Parshat Tzav


Rabbi Bernard Fox



“And the Kohen shall put on his linen vestments and the linen pants he shall wear over flesh.  And he shall lift the ashes of the burnt offering, consumed by the fire, that are on the altar.  And he shall place them by the altar.”  (VaYikra 6:3)

One of the activities that occur each day in the Temple is the removal of the ashes from the altar – Haramat HaDeshen.  This procedure is performed in the morning prior to placing the first offering upon the altar.  The collected ashes are placed next to the altar and subsequently removed from the Mikdash.  Two of the details related in our passage provide a fundamental insight into this activity, Haramat HaDeshen.  The passage tells us that a Kohen must perform the activity.  The pasuk also stipulates that the Kohen must wear his priestly vestments when executing this duty.  These two requirements indicate that this activity is an element of the service in the Mikdash.  Therefore, like all other services, only a Kohen dressed in his special vestments can perform this activity.


The Talmud comments in Tractate Yoma that the Kohen does not wear his normal priestly vestments when removing the ashes from the Mikdash.  Instead, he wears a set of garments that are similar in design to the normal vestments, but of lesser quality.  The Talmud explains that it is not appropriate for a servant to serve his master in the same garments worn when preparing the meal.  Therefore, the Kohen should not perform the more exalted services of the Temple in the same vestments worn in preparing the altar.[1]  Maimonides asserts that this principle does not only apply to the removal of the ashes from the Mikdash.  It also applies to the Haramat HaDeshen discussed in our passage.[2]


Rashi offers an astounding explanation of the comments of the Talmud.  Rashi explains the clothing that the servant wears in preparing the meal absorb odors and become stained in the process.  It is not appropriate for the servant to then serve his master in this clothing.  Similarly, once the Kohen has worn a set of vestments during the Haramat HaDeshen, it is not appropriate for him to wear these garments when performing the other services in the Mikdash. 


There are a number of problems with Rashi’s explanation of the Talmud’s comments.  First, according to Rashi, special garments are needed for the Haramat HaDeshen because, in the process of performing this service, the garments will become soiled.  However, the Torah already assures that these garments will not be worn when performing the other services.  The Torah requires that the garments worn by the Kohen during service must be new, clean and tailored to the Kohen.[3]  This requirement is adequate to assure that the Kohen will not wear soiled garments in the performance of service in the Mikdash.  Why is it necessary to establish a separate requirement that the Kohen wear special vestments for Haramat HaDeshen?


Second, the vestments worn during the Haramat HaDeshen are of lesser quality than the garments worn for other services.  Rashi’s explanation responds to the requirement that the Kohen change his garments after the Haramat HaDeshen.  However, Rashi does not seem to offer a reason for requiring garments of lesser quality for Haramat HaDeshen. 


There is another discussion in the Talmud that provides an explanation of Rashi’s position.  The Talmud comments in Tractate Shabbat that Rav Anan wore a simple black garment when preparing food for Shabbat.  He did this out of consideration of the principle that the servant should not prepare a meal for the master in the same garments in which he will serve the meal.[4]  The Talmud’s comments are difficult to understand.  We are required to wear special clean garments on Shabbat.[5]  However, Rav Anan went beyond this requirement.  He wore a special garment on the eve of Shabbat for the purpose of preparing the Shabbat meals.  What was the purpose of Rav Anan’s additional custom?


One can designate special garments for Shabbat in two ways.  The direct method is to select a special set of clothing and to set it aside for Shabbat.  However, there is another means of designation.  One can select an alternative mundane garment worn when preparing for Shabbat.  It must be a garment that contrasts with the Shabbat garments.  Through wearing this mundane garment when preparing for Shabbat, the person demonstrates that a superior set of clothing is held in reserve for Shabbat itself.  In other words, if garments similar to the Shabbat clothing are worn in preparing for Shabbat, the status of the Shabbat clothing is diminished.  How special are the Shabbat garments if similar clothing is worn when cooking the food!  Wearing contrasting, inferior clothing during preparation demonstrates the significance of the Shabbat clothing. 


This explains Rav Anan’s custom.  Certainly, we can assume that Rav Anan selected special clothing for Shabbat.  However, in order to further demonstrate the elevated status of his Shabbat attire, he also designated a contrasting mundane garment to be worn in preparing for Shabbat.


