.

Other authorities, however, take issue with the Maharil’s position.  The Rema himself (in his Darkhei Moshe) notes that the Terumat Ha-deshen held differently, that the berit should take place only after the Torah reading, since no mitzva, other than a “meit mitzva” (a dead body requiring burial), takes precedence over Megilla reading (see Rishonim to Megilla 3b). A second objection is raised by the Vilna Gaon and Peri Chadash (as cited by the Mishna Berura), that the Maharil’s position appears to violate the famous principle of “tadir ve-she’eino tadir, tadir kodem” – we always afford precedence to the more frequent mitzva. Since Megilla reading is required annually, whereas berit mila has no fixed rate of occurrence, we must consider Megilla reading a more frequent a mitzva than circumcision, and it therefore should take precedence.

One might explain the Maharil’s view by taking another look at the aforementioned Gemara in Masekhet Megilla upon which he bases his ruling.  The Gemara interprets the verse as a reference to Torah study, berit mila and tefillin (and, according to our version of the text, Yom Tov).  Rashi there explains that Haman had forbade the observance of these mitzvot by the Jews in the Persian Empire, and thus after his downfall, the Jews celebrated the fulfillment of these mitzvot.  It emerges, then, that these mitzvot constitute part of the Purim celebration.  Wearing tefillin on Purim not only fulfills the standard obligation of tefillin, but is seen as part of the Purim celebration, as well.  This might explain why the Maharil allowed berit mila to precede Megilla reading.  Were berit mila to have been an entirely separate mitzva, then, indeed, we would not afford it precedence – for the two reasons mentioned earlier.  Once, however, we realize that berit mila constitutes part of the Purim celebration, we understand why it can take place before the Megilla reading, as it, like Megilla, is part of our observance of Purim. (Based on an article by Rav Mordekhai Carlebach)

Practically, common custom is divided among Ashkenazim and Sefaradim.  The Chayei Adam (155:6) notes the common practice among Ashkenazim to follow the Rema’s ruling to perform the berit mila before Megilla reading.  By contrast, Rav Ovadya Yosef is cited (Yalkut Yosef, Moadim, p.317) as observing the custom of the Sefaradim to perform the circumcision after Megilla reading.

The Arukh Ha-shulchan notes that this entire discussion relates only to circumcisions performed in the Bet Kenesset.  When a berit mila take place elsewhere, such as in someone’s home, then according to all views it should be performed after the conclusion of services in the Bet Kenesset. Otherwise, the guests would have to go through the trouble of leaving in the middle of services for the berit mila and then return to the synagogue for the reading of the Megilla.


Parashat Tzav introduces us to the korban toda, the thanksgiving offering brought by someone who experienced salvation from some crisis (7:12-15).  Unlike virtually all other sacrifices, the korban toda included leavened bread, which was brought together with unleavened bread and the animal sacrifice.  Wherein lies the significance of this combination, and how does it relate specifically to the korban toda?

Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch explains that chametz and matza symbolize human initiative and passivity, respectively.  Chametz is the product of human manipulation of the natural elements, his ability to create new products from raw, natural material.  Matza, by contrast, is nature without human involvement, the most basic, elemental food product without mankind’s intervention in its processing. The individual bringing the korban toda expresses both these themes – because his response to his salvation must incorporate both.  On the one hand, and most obviously, he must acknowledge the “matza” – that it was the Almighty who delivered him from crisis and granted him assistance during his time of need.  But thereafter, the person must proceed to the “chametz” – to human initiative and involvement.  We cannot remain entirely passive and leave all our problems to God; we are expected to invest our own effort and actively exert ourselves, albeit with the unwavering conviction that our success depends on God.  After acknowledging the “matza,” our dependence on God, we must remind ourselves as well of the “chametz,” that God expects us to take an active role in our own well-being, as well.

