Tsav: The Covenant of Fire
Updated: Jan 19, 2020
Tsav (Leviticus 6 - 8:36)
Before we begin in earnest I wanted to consider a point of halachah.
Halachah is often translated as ‘Jewish Law’ but really it’s a word that could be rendered as ‘the way to walk’ or ‘the way to behave’. Its root word is literally derived from the word meaning ‘to walk’. So, halachah is about how you ‘walk’ out the Torah in your life and actually implement it.
The matter I wanted to discuss briefly to begin is the issue raised in Leviticus 7 where Israel is commanded to not eat the fat of an animal. Before we look at the specific verse it is worth noting that many a person, new to Torah, has gone to great lengths to quite literally not eat any fat with any of the meat in their diet. I’ll be upfront and say this observance is unnecessary; go forth dear fellow and freely eat the fat with your next steak.
Let’s take a look;
Leviticus 7:22–25 (NKJV)
22 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘You shall not eat any fat, of ox or sheep or goat. 24 And the fat of an animal that diesnaturally, and the fat of what is torn by wild beasts, may be used in any other way; but you shall by no means eat it. 25 For whoever eats the fat of the animal of which men offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, the person who eats it shall be cut off from his people.
The prohibition to not eat fat also appears in Leviticus 3;
Leviticus 3:14–17 (NKJV)
14 Then he shall offer from it his offering, as an offering made by fire to the Lord. The fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, 15 the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; 16 and the priest shall burn them on the altar as food, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma; all the fat is the Lord’s.
17 ‘This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall eat neither fat nor blood.’ ”
First, let’s address Leviticus 7 and really, the issue takes care of itself if read in context. So verse 22 says ‘do not eat any fat of ox or sheep or goat’. Well the context here is obvious, we are dealing with animal sacrifices (in particular the peace offerings where people can eat their share) and that fact alone addresses the issue. Leviticus 7 is not saying, ‘do not eat any fat, ever’; it is saying to not eat the fat from an animal that is sacrificed to God. Verse 25 actually confirms this and states ‘for whoever eats the fat of the animal of which men offer an offering made by fire…’ confirming that the prohibited fat is from sacrificed animals.
Verse 24 of Leviticus 7 is addressing an animal that has died in and of itself. The verse corresponds to Deut 14:21 which states;
Deuteronomy 14:21 (NKJV)
21 “You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to the alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to the Lord your God.
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
It even corresponds to the New Testament prohibition to not eat the meat of a strangled animal (i.e. was not slaughtered correctly).
So with regard to our issue of not eating fat, when it comes to an animal that has died in and of itself, you can’t eat it anyway. Verse 24 says you can use the fat for other purposes but not for eating. (You cannot use the fat of a sacrificed animal for any purpose because it’s been sacrificed etc.)
With regard to Leviticus 3 we have to acknowledge that the fat being discussed is that which covers the entrails, kidneys and liver. To be honest, there appears to be some discussion from the various sources I’ve looked at but what’s important is that we are dealing with fat that exists around the internal organs of an animal. Some say it is prohibited at all times whilst others argue that this fat (suet) is allowed to be eaten from non-sacrificed animals, hence confining the command to the tabernacle. Regardless, the implication for us remains the same, fat in your steak is fat you can eat.
What about the blood then?
Leviticus 7:26–27 (NKJV)
26 Moreover you shall not eat any blood in any of your dwellings, whether of bird or beast. 27 Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.’ ”
Like the fat, the prohibition of not eating blood is also mentioned in Leviticus 3.
Leviticus 3:17 (NKJV)
17 ‘This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall eat neither fat nor blood.’ ”
Now, in Leviticus 3 we are dealing specifically with sacrifices and in this case the prohibition to not eat blood is equated to the prohibition to not eat fat.
Here in Leviticus 7 – where we again read of the prohibition to not eat fat, the commandment regarding the blood is actually expounded a little bit and differentiated from the commandment regarding the blood.
For the blood prohibition, Leviticus 7 adds ‘in any of your dwellings’.
So, we just established that you can eat fat when an animal is not sacrificed (and maybe not the fat of the internal organs). Within your gates then, you can eat fat. With the blood though the Torah mention’s ‘within your gates’ because unlike the fat, blood cannot be consumed at any time, for a sacrificed animal or for any animal you eat, blood cannot be consumed. For this reason the blood prohibition adds ‘whether of bird or beast’ to further stress that the command to not eat blood applies not only to everywhere you eat food, but to all animals, not just to animals that can be sacrificed.
