Questioning faith in the parsha
Larchmont Temple—Har Chayim
The F*-WORD…[F _ _ _ _]…Questions, Conflicts & Connection of FAITH
CHEVRAH TORAH, 5772
HOW is the consecration ceremony of the Kohanim a model of covenant for all Israel?
And WHY all the blood?
P’shat…The TEXT—HEARING ECHOES
Remez…The CONTEXT—FORGING FAITH
v.2-3 The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Take Aaron along with his sons…and assemble the whole community at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting
TORAT KOHANIM… “Take Aaron…” The term “L’KiCHa” normally denotes taking in a physical way.
If applied to people in this sense, it would imply moving them bodily. Here it does not intend this meaning, but rather, as RASHI explains, “persuade him—take him with words.” This is an act of persuasion.
SARNA…The term “petach ohel mo’ed—the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” should not be taken literally. The actual place of assembly was in the outer courtyard…There were gradations of sanctity as one moved from the interior of the Tent toward the outer gate of the Tabernacle complex. The outer section of the courtyard was reserved for activities preparatory to sacrifice and for assembly…
RASHI…This is one of the places in Torah where a small area contains much more than just itself.
v.14-15 He led forward the bull of the sin offering. Aarons & his sons laid their hands upon its head, and it was slaughtered.
Moses took the blood and with his finger put some on each of the horns of the altar, cleansing it; then he poured out the blood remaining
at the altar’s base, sanctifying it, to make atonement upon it.
RASHI…That is, he “de-sinned it,” purifying it of anything alien to enter a state of holiness.
He “consecrated it—vayi-kad’shey-hu” through the ritual just described…To atone on it for the future.
RAMBAN…If RASHI is right, the procedure here would seem to match that in Ezekiel: “Seven days they shall purge the altar and cleanse it; so shall it be made holy. And when these days are over, from the 8th day on, the Priests shall offer your burnt offerings…and I will extend my favor to you, declares the Lord.” [43:26-7] What we learn from this text is that this procedure is performed with blood, and that the burning of the sacrificial parts is not as essential a part of the inauguration ritual. In the TOSEPHTA the question is posed: Why this atonement for the altar? Thus I read [SIPFRA] that Moses was worried when the call for truma to the altar was issued, that the Israelites did not contribute willingly, but because of social pressures to do so. This expiation was carried out for them. HERTZ…The first sacrifice offered was a sin offering to cleanse the kohanim of any transgressions they may have committed. Before they could secure forgiveness for others, they themselves must obtain atonement.
v.22-3 He brought forward the second ram—the ram of ordination. Aaron & his sons laid their hands upon the ram’s head, and it was slaughtered. Moses took some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his
right foot. Moses then brought forth Aaron’s sons…and the rest of the blood he dashed against every side of the altar.
SARNA…The dabbing of sacrificial blood on certain extremities is essentially a rite of purification procedure followed in the case of one who suffered from acute skin disease. “On the 8th day, he shall take two male lambs without blemish….these shall be presented before the Lord, with the man who is to be cleansed, at the entrance of the tent of meeting…The Priest shall take one of the lambs and offer it up…slaughtering it where the sin offering is slaughtered. The Priest shall take some of the blood and put it on the ridge of the right ear of he who is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot.” [Lev 14:10-14]
MUNK…The same procedure is found in Exodus 29:20 in the laws dealing with the installation of Kohanim…The Metsora [leper] who repented and is now “healed” must feel that his purification, enabling him to enter into the Sanctuary, is a kind of installation into the priesthood.
HERTZ…The Priests must have consecrated ears ever to be attentive to God’s Voice; consecrated hands to do God’s Will; and consecrated feet to walk daily in His ways.
IBN EZRA… “the right ear, the thumb, the big toe…” These represent the body of the one who is being cleansed, just as they do the body of the priests when they are consecrated, for sin is the leprosy of the soul. The thumb and big toe are keystones of the hand and foot, representing the essence of action. The ear is a reminder to truly hear that which was commanded
ETZ HAYIM…” and the rest of the blood he dashed against every side of the altar.” This is similar to what occurred
during the covenant ceremony at Sinai [Ex 24:6-8] In the ordination of the Priests, the sacrificial blood
served a dual function: it purified the priests and also bound them in a covenant of sacred service
ALTER…Both the altar and the priests are smeared with anointing oil and blood. As Baruch LEVINE notes, “the High Priest was, in effect, the human counterpart of the altar.” In fact, the ceremony as a whole is a strong instance of what Mary DOUGLAS calls analogical thinking, in which sacerdotal body and altar are part of an intricate system of correspondences.