The Maharal, in his “Tiferet Yisrael” (30), seems to point in a different direction.  He writes that the significance of the chametz and matza as part of the korban toda lies in the very fact that they represent opposites. Among the challenges of monotheism is the firm belief that a single God is behind all that happens on earth, both what we perceive as good and that which appears bad.  Even conflicting forces evolve from a single divine source, the Almighty.  Paganism failed to recognize the ability of one God to produce so many contradictory forces in the world, and therefore attributed independent divine power to different forces.  It is appropriate, the Maharal writes, for one bringing the korban toda to symbolically acknowledge this quality of God, His power over even conflicting forces, represented by chametz and matza.

The Maharal does not fully explain the connection between this theme and the korban toda.  We may speculate that he refers to the proper perspective on the original crisis, beyond the perspective on the ultimate salvation.  There is something problematic in suddenly praising God when one is saved from some crisis, as it might indicate that were it not for the salvation, God would not have earned our praise.  A basic tenet of Judaism is that “just as we bless for the good, we bless for the bad.” We must recognize the fact that in an absolute sense, everything God does is just and, ultimately, for the best, even when to us it appears tragic.  A person offering a korban toda is therefore reminded that God is Lord over all forces on earth, the “chametz” and the “matza,” both good and evil, joy and despair, happiness and sorrow.


The first two chapters in Parashat Tzav (chapters 7-8) have puzzled many commentators.  In Parashat Vayikra, the Torah had presented the various types of sacrifices: ola, mincha, shelamim, chatat and asham.  Suddenly, as we begin Parashat Tzav, the Torah once again goes through these sacrifices, albeit in different sequence: ola, mincha, chatat, asham, and shelamim.  Wherein lies the difference between these two sets of presentations?  Why does the Torah once again list for us the different offerings?

The common explanation is that these two parshiyot are directed to two different audiences.  The second verse of Parashat Vayikra begins, “Speak to the Israelites…”  That parasha informs Benei Yisrael of the various sacrifices they can or must bring under different circumstances and in different situations.  Parashat Tzav opens with God’s command to Moshe, “Instruct Aharon and his sons…”  These chapters serve as the guidebook for the kohanim, informing them of the procedures required for the different sacrifices.  This explains the difference in sequence.  Parashat Vayikra divides the korbanot based on situation.  It first outlines the korbanot reshut – the optional sacrifices (ola, mincha and shelamim) and then proceeds to the korbanot chova – those sacrifices required in given situations (chatat and asham). That parasha, which is directed to Benei Yisrael, is organized according to the circumstances under which a sacrifice would be offered.  Parashat Tzav, by contrast, organizes the korbanot according to procedure, distinguishing between kodashei kodashim (the more sacred offerings - ola, mincha, chatat and asham) and kodashei kalim (the lower level korbanot, of which even the owner of the korban partakes - shelamim).

Rav David Tzvi Hoffman goes even further in explaining the nature of chapters 7-8.  He claims that these two chapters, the review of the sacrifices in Parashat Tzav, appear in the Torah out of chronological sequence. In truth, these chapters were told to Moshe in Parashat Tetzaveh (note the similarity in the names of the parshiyot), after and as part of the discussion of the kohanim presented in that parasha.  Moshe’s consecration of the kohanim included teaching them the basic guidelines of the korbanot that they would need to know for their job in the Mishkan.  These instructions were “transplanted” to Sefer Vayikra in order to juxtapose both korbanot sections.

Rav Hoffman brings several pieces of evidence to support his theory.   First, this section in Parashat Tzav concludes, “This is the procedure for the ola, for the mincha… that the Lord commanded Moshe at Mount Sinai…” (7:37-38).  According to this verse, God gave Moshe these instructions atop Mount Sinai.  By contrast, Parashat Vayikra begins, “He called to Moshe, and the Lord spoke with him from the Tent of Meeting…”  This clearly suggests that the korbanot section was transmitted to Moshe not atop Mount Sinai, but rather from the Mishkan. In light of Rav Hoffman’s approach, the answer is obvious.  The section in Parashat Tzav was conveyed before that in Parshat Vayikra, and before the construction of the Mishkan, as Moshe stood on Mount Sinai.

