Tzav is the imperative verb form from which the noun
mitzvah is formed. Tzav! means not just to command someone to do something, but do it quickly! You feel the forward motion even in the verb itself, short and to the point. The mitzvah is the commandment to be done quickly, in a hurry, such as eating the Pesach lamb. "Move it!" says the Holy One to Israel concerning the anointing of the Mishkan for service. This parasha so logically and beautifully carries the verb of calling and endearment, "Vayikra," of last week into the present one. From the pause and contemplation of Vayikra, Israel springs into action with the commandments of the Mishkan.
What's the difference? After all, this Torah portion is only a recap of previous ones, right? Maybe so, but it does illustrate the pattern in last week's portion, that first one in the Book of Leviticus, called (Vayikra). An Israelite contemplates and prepares to receive the message, and then the message is spoken with all the power and glory of the Shekhina.
In last week's lesson we learned about the tongues of angels, myriads of heavenly beings who call to one another and then say, "Holy, Holy, Holy." It is in perfect unity and love that they fulfill their roles, without jealousy. It is significant that Moses anoints Aaron in this portion as the Cohen HaGadol, or High Priest. As with his "pause" at Sinai of six days before he ascends, so Moses serves in the Mishkan for six days before he passes the service to Aaron for the role of High Priest with the accompanying offerings.
Why did Moses need to be told to perform this service with Tzav!, without a Vayikra call, or why not simply say (
omer) or speak (
daber)? It reminds me of the days when I learned and taught self-defense. The instructor gives the class or team a command to execute, which is then followed by the imperative, "Do it now!" This process assumes the class already knows what to do, and they will immediately spring into action. They know what and they know how. This is true of this Torah portion. We recognize the commandments that have been detailed previously. When Moses or the people hear "Tzav!", they can spring immediately into action to obey from their pre-training.
This is consistent with the pattern of doing before understanding. Moses has explained how to do things, giving detailed instructions. Now it is time to do them. "Hearing" them will come later, which means they will understand why later. They will learn the deeper meanings as they develop a life of obedience. Commandments are layered that way. The more you do them, the more spiritual sense they make, and the less rational sense one craves in order to obey them.
It is at this point that Moses is basically told to "Do it now!" There may be a message embedded in Moses being told to hurry up and do it without thinking about it too long. Moses forfeited the High Priesthood, as well as his descendants' priesthood, when he argued with the burning bush, not believing he was capable of all the Holy One was tasking him to do. The Divine answer is something like, "Fine. Then I'll put your brother ahead of you, and he'll speak for you." In essence, this is what the Cohen HaGadol does; he speaks for the nation he serves, bearing the people on his shoulders and heart.
Because Moses hesitated, his sons would not be included in the priesthood to serve; they would be numbered among the Levites. The commandments of Adonai are to be performed quickly and with joy. Was this a case where Moses was tempted to hesitate or lack joy? Not for himself, but for his sons, whom he'd excluded from priesthood by his reluctance...no, let's say his ambivalence...about serving Israel in the Holy One's great song of deliverance. Part of him wanted to serve, but the other part was afraid and delayed.
Like an ambidextrous person can use right or left hands equally well, a person who is ambivalent hesitates between two opinions, delaying his immediate obedience.
Afraid and Delayed
The Torah is a song. In the course of each year, the entire song of the Torah is sung in synagogues around the world. It is another understanding of what it means to sing the "Song of Moses." The individual weekly portions become songs detailing the stories, procedures, and above all, prophecies of Israel's deliverance from death, the grave, and hell. When the Torah was finally recorded with cantillation marks like the score to a song, nuances of the text that found their way into the ears of those who heard the Torah song were preserved. Even for those experiencing advanced dementia, song clings tightly in the recesses of the mind and heart, the places where the Shema commands love and remembrance for Adonai, the song-giver of deliverance.
In Leviticus 8:23, we read:
And he slaughtered it; and Moshe took of its blood, and put it on the tip of Aharon's right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the toe of his right foot.