We can now understand Rashi’s explanation of the Talmud’s comments in Tractate Yoma.  Rashi recognizes that it is not necessary to require special garments for Haramat HaDeshen in order to assure that clean vestments are worn during the other services.  The Torah assures that the vestments worn for the other services will be clean through a direct prohibition against wearing soiled garments during any service.  However, Rashi maintains that the garments worn during the other services must be special.  They must reflect the elevated status of the service performed by the Kohen.  Rashi maintains that the lesser garments worn by the Kohen during the Haramat HaDeshen enhance the elevated designation of the garments worn during the other services.  The garments of the Haramat HaDeshen – a lesser form of service – contrast with the garments worn during the other services.  This contrast demonstrates the elevated status of the superior vestments worn for the more elevated services.  In other words, if the Haramat HaDeshen – a grimy responsibility – could be performed in the typical vestments of the Kohen, the significance of these vestments would be diminished.  How special are the typical garments if they are worn for the grimy job of removing the ashes from the altar!





“If it offered as a Thanksgiving offering, then it must be presented with unleavened loaves mixed with oil, flat matzahs saturated with oil and loaves made of boiled flour mixed with oil.”  (VaYikra 7:12)

The Todah – Thanksgiving offering – is a type of Shelamim sacrifice.  Rashi explains that it is brought in response to surviving a dangerous situation.  For example, one who recovers from a serious illness would offer a Todah.[6]  Rashi's source for these comments is the Talmud in Tractate Berachot.  The Talmud is not discussing the Todah sacrifice.  The topic in the Talmud is Birkat HaGomel.  This is a blessing recited when one escapes danger.  The Talmud outlines the specific situations that require reciting Birkat HaGomel.[7]  Rashi maintains that these criteria also apply to the Todah sacrifice.  However, Rashi does not indicate the reason that the Todah sacrifice and Birkat HaGomel share these criteria.


Rabbaynu Asher explains that Birkat HaGomel replaces the Todah sacrifice.  We cannot offer the Todah in our times.  In order to replace the Todah, the Sages established Birkat HaGomel.[8]  This explains Rashi's assumption that the Todah and Birkat HaGomel share identical criteria.  Birkat HaGomel is derived from the Todah.  Rashi assumes that the criteria for the blessing must be derived from the Todah offering.


There is another blessing recited in response to experiencing a rescue.  One who revisits a place at which the individual experienced a personal miracle is obligated to state a blessing.[9]  However, there is an interesting difference between these two blessings.  Birkat HaGomel is said in a group of ten people.  Preferably the group should include two scholars.[10]  The blessing recited at revisiting the location of a personal miracle does not require ten people.  Why does Birkat HaGomel require a company of ten?  Why does the blessing on a miracle not require ten people?


There is a basic difference between these two blessings.  The blessing for a miracle is an act of personal recognition and thanksgiving.  Because this blessing is a personal act it does not require the presence of a group.  In contrast, Birkat HaGomel is a public declaration of the Almightys' benevolence.  One confirms to others that personal experience proves G-d's kindness.  The blessing is a public testimony.  It follows that a group must be present.


This interpretation of Birkat HaGomel explains an interesting halacha.  According to many opinions, women do not recite Birkat HaGomel.  Others argue.  They maintain that women do say the blessing.  However, these dissenters stipulate that the woman should recite the blessing in a group of women including a single male.[11]  This seems to be an odd requirement.  In halacha, women do not constitute a quorum or minyan.  Why in this case is a group of ten, composed primarily of women, appropriate?


In order to answer this question, we need to understand the requirement of ten people for Birkat HaGomel.  Generally, this stipulation is associated with aspects of teffilah – prayer – and other activities requiring a tzibur – a congregation.  A congregation is created through ten males.   However, Birkat HaGomel is not a prayer that requires a congregation.  It requires a group of ten for an entirely different reason.  The blessing is an act of teaching others and sharing one's own encounter with the Almighty's kindness.  One must share with a group.  In order to meet this requirement, a group of women is suitable.


[1]   Mesechet Yoma 23b.

[2]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Tamidim U’Musafim

[3]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Klai Mikdash 8:4.

[4]   Tractate Shabbat 119a.

[5]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shabbat 30:3.

[6]   Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer VaYikra  7:12.

[7]   Mesechet Berachot 54b.

[8]   Rabbaynu Asher, Commentary on the Talmud, Mesechet Berachot, Chapter 9, note 3.

[9]   Rav Yosef Karo, Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 218:4.

[10]   Rav Yosef Karo, Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 219:3.

[11] Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan, Mishne Berurah 219:3.