From that same concluding verse (7:37) Rav Hoffman draws further proof.  The verse reads, “This is the procedure for the ola, for the mincha, for the chatat, for the asham, for the milu’im and for the shelamim offering.” Many commentators struggle to explain how the “milu’im” offering made its way into this verse.  The milu’im was the sacrificial ceremony by which the kohanim were formally consecrated, a ritual outlined to Moshe in Parashat Tetzaveh and executed in the second half of Parashat Tzav.  It is not mentioned anywhere throughout the first eight chapters of Sefer Vayikra, in the two korbanot sections.  How, then, can this section conclude, “This is the procedure for… the milu’im”?  Once, however, we understand that the section in Parashat Tzav was actually presented back in Parashat Tetzaveh, as part of the instructions concerning the preparation of the kohanim for their service, the answer is clear.  This verse concludes not only chapters 7-8 of Sefer Vayikra, but also the entire discussion in Parashat Tetzaveh, including the details of the milu’im ceremony.


In Parashat Tzav the Torah informs us of several details concerning the various korbanot.  One such detail is the location where the korbanot are to be slaughtered.  In Parashat Vayikra, we read that the korban ola (“burnt offering”) was to be slaughtered on the northern side of the altar (1:11).  Here, in Parashat Tzav, we are informed that the two atonement offerings – the chatat and the asham – are slaughtered “in the place where the ola is slaughtered” (6:18; 7:2).  This would imply that the north side is essentially the site of the ola offering, and the chatat and asham must be slaughtered in the same place as the ola; consequently, they, too, are slaughtered on the north side.

This manner of presentation led Chazal (Sota 32b) to a fascinating conclusion regarding the Torah’s guidelines in this regard.  The Torah specifically mandated that the sin offerings be slaughtered at the same location as the voluntary ola offering so as not to humiliate the individual bringing the sin offerings.  If the chatat and asham were to be prepared in a different location, onlookers would immediately identify the nature of the offering based on where it is slaughtered. They would therefore realize that the individual had committed a sin for which he must bring a sacrifice.  In order to prevent this humiliating situation, the Torah sensitively prescribed one location for the slaughtering of all these sacrifices.  The Gemara adds that following the Torah’s example, Chazal instituted that prayers be recited silently, so that nobody can identify the particular nature of one’s prayer, which might embarrass a sinner praying for forgiveness.

There may, however, exist another connection between the ola sacrifice and the sin offerings represented by their shared location.  Last week we looked at several different views regarding the function of the ola offering.  One view in Chazal holds that this sacrifice serves as atonement for “hirhur ha-lev” – sinful thoughts and ideas.  Some later commentators have suggested that the requirement that this sacrifice be slaughtered on the north side relates to this idea, the sins of the mind and heart. The Hebrew word for north, “tzafon,” is related to the word for “hidden” or “concealed” (such as “tzafun” – hiding the afikomen at the Pesach seder).  The location of the slaughtering of this sacrifice emphasizes that it atones for that which is concealed – the inappropriate thoughts and attitudes of a person.

By linking the slaughtering of the sin offerings with that of the ola, the Torah perhaps alludes to the role of thought in improper conduct.  One can regret an action done without regretting the cause of the action; one can wish he had never committed a certain act without acknowledging his personal weakness that resulted in that act.  The Torah perhaps tells us that when seeking atonement, one must consider not only the transgression itself, but the “tzafon” – the negligence and lack of focus which led to the violation.  In this respect, the chatat and asham must be seen as a form of ola – as a means of atonement for what was in the mind and heart, for the improper attitude or insufficient concentration for which the individual bears guilt. (Based on Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin’s “Le-Torah U-le’moadim)

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