Peace: The Ultimate Offering. Shabbat Tzav & Erev Pesach – Friday, March 26, 2021

So, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asking you to eliminate from your thoughts a lot of what’s in the Torah readings, to focus on what I’ve suggested might be the most important messages for us today. Two weeks ago, when we concluded this year’s reading of the Book of Exodus with a double portion just stuffed with details about the creation of the Tabernacle, I asked you to look away from that and focus on the Torah’s message at the very beginning and the end of the double portion: That Moses brought the people together for Shabbat before they went about their individual chores, and that they were brought together afterward, reunified for the bigger task that awaited them as they headed into the wilderness.

Last week, I asked you to try and ignore all the details of the priests: the fine garments, their elevated status among the Israelites – and focus on the lowly mincha, the offering of a bit of flour that so many Israelites brought. It was a reminder, I believe, that God treats everyone equally regardless of their social or economic status.

This week, as we read extensively about the preparations for the ordination of the priests and the details of how they are to perform their cultic tasks, I’m focusing again on one specific thing. One little detail in the way the Torah presents this story.

That detail is the order of the sacrifices that are described here:

“The burnt offering, the meal offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the offering of ordination, and the sacrifice of well-being.” (Lev. 7:37)

It seems like first we have daily offerings, then offerings brought to purge transgression, and then the offering made on the day the priests were sanctified.

It would make more sense to wrap up with that one, with the special offering for the priests, since that’s exactly what’s happening here in our text. And yet it’s the zevach sh-lamim, the sacrifice of well-being, that is saved for last.

I think because that one is most important.

It is not lost on the sages that the word sh’lamin, wholeness or well-being, is a derivative of the word shalom, peace.

Here is the teaching of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a Chassidic master of 18th and 19th century Poland, as the Etz Chayim Torah Commentary describes it:

“Zot ha-Torah, the text begins, This is the Torah, and then renders the offerings by their root meanings: The Torah leads some people to olah (rising higher) and mincha (generosity), but leads other people to chatat and asham (feelings of guilt).

“The summary list concludes with sh’lamim, even as so many Jewish prayers, including the Amidah, the priestly benediction, and the Kaddish, conclude with shalom, ‘peace,’ the ultimate blessing.”[1]

Peace, the ultimate blessing.

In the Amidah: Praised are You, O God, who blesses Your people Israel with peace.

In the Priestly blessing: May God’s face shine upon you and grant you peace.

In the Kaddish: May the one who makes peace to reign in the high heavens bring peace upon us here on earth.

The ultimate blessing saved for the very end of our most powerful moments of prayer. Moments of loss and grief. Moments of celebration and hope. Moments of unity, when – like our ancestors as they completed their work on the Tabernacle – we gather together however we are able, to hold each other up. To bless one another with peace.

Saturday night, we begin our second Passover unable to celebrate together. Some who have been vaccinated might finally be with their children and grandchildren. Maybe that beautiful reunion is what the prophet Isaiah imagined in promising redemption to the people: “All your children shall be taught of God. And great shall be the peace of your children.” (Isa. 54:13)

But as a congregation, we’ll have to wait yet another year for the warmth and laughter, the hugs and the shared cups of wine.

So as we give each other virtual hugs and long-distance wishes for a happy and beautiful Pesach, we remember that, at the end of our journey through this wilderness – this journey of loss and fear and isolation – at the end of it is shlamim, wholeness, and shalom, peace.

And that is worth everything we must endure to see the journey to its end. As the old civil rights song taught us: Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.

Ken yehi ratson. Be this God’s will and our mission. As we say together: Amen.


©2021 Audrey R. Korotkin

[1] Eitz Hayim Torah and Commentary (New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2001), pp. 621-622.

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