Shabbat Shalom! This week’s parshah, Tsav, focuses on rituals and sacrifices. There are no turtle sacrifices. This is for two reasons, turtles are not kosher and are spelled with a vet and not a vav. What does tsav with a vav mean? Being commanded, what else? I was thinking about completely skipping this week’s torah portion because we have no temple, there are no sacrifices, and as a progressive future Rabbi it is a difficult parshah to relate to our modern society. Just because it is difficult does not mean we should raise the white flag and retreat.
Tsav is the second parshah in the third book of the Torah, Vayikra. In the Orthodox rabbinic tradition, this is the book we begin teaching our children when they enter cheder. You might find this to be very interesting, since the origin stories of the Jewish people, our patriarchs and matriarchs are found much earlier. Why would learning begin with the third book? One explanation I heard this Shabbos from my rebbe is from midrash rabbah about how the light of wisdom is associated with Leviticus. This light of wisdom refers to the halachas of toras kohanim, in non-yeshivish vernacular this is all about the commandments of the priestly class, Aaron and his progeny.
These mitzvoth are embedded in the 613 commandments, and even though we cannot fulfill them it is still important to acknowledge them. The sages are credited with stating “Talmud torah k’neged culam”, commonly translated as Torah study is equivalent to all of the other mitzvoth. This quote is the basis for why we should not skip parsha Tsav.
Additionally parshah Tsav covers the five sacrifices, the burnt offering, the meal offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, and the peace offering. The burnt offering, the olah, was the elevation offering and according to the Malbim was a continual daily offering. The meal offering, referred to the minchah, was similarly daily and is the basis for our afternoon prayer service. The sin offering, the chatat, was brought for unintentional acts was done on an ‘as needed’ basis. The guilt offering, the asham, was brought for sinful thought and desires. The peace offering, the shelamim, was brought whenever someone wanted to express gratitude.
How do we connect this parshah to our lives in 2018? The answer is a staple found in almost every pantry in America… kosher salt. Many times when I ask people if they are familiar with the term kosher, they mention a connection with kosher salt. What is kosher salt used for? Well today you will find it as an ingredient in many recipes, but its origin is found in this week’s parshah. There are thousands of rules, laws, and intricacies concerning kashrut. In this week’s parshah, Leviticus 7:27, “Any person who consumes any blood-that soul will be cut off from its people.” The Stone chumash does not translate the two animals identified in the pasuk, oaf (which in modern Hebrew is often translated as chicken), and behayma, some kind of domesticated animal typically used in reference to a cow.
The Torah prohibits consumption of blood, but not the consumption of animal meat. How then do we remove the blood? The process of blood removal is called melechah. The root of this word is melech meaning salt. Kosher salt has larger crystals than table salt. These larger crystals facilitate the drawing out of the blood and moisture from the meat. Why is the removal of blood so important that failure to do so results in spiritual disconnection from the Jewish people? This sounds quite harsh. Though this one question is the subject of volumes of books, a basic rationale is blood is holy.
Next time you see the blue container of Morton’s Kosher Salt, I hope you think of this week’s Torah portion. I hope this parshah is the starting point for a more in-depth conversation about kashrut. How we understand kashrut and whether we feel there is a relevancy of keeping kosher in our lives or we could talk about turtles and why this parshah isn’t spelled with a vet…Shabbat Shalom!