Torah Table Topics: Tzav

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Things to think about over your Shabbat table this week:

This week we go deeper into Leviticus, which means we go deeper into the system of sacrifices. And while the sacrificial systtzavem is foreign to us in its implementation, it still touches a deep spiritual nerve.

The portion opens in Leviticus 6 with a description of a basic burnt offering: “This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it.” The burnt offering was a generic offering, offered daily and on holidays. It is akin to our regular prayer services, which are pretty much the same all the time, except for additions on special occasions.

In addition to the regular burnt offerings, there are also offerings for specific intentions. One of these is the sin offering, an offering made in repentance for a transgression. In describing this offering, the Torah makes a specific point: “the sin offering shall be slaughtered before God at the spot where the burnt offering is slaughtered: it is most holy.” This is significant—if the sin offering and the regular burnt offering are slaughtered in the same place, then a casual observer will not know what type of sacrifice is being offered at any particular time. The person who is bringing a sin offering is not singled out from a person bringing a regular burnt offering.

This is wise in that we do not want to compound someone’s remorse for sin with public embarrassment. (We can assume he or she is remorseful because they are bringing a sacrifice in atonement.) But the question still stands: when do we draw the line between a public acknowledgment of sin and private repentance? Are there times when people do need to be called out for their sin even when they are making restitution? When is a public apology for a private transgression needed? Is a private apology for a public transgression adequate?

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