D’rash…The SEARCH—CONFRONTING CHAOS…FINDING FAITH
“Moses took from its blood and placed it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot.”
First, a true leader must have a listening ear to be able to be attuned to the community’s needs,
Complaints and concerns. When King Solomon was offered any wish that God might grant,
his request was for “a heart that hears.” [I Kings 3:9] Second, he must be a man of action,
which is symbolized by the hand. Having heard what must be done, he must be ready to improve,
build and actively correct whatever needs to be repaired, which includes his readiness to go
wherever his presence is required in order to examine the situation with his own eyes. Finally,
he must personally progress in his own life, spiritually and intellectually, which is represented
in TaNaCH as “walking.” This is based on the verse in Zechariah [3:7] in which angels are
seen as “standers in one place, as opposed to people who must “walk” in order to grow throughout life
Rabbi Bradley SHAVIT ARTSON…
Traditionally, the Book of VaYikra was known as “Torat Kohanim—Teaching of the Priests.” Its contents was directed at those ministering in the Temple in Jerusalem, and its topics pertain to priestly sacrifice, ritual and purity. Yet our tradition also holds that the eternal task of the jewish people is to mold ourselves into a nation of priests, a holy people. In doing so, the standards that apply to the kohanim are essential tools for elevating our own spiritual and ritual status as well. The same guidance that torah provided the kohen at his task can ennoble and uplift us as Jews today…At the outset of our commitment to become a nation of priests, we can look with special benefit to the ordination of the kohanim into sacred service.
That installation took place amidst elaborate ceremony. The Kohanim washed themselves to become ritually pure, then donned special clothing to demarcate themselves for their activity in the Temple. Annointed with special oil, the kohanim made a “sin offering” to atone for their shortcomings and errors, before attempting to intercede for the people. After sacrificing the ram of burnt offering, Moses took some blood from the ram and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot.” He then repeated that same ritual for each of Aaron’s sons. Finally, the remains were boiled and consumed by the newly ordained kohanim. That same ritual was repeated throughout seven complete days of celebration.
Why was blood applied to those particular extremities?
An ancient commentator, PHILO, perceived that “the fully consecrated must be pure in words and actions in life; for words are judged by hearing, the hand is the symbol of action, and the foot—of the pilgrimage of life.”…Our words, actions and life must all cultivate our highest potential of growth, expression and humanity.
Rabbi Abraham IBN EZRA argues, on the other hand, that “the ear symbolizes that one must attend to what one has been commanded,” and the “thumb is the origin of all activity.” Unlike Philo, Ibn Ezra sees the two pivotal points as obedience to God’s mitzvoth and a commitment to alife of sacred deeds.
…However, both sages ignore the requirement of spilling blood, and both fail to explain the entire ritual as an interrelated unit. Building on their insights, we can extend their vision by utilizing the methods and findings of the modern study of religion…Blood is an ambivalent symbol. A symbol of life [recall the emblem of the Red Cross] and of death [think of a devil’s pitchfork], it is a simultaneous expression of both life and death—so much so that blood becomes a prominent symbol for moments and places of transition. At a child’s birth with brit milah; at the first Passover when blood was smeared on the lintels of Jewish homes, blood marks the moment as a transition between death and life renewed.
Sod…The REVELATION—RESPONDING to SINAI
…Here, too, by placing sacrificial blood on the priest’s extremities, the Torah indicates that the newly ordained kohen has passed through a transitional moment—from being a private citizen to being a representative of God…
Ear, hand and foot—an abbreviated code for his entire body—emphasize that service to one’s highest ideals, to one’s people or to one’s God must be total. Through his induction into the Temple ritual, the kohen entered a higher state of being, devotion and sacred service. To become a mamlechet kohanim—a nation of priests, requires us each to do no less.
[The Bedside Torah, , Shavit Artson, Contemporary Books, pgs 174-175]
R’ Larry KUSHNER
our ancestors has something yet to teach.