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Tzav: The unity of start and finish

The meal-offering which the High Priest is commanded to offer twice each day is described as having the volume of "a tenth of an ephah [approximately 2.3 litres]. . . half in the morning and half in the evening" (Leviticus 6:13). The Torah does not say "a twentieth of an ephah in the morning and a similar amount in the evening" stressing that the two halves form one complete whole. Rav S R Hirsch (on 16:5) suggests that this impresses upon the bringer of the offering, and on us, that "the rules of the universe and the relations of human beings to them, were the same in all the various and contrasting conditions of life, as typified in the contrasts of day and night". The offering that the Pr

Vayikra: Why sacrifices?

Why do we need sacrifices? This is the question most commonly asked when studying the sedra of Vayikra today. The types of offerings detailed in the sedra – animals slaughtered and presented on the temple altar to G-d and even the various types of meal-offerings – seem alien to today’s ethos and spirit. But if we are not to attempt to re-write the Torah as we feel fit, then we have to understand why G-d prescribed this system of sacrifices. The twelve-century philosopher Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, explained that these commandments were designed to wean the Israelites away from human sacrifices by replacing them with animal offerings. Some mistakenly infer that Maimonides wa

Vayakhel: The limits of individualism

It was the most remarkable fundraising event in Jewish history. Not only was the collection of materials for the construction of the Tabernacle – the portable Temple that accompanied the Jews in the desert – the first ever fundraiser, it was the only one ever to be judged as too successful. As the people donated vast quantities of the various materials needed for the building and the craftsmanship, the architects pronounced “the people are bringing much than is needed for the work” and Moses commanded “let no man or woman do any more work” (Exodus 36:5-6). One can try to imagine a synagogue building fund announcing that “we have raised too much money – please stop giving”. One can try, but w