Passover and Parshat Tzav: Preparing is Everything

Intensity of focus characterizes both the Kohen Gadol's activities and our Pesach preparations.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer,

Judaism Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

The latter section of Parshat Tzav describes the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im, the Seven Days of Induction of the Kohanim (Priests). Aside from the various offerings and procedures that constitute the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im, Moshe mandates to the Kohanim: “And from the entrance of the Ohel Mo’ed (Tent of Meeting) shall you not exit for seven days, until the completion… And at the entrance of the Ohel Mo’ed shall you dwell day and night for seven days, and you shall guard the watch of God …” (Vayikra/Leviticus 8: 33, 35)

Although the literal meaning of this charge is that the Kohanim being inducted had to be quarantined in the Ohel Mo’ed day and night for a full week, most commentators do not adopt this approach. The Ramban (on Vayikra 8:35) invokes the interpretation of Midrash Torat Kohanim, which states that the Torah here established a prohibition for the Kohanim to depart from the Ohel Mo’ed during any Avodah (sacrificial service) that was incumbent upon them, be it day or night, both during the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im and eternally. The Chizkuni (on Vayikra  ibid. v. 33) explains that the Kohanim certainly did not remain in the Ohel Mo’ed for seven 24-hour days straight, but that they left at night, and that the phrase “for seven days” did not include overnight periods.

As such, we need to ask why Moshe articulated the charge to the Kohanim in a manner that very plausibly implied that the Kohanim had to be sequestered in the Ohel Mo’ed for seven 24-hour days straight without leave. Why did Moshe not spell out the limits of the Kohanim’s requirement? Why did Moshe seemingly overstate the rule?

Whenever the Torah’s phraseology does not match the actual halakha or narrative, the intent of the phraseology is to convey a special message. What is the special message being conveyed by the phraseology for the apparent “24/7” sequester of the Kohanim in the Ohel Mo’ed during the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im?

Rashi (on Vayikra ibid. v. 34) invokes the words of the Talmud (Tractate Yoma 2a), in which the seven-day sequester of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) in the Beit Ha-Mikdash (the Temple) before Yom Kippur and the seven-day preparation of the Kohen who burns the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) are exegetically derived from the seven-day mandate of the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im. The Chizkuni (on Vayikra ibid. v. 33) expounds that the regulation upon the Kohanim not to leave the Ohel Mo’ed during the (daytime of) the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im barred their engagement with other things or other places during that period.

These explanations have a common denominator: intensity of focus. During the seven days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol ascends to a heightened, more intense level of kedushah (holiness), as he immerses himself in Avodah and attains an exalted level of purification, while residing for a week in the Beit Ha-Mikdash. So too, the Kohen who burns the Parah Adumah achieves a special level of purification during the week of his preparation, as he ia sprinkled with the spiritually cleansing waters of the Parah Adumah for seven days straight.

And such was the case of the Kohanim who were inducted into Avodah during the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im, for their mind and being were potently focused on kedushah of act and place, without distraction. This intensity of focus of the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im provided the Kohanim with an exceptional exposure to kedushah, necessary to vest in their religious personalities an eternal identification with the kedushah of the Mishkan and Beit Ha-Mikdash.

Thus, in order to convey to the Kohanim that the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im was not merely a ritual procedure or a licensing operation, did Moshe formulate the charge to the Kohanim of being in the Ohel Mo’ed as a 24/7 intense sequester, as the goal was to saturate the Kohanim undistractedly with an elevated, exceptional kedushah experience. The Kohanim had to place all focus and invest their full being into the Shivat Yemei Ha-Milu’im, as if that was all that mattered to them and all that existed in their lives 24/7; only then would the purpose of this special period be fulfilled.

As we approach Passover, let us apply this theme to our Yom Tov preparations. The more one focuses on the meaning of Passover and learns its lessons and laws, the more one is engrossed in the rigors of pre-Passover activities, the more one is immersed in the pre-Passover observances and practices, the more enriched will one’s Passover experience be.       

Parshat Tzav connects us with Passover through the lesson of intensity of focus, which yields an indescribable sensation of kedushah, as we merit to approach God in His holy service.