Five Rashis, Parashat Tsav: Give Me Your Blemished, Your Dedicated…

The Blemished

Our parasha continues the discussion of sacrifices, and 6;11 mentions that every male among Aharon’s descendants can eat the parts of the menachot, the flour offerings, that are not burned on the altar. Rashi says this extends that right to בעלי מום, those with a physical blemish that renders them unfit for service.

However, he notes that 21;22, where the Torah is listing disqualifying blemishes, explicitly allows this priest to eat sacrifices. Here, he says, the Torah is extending them equal rights in taking a share of the sacrifices offered (during their assigned days, as we’ll see).

It’s a Rashi that reshapes the question around priests who are physically different. In our times, some wonder at the Torah’s discriminating against people born different, especially when it does not get in the way of their performing the service in the Beit haMikdash. Rashi doesn’t address that issue, so I won’t offer ideas, but he does remind us that the question isn’t whether Hashem was willing to accept them as kohanim, because they have full rights in the most sanctified offerings, the ones divided up among that week’s serving priests.  For whatever reason, they weren’t allowed to perform the service; in all other ways, they were full priests.

The Ever-Renewing High Priest

There is a story based on the Rogotchover’s view that Jewish betrothal, erusin, is an ever-renewing event, that it moment to moment re-establishes itself. A friend once used that as background for the perhaps apocryphal story that when another rabbi of the time, who disagreed with that view, saw him, he said, “Mazal Tov, I heard you just became betrothed,” and then “Mazal Tov, I heard you just became betrothed!” and so on.

I thought of that story because Rashi to 6;13, on the words זה קרבן אהרן ובניו, this is the sacrifice of Aharon and his sons, notes that part of priests’ induction into Temple service was an offering of a tenth of an ephah of flour, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. Verse 15’s phrasing regarding the Kohen Gadol, on the other hand, indicated he would do that every day.

Rashi doesn’t take it the next step, but it seems clear that that tells us that the High Priesthood is an ever-renewing office, that each day is the Kohen Gadol’s dedication day. That would also explain why he may not exclude himself from the Beit haMikdash when a close relative passes away, by becoming ritually impure as part of mourning; just as Aharon and his sons had to spend seven days in the Mishkan as part of their dedication ceremony, Hashem was telling the High Priest that each day is his dedication day, and he therefore has to be able to be in attendance at the Mikdash.

The Implications of References

It’s not uncommon, but I noticed twice this week that Rashi tells us where we can find further information on some topic, without sharing any of that information. In 7;6, on the words קדש קדשים הוא, Rashi says Torat Kohanim expounds this, and then on verse 26, בכל מושבתיכם, Rashi notes that the Torah is telling us that the prohibition against eating blood is personal, not Land-based (Jews outside Israel also have to follow it), adding that Kiddushin 37a explains why it’s necessary to say that.

The comments remind us of the range of audience Rashi sought to address. While he wanted little children to understand what he was saying (as the late Lubavitcher Rebbe used to stress), comments like this one show us that he was also expecting fairly advanced scholars to be using his commentary, the kind who could and would access a source in the Midrash Halachah and/or the Gemara, if only the right reference sent him there.

The Free Time of Kohanim

Ask most Jews what priests’ job was and I’d think they’d understandably say, “serve in the Temple.” Rashi to 7;9 tacitly reminds us that this is not quite true. The previous verse refers to the hide of the sacrifice belonging to the priest who offers it, while this one gives him the portion of the flour-offerings not burnt on the altar.  Yet the next verse speaks of all of Aharon’s sons getting these portions.

He answers that they work together, the first telling us it isn’t all priests, only the ones serving, and the second one telling us that it is all the ones serving that day, members of the same בית אב, family clan. The priests serving together from one family clan pool their tips, as it were, divide these priestly portions of all the incoming offerings of that day among themselves.

What I notice in that is the reminder that the priests (and Levi’im) divided Temple duty into twenty-four rotating groups, known as mishmarot. Each mishmar was further subdivided into בתי אב, family clans, who served one of the seven days of that week. Meaning that unless the kohen chose to go to the Beit HaMikdash beyond the required, he was there 2-3 days a year.

Leave aside the question of how they kept their skills honed (did they have Continuing Mikdash Education?), we are brought to realize that that wasn’t how they filled most of their days or years. I have always assumed that they were meant to be teaching Torah in the other times of their lives, but that’s an open question raised by these verses—what did kohanim and Levi’im do with their time?

When Do You Bentch Gomel?

7;12 speaks of an offering given in thanks, and Rashi says that it’s in response to experiencing a miraculous salvation, with halachah listing four examples (Rashi introduces them with the word כגון, such as; they are illustrations, not the limits of the requirement): one who returns from a sea voyage, a trip through the desert, who was imprisoned, and an ill person who had been healed.

Those people have to thank Hashem, reflecting Tehillim 107;21-22’s saying that part of thanking Hashem for His wonders is speaking of them and offering thanksgiving offerings. Today, we can wonder whether those categories still apply (and what other events should spark a תודה offering). Many assume an airplane trip, certainly over water, should obligate a תודה, and its contemporary parallel, reciting the blessing of הגומל.

Others argue that that form of travel has become so clearly not life-threatening (as might be true for some desert journeys, the experience of incarceration in most democracies, and many illnesses) that we are not obligated to see it as miraculous.

My thought is: were there a Beit HaMikdash, would the person be so moved as to feel the need to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a lamb (assuming lambs go down in price once there’s a greater demand leading to  improved supply) to make an offering? If yes, bentch gomel; if not, what happened to you wasn’t, apparently, miraculous enough to qualify.

But that’s just my suggestion. Overall, the Rashis we saw this week take us to parts of the Beit HaMikdash we sometimes forget to notice: the role of priests who had a physical issue that prevented them from actual service, the daily dedication of the Kohen Gadol, the Mikdash’s not being the central focus even of priests’ and Levites’ lives, and the question of when we notice a miracle enough to feel the need to respond.

One example of which are the events of the Exodus, to which we now switch our focus, so the next Five Rashis will not be until Parashat Shemini, three Shabbatot from now (with apologies to any Israeli readers, who will see me as a week behind, until we manage to catch up).

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein has served in the community rabbinate and in educational roles at the high school and adult level. He is an author of Jewish fiction and non-fiction, most recently "We're Missing the Point: What's Wrong with the Orthodox Jewish Community and How to Fix It." He lives in Bronx, NY with his wife and three children.