The first word,
va-yishchat [and slaughtered] has a cantillation mark called the
shalshelet. It requires the Torah singer to repeat the succession of notes three times on one syllable. You can hear it here:
The shalshelet appears only three times prior to Tzav:
But Lot lingered [
va-yitmahmah]; and the men laid hold of his hand, and of his wife's hand, and of the hand of his two daughters, for God's mercy was upon him. And they brought him forth, and set him outside the city. (Ge 19:16)
The verse above is a "first mention" [use] of the shalshelet, which means it sets a theme or concept that the rest of its uses will follow, each explaining something about the other context. In this first mention, the shalshelet is a method of drawing the reader into Lot's story and heightening the tension the reader feels at Lot's ambivalence about leaving Sodom. The word for "Lot lingered" is sustained incredibly long in the last syllable, three loops of the same series of notes, which is difficult for the average reader to reproduce in the song.
Like Lot's "lingering" thinking, wanting to understand where he's going and thinking about what he's leaving behind before doing obeying the angel, the Torah singer draws out the lingering word. The word is spooled out like taffy in the hands of an expert, dangling the listener over the fires of hell before the message of Lot's family's deliverance. Why did Lot linger when he knew
what to do and
how to do it had been Divinely ordained for mercy upon him? Say
va-yitmahmah aloud, and it sounds as if you're saying in Hebrew, "What? What?" and prolonging it, like "Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?"
Well, I suppose we all must answer the question of why we delay to do the right thing when that is the very source of our deliverance and Divine mercy.
In the next mention, Abraham's servant prays concerning a wife for Isaac, using the shalshelet with "And he said...":
And he said: 'Almighty God, the God of my master Avraham, please send me good fortune this day, and show kindness to my master Avraham." (Ge 24:12)
Why was the servant ambivalent about what he prayed? Perhaps he knew that at one time, Abraham intended to bequeath his fortune to him. Instead, by Divine intervention, Abraham and Sarah were given a son to inherit from them. This is a great object lesson in the song of the Torah. Abraham had both worldly wealth and spiritual wealth. Now that the worldly wealth would pass to Isaac, the servant may have felt disinherited, separated from the relationship he had with Abraham. Nevertheless, in spite of his feelings, he prays for the best outcome for Abraham and Isaac, a Godly wife.
While he and his descendants may not have received Abraham's worldly fortune, by praying through his ambivalence, the faithful servant could inherit Abraham's spiritual fortune of mercy and deliverance, just like all the families of the earth. The link to the shalshelet seems vague in this example, but perhaps it very closely resembles Moses' situation, a potential hesitation to act because of his sons' disinheritance from the priesthood. The physical, however, is finite, reflecting the infinity of Heavenly service. Those servants gifted with a few things who serve gladly and who "immediately" invest those gifts in obedience are rewarded with riches still unseen by the human eye.
"We will do and we will hear [see, understand]" is a most profound prophetic statement of faith. It means that we will do the commandments according to their instructions, and yes, we will experience levels of understanding in this life, but only in the clouds of Glory will we truly "see" the point of the commandments. Abraham's servant experiences ambivalence in his mission, yet he prays through it. Sometimes, before the heart rejoices in the commandment, it must obey the commandment.
The healing of the deaf-mute in Mark Nine illustrates this. In our previous lesson about Sinai, the sages derive a mass healing of all the sick in Israel. Among the healings were the deaf and mute, for the entire nation said, "We will do and we will hear." When Messiah came, that would be a sign that he could deliver:
Then one of the crowd answered and said, "Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not."
