“This Is the Torah” for the Priests Performing the Offerings
Two Sets of Sacrificial Laws
Leviticus 1-7 lays out the rules for sacrifices. The sacrifices are covered twice, once inParashat Vayikra (chs. 1-5) and again in Parashat Tzav (ch. 6-7):
|Parashat Vayikra||Parashat Tzav|
|עולה (olah, Burnt offering; 1:1-17)||עולה (olah, Burnt offering; 6:1-6)|
|מנחה (minchah, Meal offering; 2:1-16)||מנחה (minchah, Meal offering; 6:7-16)|
|זבח שלמים (zevach shelamim, Wellbeing offering, 3:1-17)||חטאת (chatat, Sin/Purification offering; 6:17-23)|
|חטאת (chatat, Sin/Purification offering, 4:1-35 [+5:1-13])||אשם (asham, Guilt/Reparation offering; 7:1-10)|
|אשם (asham, Guilt/Reparation offering, 5:14-26)||זבח השלמים (zevach hashelamim, Wellbeing offering; 7:11-21, 28-34)|
As this chart shows, the two order the sacrifices differently. More significantly, they each have different foci.
The Priestly Unit (Tzav)
In Lev 6-7, God’s revelation is aimed at the priests. This is explicit in its opening phrase:
צַו אֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר…
Command Aaron and his sons, saying…
These laws thus focus on which priests get to eat each sacrifice, and the laws and limitation of each food gift. (See Appendix for details.) This focus is underscored by penultimate paragraph in this section:
ויקרא ז:לה זֹאת מִשְׁחַת אַהֲרֹן וּמִשְׁחַת בָּנָיו מֵאִשֵּׁי יְ-הוָה בְּיוֹם הִקְרִיב אֹתָם לְכַהֵן לַי-הוָה. ז:לואֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ-הוָה לָתֵת לָהֶם בְּיוֹם מָשְׁחוֹ אֹתָם מֵאֵת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתָם.
Lev 7:35 Those shall be the perquisites of Aaron and the perquisites of his sons from YHWH’s offerings by fire, once they have been inducted to serve YHWH as priests; 7:36 these YHWH commanded to be given them, once they had been anointed, as a due from the Israelites for all time throughout the ages.
The Israelite Unit (Vayikra)
The sacrificial laws in Parashat Vayikra, in Lev 1-5, have an entirely different vantage point. First, in contrast to Tzav, the opening phrase is directed at the Israelites:
דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם…
Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them…
Certainly the priests figure prominently in these laws as well, with the mechanics of each sacrifice—i.e., which parts are burned and what is done with the blood—being explained. Nevertheless, this unit focuses on what kind of sacrifice the Israelite plans to bring and what kind of animal the Israelite can afford. For example, Israelites bringing an olah have the option to bring a bull (1:3), a caprid (sheep or goat, 1:10), or a bird (1:14), listed in descending order of expense. The shelamim also has options in descending expense order, bull (3:1) and caprid (3:6), with the latter subdivided into sheep (3:7) and goat (3:12).
The chatat and asham section is organized differently, around why the person would need to bring a particular type of offering, i.e., what sin was committed. Here too, the emphasis on the bringer of the sacrifice, as opposed to the cultic functionary performing the ritual, is underscored by the oft-repeated conclusion to the chatat subsections:
ויקרא ד:כו וְכִפֶּר עָלָיו הַכֹּהֵן מֵחַטָּאתוֹ וְנִסְלַח לוֹ.
Lev 4:26 Thus the priest shall make expiation on his behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven.
A similar summary statement caps the asham offerings as well:
ויקרא פרק ה:טז וְהַכֹּהֵן יְכַפֵּר עָלָיו בְּאֵיל הָאָשָׁם וְנִסְלַח לוֹ.
Lev 5:16 The priest shall make expiation on his behalf with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.
Nowhere in the discussion of the animal sacrifices does Lev 1-5 discuss what gifts the priests receive or the rules for eating them.
Priestly Laws versus Israelite Laws
Jacob Milgrom (1923-2010) summarizes the distinction between these two sets of laws in his introduction to the sacrificial laws:
In these chapters [1-5], the sacrifices are listed from the point of view of the donor… Chapters 6 and 7 also deal with the same sacrifices, albeit in a different order, but from the point of view of the priests.
