Leviticus, dense and replete with antiquated ritual though it may be, is the book that makes the Torah – the Torah. Unlike other Ancient Near Eastern texts, which are mainly prose, mainly law, or mainly poetry, the Torah includes all three. This week’s parsha, Tzav, continues the legal-framework of the book with instructions about sacrificial offerings and the priestly ordination. While last week’s parsha was directed to the entire community, this week’s is directed at the priests themselves, and yet, it is available to all to read and study.
Rabbi Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi notes in her commentary to Tzav, that Israel sets itself apart from other ancient cultures that it resembled with this inclusion in the text: “… the priests in most cultures in the ancient world kept secrets of their profession away from the public eye and transmitted them privately from generation to generation. In contrast, Leviticus reflects a commitment to keep the rules of the trade, as it were, in public view.” (The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, URJ Press 2008). Perhaps this can help us understand a related notion expressed at the giving of the Ten Commandments, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)
Yes, the work of the priesthood, and the texts of Leviticus are highly specialized – and pertain to a specific time in our ancient heritage. But the work of the priests, the rituals and offerings, was public knowledge. Perhaps so that all of Israel could see themselves as in relationship with the Divine, and indeed, capable of sacred connection and holy work.
– Rabbi Callie B. Schulman