Of sacrifice and redemption

Purim and Pesach are intimately connected. There are many connexions between Purim and Pesach.

Daniel Pinner, | updated: 08:10

Daniel Pinner
Daniel Pinner
INN:DP

In leap years (as this year 5779), Parashat Tzav is either Shabbat Zachor (the Shabbat immediately before Purim), or else (as this year) the Shabbat immediately after Purim. In non-leap years, Parashat Tzav is invariably Shabbat ha-Gadol (the Shabbat immediately before Pesach).

The way our calendar is designed, Parashat Tzav is connected either to Purim or to Pesach.

Purim and Pesach are intimately connected. There are many connections between Purim and Pesach:

Both are festivals of redemption – Purim celebrates the second redemption (from Babylonian and Persian exile) and Pesach celebrates the first redemption (from Egyptian exile). Both fall of the self-same day – 45 days after the 1st of Adar (meaning, in a leap year 45 days after the 1st of Adar is 14th Adar II, Purim, and in a non-leap year 45 days after the 1st of Adar is 15th Nissan, Pesach).

One of the essential components on the Seder Plate is the כַּרְפַּס, karpas (a green vegetable); and the sole mention of כַּרְפַּס in the entire Tanach is in Esther 1:6).

The Megillah consistently refers to the events of Purim happening “in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar”, which suggests that in a leap year we should celebrate Purim in first Adar. However, halakhah is that in a leap year (as this year 5779 is), we celebrate Purim in the second Adar, “in order to celebrate one redemption adjacent to the other redemption” (Megillah 6b).

Parashat Tzav begins with God telling Moshe to transmit the laws of the elevation-offering (meaning burnt-offerings) to Aaron his brother and his sons:

“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 shall don his fitted linen tunic, and linen trousers he shall wear on his flesh” (Leviticus 6:2-3).

The Ohr ha-Chayim (Rabbi Chayim ben Atar, Morocco and Israel, 1696-1743) sees here an allusion to 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), it would appear that the Ohr ha-Chayim calibrates our current exile as having begun with the fall of Beitar in 3898 (138 C.E.).

(Some editions read “1,672 years”. This might be a printing error, or might date from a later edition, in which a later and unknown editor added the extra years. Alternatively, it might suggest that the Ohr ha-Chayim 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 below.)

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, זֹאת תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה, “…this is the law of the elevation-offering…” (Leviticus 6:2(. In the Song of Songs half a millennium later, King Solomon echoed this phraseology: מִי זֹאת עֹלָה מִן הַמִּדְבָּר, “Who is this, ascending from the desert?” (Song of Songs 3:6). (The phrase זֹאת עֹלָה occurs in both texts, which is impossible to convey in English idiom.) 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 עֲלִיָּה, 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 עֲלִיָּה, 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 G-d 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) – one “day of distress” and no more – and a thousand years in God’s eyes are as a single day (Psalms 90:4). If 1,000 years represent a complete “day” (a night-time and a day-time), then the first 500 years of each millennium correspond to the night, and the second 500 years correspond to the day; so the dawning of God’s day – the morning of our redemption – should have been pre-destined to begin in the 500th year of the millennium.

Since (according to the Ohr ha-Chayim) 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), meaning 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 are two potential“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”, the year 4500 (740 C.E.).

Our parashah continues: “…and the fire of the Altar shall be kept burning on it” – hinting that in the light of the morning of redemption God’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’ (הַמַּעֲרָב הַפְּנִימִי, meaning the Islamic countries of north Africa, specifically Morocco), 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 בַּד (linen), a cognate of לְבָדָד (alone), as in “Behold! It is a nation which dwells alone” (Numbers 23:9).

And his מִכְנָסַיִם (trousers) represent the reason for the nations’ murderous hatred for the people who מַכְנִיסִים (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 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.

Purim relates the events which occurred towards the end of the “night” of the first exile, as the return to the Land of Israel was already beginning: when a tyrant arose in Persia who attempted to exterminate us all. At a time when, when a tyrant threatened us with extermination, the best we could hope for was the protection of a foreign king under whose rule we were living.

This was how it happened, and we were all saved from slaughter.

A generation-and-a-half ago we witnessed the events which occurred towards the end of the “night” of the second exile, as the return to the Land of Israel was already beginning: when a tyrant arose in Europe who attempted to exterminate us all. At a time when, scattered in a hundred countries of exile, when a tyrant threatened us with extermination, the best we could hope for was that other, stronger countries’ interests would somehow coincide with ours, and that other nations would defeat the murderous tyrant on the battle-fields.

This was what eventually happened...but too late for fully one-third of our people. Three-quarters of a century on, we have still not recovered from that attempt at total extermination.

And today, free and independent in our own Land, as the night of exile draws to its end and the sun rises on the morning of redemption, the genocidal enemies around us still attempt to engulf us in their conflagration. But today we are no longer subject to the torture of the nations, because no nation or kingdom still enslaves the Children of Israel.

Our עֲלִיָּה, aliyah, ascension to the Land of Israel has brought us the morning of redemption, the hope which even the Ohr ha-Chayim could but yearn for.





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