Milgrom’s observation can already be found in the commentary of R. David Zvi Hoffmann (1843-1921) on Leviticus, a work that combines his classic rabbinic training with his academic training:
החוק שבויקרא א-ה, שניתן באהל מועד הוא דין הקרבנות שנועד לעם כולו. הוא צריך לפרט:
The legislation in Leviticus 1-5, which was given at the Tent of Meeting, is the law for sacrifices aimed at the nation as a whole. It needs to specify:
א) את החומר שאפשר להשתמש בו בכל קרבן וקרבן.
a) The material that should be used for each type of sacrifice.
ב) בקרבנות חובה-את הסיבות הגורמות להקרבתם.
b) For required sacrifices – the reasons that bring about the need to bring them.
ג) את עבודות המקריב בשעת ההקרבה….
c) The actions of the one doing the sacrifice at the time of the sacrifice (p. 23)
…הפרקים ו-ז בויקרא מהווים… חוק קרבנות שלם בשביל הכהנים שכולל הוראות:
…Chapters 6-7 in Leviticus… make up a complete law of sacrifices for priests that include instructions about:
א) על דרך ההקרבה של כל קרבן וקרבן, ב) על הנוהג אחרי ההקרבה…
a) How to offer each type of sacrifice, b) what must be done after the sacrifice… (p. 52)
Complementary Laws? Perhaps Not
The sharp distinction outlined above could imply that the laws were meant to be complementary, and certainly they do function that way in Leviticus. Nevertheless, it is unclear that the laws were originally gathered with this in mind. Several details imply that the laws of Tzav were not originally collected with the laws of Vayikra in mind:
- The laws have some overlap such as where the animal should be slaughtered, how to offer the grain offering, and who eats the grain offering.
- The laws of how to perform the asham are in Tzav as opposed to Vayikra.
- In the intricate description of how the blood of the chattat must be manipulated, Lev 4-5 never uses the term ז.ר.ק (tossed), and yet, the laws of Tzav imply that this is what should be done with the blood.
These factors suggest that these two sacrificial law collections were once independent units and only became complementary units when placed side by side by the redactor of Leviticus.
The Summary Verses
Chapter 7 ends with a typical Priestly summary:
ויקרא ז:לז זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה לָעֹלָה לַמִּנְחָה וְלַחַטָּאת וְלָאָשָׁם וְלַמִּלּוּאִים וּלְזֶבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים: ז:לח אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּה יְ-הֹוָה אֶת־מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינָי בְּיוֹם צַוֹּתוֹ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהַקְרִיב אֶת קָרְבְּנֵיהֶם לַי-הֹוָה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינָי:
Lev 7:37 Such are the rules of the burnt offering, the meal offering, the purification offering, the reparation offering, the offering of ordination, and the sacrifice of well-being, 7:38 with which YHWH charged Moses on Mount Sinai, when He commanded that the Israelites present their offerings to YHWH, in the wilderness of Sinai.
A careful reading of it shows that this belongs to chs. 6-7 only, and not to the larger unit of 1-7:
- זאת התורה – The phrase “such are the rules” (זאת התורה) appears before each of the sacrifices mentioned in Parashat Tzav (6:2, 7, 18; 7:1, 11), but never appears in Parashat Vayikra.
- The order – The order of the offerings presented in the summary follows that of Tzavand not Vayikra.
But these summary verses present a problem: they mention of the miluim (מילואים, ordination offering), which is absent in chs 6-7. In fact, the miluim is last described in Exodus 29!
The Appointment of Aaron as Priest
Moses’ brother, Aaron, plays an important role in the exodus story from early on, as Moses’ spokesperson and as a performer of miracles. But his role as the first high priest, and the progenitor of all future priests, is first introduced in Exodus 28:
שמות כח:א וְאַתָּה הַקְרֵב אֵלֶיךָ אֶת אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְאֶת בָּנָיו אִתּוֹ מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְכַהֲנוֹ לִי אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אֶלְעָזָר וְאִיתָמָר בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן.
Exod 28:1 You shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve Me as priests: Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron.
The text then goes on to describe the special clothing Aaron and his sons will need to wear in their new position as priests (28:2-40), and concludes with:
שמות כח:מא וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ אֹתָם אֶת אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְאֶת בָּנָיו אִתּוֹ וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֹתָם וּמִלֵּאתָ אֶת יָדָם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ אֹתָם וְכִהֲנוּ לִי.
Exod 28:41 Put these on your brother Aaron and on his sons as well; anoint them, and ordain them and consecrate them to serve Me as priests.
The procedure for this ordination is the subject of the next chapter.