He answered him and said, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me." Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "
Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"
When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "
Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!" Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And
he became as one dead, so that many said, "He is dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. (Mk 9:17-27)
If the New Testament had been written with cantillation marks, I can imagine that the father's word "believe" would have been sung with a shalshelet. He wants to believe that Yeshua can heal, but his experience is rooted in the physical reality of a deaf, mute, and demon-possessed son. For the love of his son, the father says he believes even when the physical world is at war with his spirit, which has faith in the Word of Yeshua. He says, "Forgive my unbelief." Both physical healing and a type of resurrection follow. Like Lot, mercy on his family. Deliverance. In the case of Abraham's servant, his prayer is likewise answered when he prays on behalf of someone else, even when he struggles with ambivalence.
"Forgive my unbelief." Unbelief is usually accompanied by a lack of joy. It will be impossible not to believe joyfully at Sukkot, when one finally dwells in shelters and rewards of eternity for faith at Passover and Shavuot. In the meantime, the believing and unbelieving father and Abraham's servant teach us to pray and move forward at the command, even asking forgiveness for one's Lot-lingering doubts.
The third example in Genesis illustrates even more the struggle between the unbelief of the soul, which is appetites, desires, emotion, and intellect, and the spirit, which comes from the Father above. There is a wrestling for control, and we see this when Joseph is tempted by Potiphar's wife:
But Yosef refused, and said to his master's wife: 'Behold, my master, having me, knows not what is in the house, and he has put all that he has into my hand.' (Ge 39:8)
Joseph acknowledges that he's received great responsibility in the house of the Priest of On, just as Moses received great responsibility serving God's House. What Moses did not receive was the perpetual priesthood, which was given to Aaron. Joseph's soul is surely tempted as any young man would be, yet he acknowledges that physical responsibilities and gifts given to him by an earthly priest pale in comparison to the responsibility to the One who created the priest! His refusal, however, is marked by the shalshelet, the power of sexual desire and sin warring against the commandments he learned from his father Israel.
Again, we have a pattern. As disciples of Yeshua, we cannot deny that sometimes we are ambivalent about the commandments. It is one thing to read them in the company of other believers, but quite another to practice them when tempted with physical gratification now, luxury now, comfort now, social standing now, safety now. The Song of the Torah assures us that the Father knows we will have times of ambivalence in applying His Word. We will read it, and our spirits will agree, "We will do and we will hear!"
The next day at work, or the family reunion, or with our friends, our agreement with the Word in practice may be more hesitant. It's okay. Father, forgive our unbelief, but we DO believe! Your Torah Song of Deliverance and our faith in Yeshua's mercy delivers the weekly healing and resurrection we need to keep Your commandments and testimony until the end.
Was Moses jealous of his brother Aaron or those who prophesied in the camp? No! In Numbers 11:29, Moses says he wishes the whole nation were prophets! When Aaron led the people to the Golden Calf, Moses intercedes for his brother! Moses was not territorial or jealous. It could not be for himself that Moses hesitated to slaughter the animal of the consecration blood for Aaron and his sons.
Perhaps, like all of us, Moses considered his descendants and what he'd forfeited in his reluctance to lead at the burning bush. Nevertheless, he consecrated and anointed his brothers and nephews for the priesthood. In his temptation to linger over the slaughter, Moses remembers Tzav! Do it now, Moses. You'll understand later. In their own roles, your sons will prosper, never acquiring the bad reputations of rebels like your cousin Korach. Like you, they will be humble and serve. They won't be burned up for offering strange fire like Aaron's sons, a 50% attrition rate! Your sons, like you, will provide the balance between zeal and humility.
If you've made mistakes of ambivalence in the past...if you've waited too long to believe in the mercy and deliverance of the Word...it will be normal to think about what you may have forfeited either for yourself or your children. It's okay. It's human. And you're in pretty good company: Moses, Abraham's servant, Joseph.
As the old Pentecostal saying goes, "Pray through" in those very moments of hesitation when you are rooted in the limitations of your physical reality. Physical reality makes war with the spiritual heart that loves the commandments and the Commander of those commandments, so sing a song of deliverance. Draw it out until ambivalence departs. Sing that song louder and longer than your ambivalence, and you will know the compassion of the Father.
Go ahead. Belt it out.