Bread, Hides, and Sanctity

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat Tzav

What Shape is a Challah?

While inducting Aharon and his sons into the kehunah, Moshe takes a challat matzah echat, one challah of matzah (and one challah of lechem shemen, but that’s not the focus here), VaYikra 8;26. R. Mecklenburg refers to two Aramaic Targumim, Onkelos and Yonatan b. Uziel, who agree challah should be translated geritzta, a Greek word meaning round. HaKetav VeHaKabbalah tells us he learned the word from the author of Mossaf Ha-Aruch (a 17th century work, extending the Aruch, a widely-used eleventh century dictionary of Talmudic and Midrashic words).

A challah earned the name because of its shape, and the word challah relates to another word in Tanach, mechol or mecholot, which takes its name from the circular dances for times of joy. So, too, a tornado was called a sa’ar mitcholel, the wind revolving in a circle.

R. Mecklenburg adds other breads named for the shape. Anuggah, a cake, he thinks refers toigul, a circle, and Yonatan b. Uzziel translated kikar (Shemot 29;23) an igul of bread, a circle of bread.

In my world, we limit round challah to Rosh HaShanah, where R. Mecklenburg is telling us round was the traditional shape of all these breads.

Earning Their Hides

All of an olah is burnt on the altar, except its hide, which Vayikra 7;8 grants to the kohen who performed the offering. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch wonders about the Torah’s referring to olat ish, the olah of a person, where elsewhere the Torah uses the word olah without qualification. Zevachim 103a infers that the kohen receives the hide only if the sacrifice is successful, proceeds without disqualifying incident, provides absolution for the person who brought it. If the owner instead donated it to some other use of the Beit HaMikdash (an olat hekdesh), or something went wrong such that it did not provide the desired absolution for the one who brought it, the kohen will not receive the hide.

Not that kohen only, the hide can go to any kohen who could have offered it, as was true with the chatat in 6;19, anyone eligible to offer it can eat it. The Torah repeats the idea of who receives the hide here because with other sacrifices, the hide is coupled with the meat—whoever has the right to eat the meat gets the skin. Where no one eats the meat, we would not have known what to do.

Kohanim receive the hides of olot successfully offered on behalf of people, despite their not having any right to eat any parts of this sacrifice.

Many Places to Be Before God

Malbim’s commentary to the early parts of Vayikra is not organized verse by verse in the same way as until now, making my search for a comment to share each week a bit harder. Part of the commentary is called Torah Or, where he takes up a phrase in our parsha (such as in 6;7), lifnei Hashem, before God. He lists examples to show the phrase can indicate one of multiple places. It is sometimes the Kodesh Kodoshim, the innermost room of the Mishkan/Mikdash, as in Shemini 9;24, when the Torah says a fire went out mi-lifnei Hashem, from before God, to kick off the use of the altar (also in 10;2, for sadder purposes). Sifra and Sanhedrin 52 agree the fire in question came from the Kodesh Kodoshim.

We find it referring to Jerusalem as a whole, such as in Devarim 12;7 and 18 where the Torah limits us to eating our sacrifices “before God.” Any sacrifices ordinary Jews can eat, they can eat in the whole city (14;23 also means all of Jerusalem when it says lifnei Hashem for where to eat ma’aser sheni, the ten percent of a harvest brought to Jerusalem in years one, two, four, and five of the shemittah cycle).

Even when lifnei Hashem takes its more prevalent meaning, the entire courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash and the structure itself, it can refer to various parts of the area. Shemot 28;12 tells us Aharon shall bear the names of the tribes on his shoulders lifnei Hashem, where Yoma 48 rules a Kohen Gadol may not wear those garments other than in the courtyard of the Temple.

Yet the tenufah, the waving of certain sacrifices, is also called lifnei Hashem and Sifra Tzav 16;3, as well as Menachot 61, are clear that it must be done east of the altar. Lifnei Hashem is also sometimes east in the sense of the eastern gate of the Azarah, the Gate of Nikanor, where Sotah 14 tells us the ceremony of the sotah woman happened, as did the completion ceremony of a recovered metzora, and the goat lottery on Yom Kippur.

Where the olah and chatat, burnt and sin-offerings, were slaughtered in the north part of Courtyard, also called lifnei Hashem.

The Torah says the kohen should arrange the candles of the Menorah lifnei Hashem, (in the outer room of the Temple structure, not the Courtyard), and there Menachot 98 says the phrase means the west, as is the side of the outer altar lifnei Hashem from which the Kohen Gadol takes wood coals during the Yom Kippur service, 16;12, according to Sifra Acharai 3;5 and Yoma 45 the west side of that altar.

What’s going on?

Kedushah Has Layers

To explain, he reminds us of a series of Mishnayot in the first chapter of Keilim, laying out the levels of sanctity in the land of Israel. Kedushah starts in the Kodesh Kodoshim, says Malbim (where the Divine Presence most “is,” as it were), and emanates from there, the closer one is to there, the higher the level of kedushah. But, as compared to the rest of Israel, “even” within the walls of Jerusalem is lifnei Hashem.

For each occasion of lifnei Hashem, we need to consider where lifnei Hashem we are, why there, and what that says about the experience of Hashem being had. But I’m not going to do the hard work here. Here, I’m just sharing Malbim’s first insight, the Torah says lifnei Hashem about many different places, each in its own way, to its own extent.

For Now and For Always

R. David Tzvi Hoffmann reminds us of Torat Kohanim’s comment on the word tzav, it is a ziruz, an urging, for then and for all generations. He says the word comes where the person being commanded is told to act right away, in ways meant to continue throughout the future, as is true of all the laws shared in our parsha. Back in Shemot 29, the Torah related the story of the dedication of the Mishkan, aspects of the ceremonies were unique to that first time.

There, we also learned the rules of the tamid, the daily national sacrifices, to be le-doroteichem, for all generations. Here, where the Torah is given specifically to the kohanim, who would mostly be the ones in charge, the verb came to be sure they knew they were being taught for then and for always.

Bread, hides, the layers of kedushah, all part of the permanent setup of the Mishkan and Mikdash, in our parsha.

About Gidon Rothstein

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