Judaism: Shabbat Zachor
“This is the law of the elevation-offering: it is the elevation-offering on the conflagration which is on the Altar all the night until the morning, and the fire of the Altar shall be kept burning on it. And the Kohen (Priest) shall don his fitted linen tunic, and linen trousers he shall wear on his flesh” (Leviticus 6:2-3).
Parashat Tzav begins with G-d telling Moshe to transmit the laws of the elevation-offering (meaning burnt-offerings) to Aaron his brother and his sons. The Ohr ha-Chayim (Rabbi Chayim ben Atar, Morocco and Israel, 1696-1743) sees in this entire section an allusion exile and redemption.
“This whole section alludes to the final exile, in which we currently are, to give us comfort from the sadness of our souls, because every Israelite is prevented from comforting his soul when he sees how long this exile is lasting. Can you see the comparison?! The Egyptian exile lasted 400 years, the Babylonian exile 70 years, both together 470 years – and see that this exile has already stretched on for 1,602 years – and how can we maintain our hopes?!” (commentary to Leviticus 6:2).
Note the Ohr ha-Chayim’s calculation of exile having “stretched on for 1,602 years”. Since he wrote his commentary on the Torah in 5500 (1740), the Ohr ha-Chayim calibrates our current exile as having begun with the fall of Beitar in 3898 (138 C.E.). However some editions read “1,672 years”, which might be a printing error, or might date from a later edition. (This also might suggest that he calibrates our current exile as having begun with the destruction of the Holy Temple in 3828 [68 C.E.], but that is inconsistent with his later calculation of the pre-destined time of redemption, which we will come to in another nine paragraphs.)
The Ohr ha-Chayim continues: “And not only exile do we have to endure, but also the torture of the nations, because every nation and kingdom has enslaved the Children of Israel”.
After poetically describing the horrors of our exile, the Ohr ha-Chayim relates the sacrificial service at the beginning of Parashat Tzav to exile and the ultimate redemption from it.
The Torah opens with the words, “…this is the law of the elevation-offering…” (Leviticus 6:2), in Hebrew “zot torat ha-olah”. King Solomon echoed this phraseology: “Who is this, ascending from the desert?” (Song of Songs 3:6), in Hebrew “mi zot olah min ha-midbar”. This is a poetic reference to Israel, ascending from the Sinai Desert to Israel.
The Ohr ha-Chayim continues: “This is the law of the elevation-offering” – “this” and only this, because there is no other aliyah (elevation or ascension) like it.
The Torah continues, “…on the conflagration which is on the Altar…”. There are two components here, expounds the Ohr ha-Chayim – the conflagration and the Altar. The conflagration represents the Torah, which is likened to fire; the Ohr ha-Chayim cites the Talmud (Ta’anit 4a): “If a young Torah-scholar burns with fury, it is because the Torah inflames him, as it says ‘Behold – is My word not like fire?, says Hashem’ (Jeremiah 32:29)”
And the Altar represents the exile in which we are oppressed and in which the suffering atones for us.
And in the merit of these two together – the Torah and the sufferings of exile – our eventual elevation or ascent to the Land of Israel is destined to be the most magnificent event in history, distinguished by wonderful, unprecedented, and never-to-be-repeated miracles.
The conflagration remains on the Altar “all the night until the morning”. The night represents exile, the morning represents redemption. The Ohr ha-Chayim here cites Boaz’s words to Ruth, “Rest here this night, and then in the morning, if he [the kinsman] will redeem you, then it is well” (Ruth 3:13), which the Zohar Chadash sees as a veiled reference to exile. Israel remains in exile throughout the night, and He will redeem us in the morning, which is the time when He will pour out His glory over us.
The Ohr ha-Chayim then gives an intriguing insight as to the pre-destined time of redemption. The exile was only supposed to last for one day, as King David wrote, “Hashem will answer you on the day of distress” (Psalms 20:2), and a thousand years in G-d’s eyes are as a single day (Psalms 90:4). The first 500 years of each millennium correspond to the night, and the second 500 years correspond to the day, so the dawning of G-d’s day – the morning of our redemption – should have been pre-destined to begin in the 500th year of the millennium.
Since the current exile – the “night” – began in the year 3898 (138 C.E.) with the fall of Beitar, it should have lasted only 602 years (102 years which remained of the 4th millennium, plus 500 years of the 5th millennium), that is until the year 4500 (740 C.E.), the morning of the fifth millennium.
However, the Ohr ha-Chayim continues, though the redemption could have come then, it depended upon our deeds and mitzvot and devotion to G-d and His Torah. The redemption could also have come in the year 500 of the sixth millennium – the year 5500 (1740 C.E.).
Two “mornings” (the “morning” of the fifth millennium, and the “morning” of the sixth millennium) were both times for redemption. The prophet Isaiah alluded to this, says the Ohr ha-Chayim, with his prayer “Hashem show us favour, we have hoped unto You! Be their strong arm in the mornings” (Isaiah 33:2) – “mornings” in the plural, not “morning” in the singular, because there will be two “mornings”. “We have hoped unto You” that the redemption will come in the first of these two “mornings”.
Only because of their evil deeds they missed the redemption of the first “morning”.
Our parashah, Torah reading, continues: “…and the fire of the Altar shall be kept burning on it” – hinting that in the light of the morning of redemption G-d’s fury will burn for all the tortures that the nations of the world have inflicted upon us – “especially”, adds the Ohr ha-Chayim, “the people of the ‘inner west’ (‘ha-ma’arav ha-p’nimi’, meaning the Islamic countries of north Africa), a bitterer cup than which has never been tasted”.
The Altar also alludes to the attribute of strict justice. When strict justice will “awaken”, and “the Kohen shall don his fitted linen tunic”, then the righteous will begin to avenge the vengeance of those Jews who were tortured throughout the long centuries of the night of exile.
The Kohen’s linen garments (both his fitted tunic and his trousers) represent Israel: they are garments of “bad” (linen), a cognate of “le-vad” (alone), as in “Behold! It is a nation which dwells alone” (Numbers 23:9).
And his trousers (“michnasayim”) represent the reason for the nations’ murderous hatred for the people who “machnisim” (“infuse”) faith in G-d and His absolute unity into the hearts of Israel.
After this long exposition, we re-read the opening words of Parashat Tzav: “This is the law of the elevation-offering: it is the elevation-offering on the conflagration which is on the Altar all the night until the morning, and the fire of the Altar shall be kept burning on it. And the Kohen (Priest) shall don his fitted linen tunic, and linen trousers he shall wear on his flesh”.
The Ohr ha-Chayim has shown how these seemingly-simple words allude to our exile from our Land and to our eventual redemption and return to our Land.
In ordinary years, Parashat Tzav is invariably Shabbat ha-Gadol (the Shabbat immediately before Pesach). In leap years (as this year), Parashat Tzav is either Shabbat Zachor (the Shabbat immediately before Purim, as this year), or else the Shabbat immediately after Purim. The way our calendar is designed, Parashat Tzav is connected either to Purim or to Pesach.
Purim and Pesach are intimately connected. We have previously elaborated on the connection between Purim and Pesach – both festivals of redemption, Purim celebrating the second redemption (from Babylonian and Persian exile) and Pesach celebrating the first redemption (from Egyptian exile).
Indeed, this is the reason that in a leap year (as this year 5774 is), we celebrate Purim in the second Adar – “in order to celebrate one redemption adjacent to the other redemption” (Megillah 6b).
And now, with the Ohr ha-Chayim’s insights, the connexion between Parashat Tzav and Pesach (in regular years) and Purim (in leap years, as this year), comes into focus.