The ordination of the priests, outlined in Exodus 29 (and carried out in Lev 8), is a multipart process that effectively turns “regular Israelites” (Aaron and his sons) into priests. The process consists of sacrifices and the ritual dressing of the priests in their new garbs. The offerings are a one year old bull, two rams, and a basket of unleavened bread, cakes, and wafers, mixed with oil (vv. 1-2).
First, Aaron and his sons are to be washed, dressed, and anointed with oil (vv. 4-9). Aaron and his sons then offer the bull as a chatat (vv. 10-14) and the first ram as an olah (vv. 15-18).
The second ram is the miluim offering, a unique offering that serves as the key element to this ritual. After it is slaughtered, its blood is placed upon the right ears, thumbs, and big toes of the priests, and sprinkled on their clothing (vv. 19-21).
Aaron and his sons then take certain parts of the ram, together with one of each of the baked goods, wave them (tenufa) before YHWH, then burn them on the altar (vv. 22-25). Other parts are then waved as well, and they are given as gifts to the priests to eat (vv.26-28). They then cook and eat the remaining parts of the ram in the Tent of Meeting (vv. 31-34), where they will stay, in their new clothes, for seven days (vv. 29-30, 35).
As the millium is the ordination offering for the priests, it is a onetime event that is performed as part of the consecration of the tabernacle (Lev 8-9). Why is it summarized in Lev 7:37, which seems to relate exclusively to the priestly sacrificial laws in Tzav?
Hoffmann’s Observation: Exodus 29 and Leviticus 6-8 Are a Unit
In his commentary on Leviticus, R. David Tzvi Hoffmann argues that the priestly sacrificial unit in Leviticus 6-8 is part of a broader unit that includes Exod 28-29. Thus, the summary statement in 7:37 is referring to the description of the miluim offering in Exod 29:
הננו רואים שויקרא ו-ז יחד עם שמות כט מהווים תורה שלמה של הקרבנות לכהנים, אשר לפי ויקרא ז, לז-לח ניתנה בהר סיני. תורה זו נחלקה לשני חלקים ונכתבה בשני מקומות. שמות כט מכיל אותם חוקי הקרבנות, אשר היו מיועדים דווקא לאותו זמן, ויקרא ו-ז מכילים אותם שכוחם יפה גם לזמנים מאוחרים…
We see that Leviticus 6-7 together with Exodus 29 make up a complete law code for priests performing sacrifices, that, according to Leviticus 7:37-38, were given at Mount Sinai. This law code is divided into two parts and is written in two places. Exodus 29 includes with it the laws of sacrifices, which were intended only for that time. Leviticus 6-7 includes those [laws] that still apply even at later times… (p. 23)
Thus, Lev 7:38-39 is summarizing not only the laws in Tzav, but the entire original unit, which includes the miluim offering in Exod 29.
Hoffmann believed in the Mosaic authorship of the Torah, and was a strong opponent of the source critical approach, so he expresses his observation in terms of discreet “revelations” as opposed to the critical term “literary units.” Modern critical scholars might benefit from his general observations, but would use them differently to explain the history of composition of Exodus and Leviticus.
“Tent of Meeting” versus “Mount Sinai”
Hoffmann offers an additional indication that these units are related. Many biblical law collections describe where Moses was when he received or when he announced the laws. For instance, the jubilee law is introduced with:
ויקרא כה:א וַיְדַבֵּר יְ-הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר.
Lev 25:1 YHWH spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying:
The curse section of Leviticus ends with the same description, as does the book’s addendum dealing with temple dedications:
ויקרא כו:מו אֵלֶּה הַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים וְהַתּוֹרֹת אֲשֶׁר נָתַן יְהוָה בֵּינוֹ וּבֵין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהַר סִינַי בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה.
Lev 26:46 These are the laws, rules, and instructions that YHWH established, through Moses on Mount Sinai, between Himself and the Israelite people.
ויקרא כז:לד אֵלֶּה הַמִּצְוֹת אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה אֶת מֹשֶׁה אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהַר סִינָי.
Lev 27:34 These are the commandments that YHWH gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai.
The people march on further in the book of Numbers, so it ends with a different geographical location for Moses’ revelation:
במדבר לו:יג אֵלֶּה הַמִּצְוֹת וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ-הוָה בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּעַרְבֹת מוֹאָב עַל יַרְדֵּן יְרֵחוֹ.
Num 36:13 These are the commandments and regulations that YHWH enjoined upon the Israelites, through Moses, on the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan near Jericho.
In Deuteronomy, Moses taught YHWH’s laws,
דברים א:ה בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב הוֹאִיל מֹשֶׁה בֵּאֵר אֶת הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת לֵאמֹר.
