Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Muse: Tzav 2008

Last week I mused on the purpose of sacrificial worship and sited the Ramabam’s understanding and the place of the korbanot in our spiritual history. This week’s parsha, provides an alternative to the Rambam.

Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (1288-1344), better known as the Ralbag, aside from being a great Jewish scholar was also well versed in Aristotelian philosophy. He was a scientist of note, excelling in mathematics, and astronomy. His invention of the Baculus Jacobi, a navigational tool was in use until the 16th century.

The Ralbag is diametrically opposed to the Rambam regarding the value and meaning of sacrificial worship. In his opinion, by virtue of the fact that our text goes into such minute detail regarding the korbanot is an indicator that there is intrinsic meaning and purpose; not just a compromise for the Hebrews coming out of Egypt as the Rambam suggests. Illustrating this point he sites Vayikra chapter 2 verse 13: “you shall salt your every meal-offering with salt”. Adding salt enhances the value and taste of the product, rendering the product savory and flavorful. Salting the korban teaches us that the ritual of the korban wasn’t irrelevant by virtue of the fact that salt was added as an enhancement.

An example of this is his interpretation of the korban “oleh” in chapter 6 verses 1-2. The Ralbag in Aristotelian fashion comments on the necessity for the Torah to direct the kohanim to use kindling wood as the combustible agent. The korban itself represents the spirit (soul) of man (tzura), whereas the kindling wood symbolizes the physical dimension of man (chomer). Man lives by virtue of his essential spiritl (tzura), God gracing the spirit; and dies as a result of his body (chomer) breaking down.

With this in mind then, focusing on the method by which the korban Oleh is brought before God ought to direct our attention to the process of becoming (tzura) and dying (chomer); to be attentive to the duality of tzura and chomer, spirit and form, and recognize that it is God who is the spirit which gracesthe tzura.