By Israel Drazin
Rashi’s grandson Rashbam, Maimonides, and Arnold Ehrlich have what some people might consider unusual even surprising interpretations of the biblical portion Tzav, Leviticus 6:1-8:36. The following are few of them.
Why did the Torah require that the fire of the sacrifice burn on the altar all night in 6:2? If a day started at night in biblical days, as it does in Judaism now, the daily offerings should have been brought at night when the day started and the Torah should have required that the priests let the fire of these offerings remain on the altar until the next nightfall. Actually, the biblical day began at daybreak. Rashbam highlights this in his commentary on Genesis 1:5. The Torah states that God performed certain acts on the first day; then there was evening and then morning when the first day ended, and God began new activities for the second day. Apparently, the Jews changed the biblical practice during their exile in Babylon during the sixth century BCE. The temple ritual however did not change; sacrifices continued to start during the morning during the second temple period.
This fact is seen in Exodus 12:10 in regard to the Pascal sacrifice that had to be brought and eaten on the 14th day of the first month, now called Nisan. The Torah states that it could only be “eaten until morning” when the 14th day ended. Similarly, Leviticus 7:15 states that the thanksgiving and peace offerings must be “eaten on the day of the offering; he shall not leave any of it until morning” because that is when the new day started. See chapter 40 in my Maimonides and the Biblical Prophets where I discuss the ramifications of this change.
Leviticus 6:3 states that priests should put their linen pants on their flesh. The Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 23b, takes this literally and writes that priests wore no underpants. Not so, Erhlich wrote. The verse is only stating that the pants covered their genitals. It does not address whether they wore underpants.
Why does 6:10 prohibit leavened bread on the altar? Ehrlich: because in ancient times leavened bread was considered inferior and only the best bread could be offered to God. See my essay on Why the First Passover was Different than all Other Passovers on www.booksnthoughts.com.
Why does the Torah forbid eating certain fats and blood in 3:17, 7:25, 26? Ehrlich: These items were part of sacrifices to God and therefore inappropriate for human consumption. There are additional reasons why blood was prohibited. Maimonides explains in his Guide of the Perplexed 3:46 that one of the Torah’s goals was to wean the Israelites from pagan superstitious practices. Blood was a significant item for pagans. They thought that demons eat blood. Thus, when they wanted to commune with demons or beg them for help, they would eat blood. They felt they were joining the demons in their meal. The Torah didn’t want Israelites to think and act this way, so it prohibited consuming blood. Additionally, blood was thought to contain the essence of life, as stated in Genesis 9:4.5. By abstaining from blood, Jews show respect for life.