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Home » Tzav

Tzav: Total Devotion

Submitted by on March 25, 2007 – 4:18 amNo Comment | 2,846 views

The Burned Offering

Our ancestors offered many kinds of sacrifices. Peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings and also burned offerings. What is a burned offering? An offering that is burned in its entirety upon the altar.

The Hebrew word for this offering is, Olah, which literally means, ascent. The entire burned offering was raised up and placed on the altar. It ascended, in its entirety, from its animal state to a higher state; it became an offering to G-d.

The altar flames represent our passion for G-d. There is a raging fire within each of us. A fire of love and devotion. We are prepared to make sacrifices for G-d because we love him. The question is how much are we prepared to sacrifice? The burned offering represents a total sacrifice.

Are we capable of total devotion in the modern age? Many Jews devote an hour to G-d in the morning. They attend Synagogue, pray, study and meditate, but when this hour is over they return to their regular day. They have discharged their duty to G-d and now reality beckons; they need to make a living. In days of old it was possible to rely on miraculous intervention and Jews were free to devote their entire day to Torah study, but today is different. We can afford to give G-d an hour, but a full day?

Is that All?

“These are the instructions of the burned offering. She is the burned offering.” (1) The second half of the verse seems superfluous. Why does the verse repeat itself? The Midrash offers a parable. A King visited his friend and was greeted with dates and wine. The king was surprised and asked, “Is that all you have prepared in my honor?” The friend replied, “Your Majesty, this modest greeting is in the antechamber, let’s go into the parlor where the real feast awaits.”

When G-d spoke of the burned offering he explained that it must be offered every morning and evening. He then paused and asked, “This is a burned offering?” Is one offering in the morning and one  in the evening considered a total offering? the size of a sacrifice - innerstreamThis is only a partial offering! In today’s age we might ask, is an hour of prayer in the morning and an hour of study in the evening considered total devotion?

Moses replied, this is all we can afford in the antechamber, but when we enter the parlor, when the Moshiach comes, we will devote our full day, fully and absolutely, to you. At that time we will have no earthly worries for all will be provided from above. (2)

Torah Study

Our devotion to G-d is only partial from our frame of reference. From G-d’s frame of reference even  partial devotion is a total offering. G-d functions on a level that transcends time. To G-d, every moment is an eternity. Our sages taught that studying the laws of the offering in the Torah is tantamount to bringing the offering itself. The study of Torah connects us to the author of Torah, to the divine. (3)

A moment of Torah study is an eternity. These moments do not pass, they are never relegated to the waste bins of history. They are timeless. When our concentration is total and our focus complete, if even for a moment, we achieve a burned offering. A moment of absolute and complete ascent. This moment never abandons us. It remains before G-d forever. (4)


This is why every day of worship in the temple began with collecting a handful of ashes from the sacrifices of the day before. In this way our ancestors proclaimed that even intermittent worship is continuous. The last sacrifice was offered before sundown the day before. There was a pause all night while the priests rested. Nevertheless, today’s offering is a continuation of yesterday’s worship.

We may have needed to rest for several hours, but even as we left the altar, our love for G-d did not abate. We picked up today where we left off yesterday for we are always devoted, always connected. No matter where we are, we stand before G-d. G-d is everywhere, in our homes as much as in the temple. G-d exists at all times at once. Yesterday exists before him today as it did yesterday. This was the message of placing yesterday’s ashes in front of today’s offerings.

The Jew in the final generation bears the very mission that was born by the Jew in the first generation. Grandparent and grandchild share the same mandate. There may be a generation gap, we may come from different ages and places, but the ashes proclaim that our mission is the same. (5)


Constant devotion denotes a preparedness to obey every one of  G-d commands. Constant devotion denotes that we accept not only the rituals we enjoy, but also the ones we don’t.

A trivial task such as cleaning the ashes could have been relegated to the service staff rather than the priests. Yet, not only was this task handed to the priests, they were instructed to fulfill it in full uniform. They performed their janitorial duties with pride. They were not concerned about soiling their vestments. If ashes fell upon them, well these were G-d’s ashes.

We too ought not shy away from the commandments we might consider trivial. We ought not hide from commandments that exceed our understanding. Like the priests, we ought to relish such commandments, exult in the privilege and fulfill them with pride.

Such devotion is not possible without humility. Hence the requirement that the vestments be perfectly  fitted to the priest. We must know our place. We must never presume to don a garment that is too large for us. We must never presume a level of piety that we have yet to achieve. (6)

The Long Night

It is nice to know that on the divine level every moment lasts for ever. Nonetheless, we would also like to incorporate constant devotion into our own lives, on our own level. We would like to achieve a burned offering even in the sphere were time marches on. We would like to do that, but we need to patient. We must wait for the messianic era.

Though it has tarried we mustn’t lose faith in its arrival. This is why the Torah specifies that the ashes be collected from fires that burned through the night, till the morning. Night is a metaphor for exile and morning is a metaphor for redemption. Throughout our long exile many fires have raged. Several have nearly consumed us, but we survived. Safe and snug; we are protected by G-d.

This is the Torah’s way of assuring us that despite the conflagrations of the night, the morning will yet dawn. Despite the incredible suffering that our people have endured during this terrible exile, the redemption will yet come. (7)


  1. Leviticus, 6: 2.
  2. Yalkut Shimoni, 479
  3. Bab. Talmud, Menachot, 110a.
  4. See Tanya ch. 29. See commentary of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
  5. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch on Leviticus 6: 3.
  6. Kli Yakar and R. Bachye ibid.
  7. Kli Yakar and Orach Chayim on Leviticus 6: 2.
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