Deut 1:5 On the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this teaching, saying:
These geographical introductions or conclusions delineate discrete textual units that are ostensibly from the same source (in Hoffman’s words, the same revelation), given at the same time at the same place. Revelations attributed to different places or times must then be separate units. Hoffmann notes that Lev 1-5 and Lev 6-7 use different geographical literary markers:
ויקרא א:א וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְ-הוָה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר.
Lev 1:1 YHWH called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying:
ויקרא ז:לז זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה… ז:לח אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּה יְ-הֹוָה אֶת מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינָי בְּיוֹם צַוֹּתוֹ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהַקְרִיב אֶת קָרְבְּנֵיהֶם לַי-הֹוָה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינָי:
Lev 7:37 Such are the rules… 7:38 with which YHWH charged Moses on Mount Sinai, when He commanded that the Israelites present their offerings to YHWH, in the wilderness of Sinai.
Although Tent of Meeting vs. Mount Sinai (or wilderness of Sinai) is not necessarily a contradiction, since the Israelites were still camped at Mount Sinai when they established the tabernacle, as a way of marking literary units, the two phrases are quite distinct, implying that each collection is from a different literary unit.
The description, in Tzav, of the laws as being from Sinai is a common trope in Leviticus, as we saw above. The description of laws in Lev 1:1 as given from the Tent of Meeting, however, is unique, and does not fit in with any of the larger units and their markers. This observation, in tandem with the observation that the Vayikra unit interrupts the flow of the Priestly sacrificial unit (Exod 28-29, Lev 6-8), leads to the tentative suggestion that the Vayikra unit was spliced in later. If so, Lev 1-5 was either written by the redactor or was an independent source included by the redactor.
Outlining the Original Unit: The Rights and Responsibilities of Priests
The original priestly “Mount Sinai” unit noted by Hoffman was likely meant as a job description of the priests. It began with the command to Moses to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests, described in detail their cultic wardrobe and the ordination ceremony (Exod 28-29), briefly outlined their jobs as cultic functionaries (Lev 6-7), and then went on to describe their actual ordination (Lev 8). This unit led naturally into the next unit, the consecration of the tabernacle, and the tragic death of Nadav and Avihu.
Eventually, a second collection of sacrificial laws was inserted into this unit, this one focusing on the Israelites who would bring them, bringing the details of sacrifices outside of the narrow priestly vantage point and into the orbit of average Israelites and their desire to gain atonement and serve YHWH.
Overview of the Sacrificial Laws in Tzav
Olah – The priests must maintain the fire on the altar at all times, and must wear special clothing when removing the excess ashes to a pure place outside the tabernacle precinct.
Minchah – The priests must burn a handful of the flour mixed with oil on the altar and eat the rest unleavened. In addition, the special grain offering a priest must make on the day he is anointed is described (7:12-16).
Chatat (6:17-23) – It must be slaughtered where the olah is slaughtered, the priest who offers it must eat it, and once its blood has been brought into the holy of holies, the remaining meat must be burned. Clothing that gets chatat blood on it must be cleaned, and utensils used to cook the meat must be dealt with properly.
Asham (7:1-7) – It must be slaughtered where the olah is slaughtered, certain parts need to be burned on the altar, then the priests in general (not just the one who brought it) may eat of it.
Priestly Gifts (7:8-10) – The priest who offered the olah receives the animal’s skin. Baked and fried grain offerings (minchah) go to the priest who offered them. Grains mixed with oil or dried are for all priests to share.
Shelamim (7:11-21, 28-34) – The shelamim is unique here since it is brought by Israelites. Nevertheless, the lion’s share of the law has to do with priestly prerogatives. It is broken up into different types of shelamim offerings:
Todah (תודה) “Thanksgiving offering” – It must be brought with various breads, and the priest who offers it gets to eat the sacrifice, but must finish it that night.
Votive (נדר) or free will (נדבה) offering – The priest has the next day to eat it as well, but not the third.
Impurity – A general rule appears now: If the meat becomes impure it cannot be eaten, and if the priest becomes impure, he may not eat the sacrificial meat.
Tenufa (Wave Offering, 7:28-34) – Part of the shelamim ritual is the wave offering. Once this is done, the priest gets to keep the breast that was waved. The priest also receives the right thigh as terumah (a gift).
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Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is the Senior Editor of TheTorah.com, and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute's Kogod Center. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures and Hebrew Bible, an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period), as well as ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter 2016) and editor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth Century Judah (SBL 2018).
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