This poses a difficulty though for most people because we can’t drain all the blood from an animal. There’s blood within your circulatory system and there’s blood within your muscles and your other internal bits etc. which cannot be drained. All I can offer you at this time in this regard is that the prohibition to not eat blood must be referring specifically to the blood that can actually be drained, which butchers normally do.
How do I biblically support this? Let me just say that when we left Egypt and ate the Passover sacrifice that there was no time to drain the lamb. They didn’t salt and cure the meat, wait for that to happen in order to be certain that all blood was removed and then eat it. They could only quickly drain the animal that day and the process of removing all the blood (which requires salting) is just not how it was done biblically. The command then must be referring to blood that can be drained and that alone.
So the next important question, can you order a medium steak? Yes, you can. The red hue of your steak and the red juice is not blood because that’s drained. The red stuff is from a protein called myoglobin which exists in muscles. When it interacts with oxygen it goes red, it’s not blood.
Thus we have answered one of the most important halachic questions of our age. So dear friend, go forth and order your steak (kosher slaughtered of course), have it medium rare, have a glass of wine to boot; it’s all good.
For the rest of our portion I would like to begin by focusing on the ‘eternal fire’ that is mentioned in Leviticus 6;
Leviticus 6:12–13 (NKJV)
12 And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order on it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. 13 A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.
To begin with the p’shat, let us understand that the eternal flame is related to the ‘tamid’ offering. The tamid offering comes from the phrase ‘daily burnt offering’ which is actually found in Exodus 29:38-42 and Numbers 28:1-8. The ‘daily burnt offering’ (aka. the tamid) is an olah offering (as described here) and it’s sacrificed in the morning and evening and as Leviticus 6 says;
Leviticus 6:9 (NKJV)
9 …The burnt offering shall be on the hearth upon the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it.
Meaning, that you continually have the fire burning on the altar and that you always have an olah offering being burnt before YHWH. The olah offering is the foundation of the sacrificial system.
Not only is the continual round the clock nature of the sacrifices why we have the need for an eternal flame, it’s also because this maintains the spiritual source of the fire that burns on the altar.
Whilst it’s not spelled out here for us, when the altar was first lit it was done so by God;
Leviticus 9:23–24 (NKJV)
23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, 24 and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
Therefore, the fire being maintained in the tabernacle is indeed the same fire that came from YHWH Himself.
To get at the deeper significance of the fire and the altar I need you to remember that the tabernacle is a picture of a human body; meaning then, that certain parts of the tabernacle correspond to certain parts of the body.
It is widely accepted that the altar corresponds to a man’s heart. I know in the past it’s been said the heart is really symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant but that’s the head of the body. Where that gets confused with the heart is that in Hebraic thinking our concept of the heart corresponds to the Hebraic concept for the mind.
Nonetheless, the altar, with all the blood etc. corresponds to the heart.
You might then be able to guess where this is going, especially as the Hebrew concept for flame is similar to our modern concept whereby fire is a symbol of passion and love. It teaches then that the eternal flame corresponds to the love for God in that it should be eternal and that our passions for God should never cease. This symbolism is realized in the Song of Songs when it says;
Song of Solomon 8:6–7 (NKJV)
6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy as cruel as the grave;
Its flames are flames of fire,
A most vehement flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe also picks up on these matters and whilst pointing out that the altar is in the outer court of the tabernacle, visible to all people, he teaches;
This means that the fire of [man’s] love for G‑d must be outward, open and revealed. It is not a private possession, to be cherished subconsciously. It must show in the face he sets towards the world.
This burning and eternal passion for God is also deeply connected to the symbolism of the olah offering which is intimately connected to the eternal fire as explained above (you don’t have one without the other).
The olah is called the ‘burnt offering’ but from the Hebrew it can also be translated as the ‘complete’ offering due to the fact that the whole animal is burnt up upon the altar. The symbolism as many a teacher will agree corresponds to the whole giving over of oneself in our pursuit to serve and to love God. No surprise then that the olah is one of the voluntary offerings of the sacrificial system.
There’s a couple interesting ways one can further analyze the verse describing the fire burning on the altar in verse 12. My translation (from NKJV) clearly states that ‘the fire shall always be burning on it’.
Well the sages in the Midrash point something out;
It is not written ‘shall be kept burning thereon’ but ‘shall be kept burning therein’, the fire was kindled in it.
It’s one of those wonderful little ‘hebraisms’ that we miss in the English and that our translators smoothed over. The fire is actually described as burning ‘inside’ the altar, not on top of it. Sure, the simple understanding of the text is that it is referring to the fire on the altar for the sacrifice but even the plain language indicates that the fire being described is in reality the fire that should exist within the heart of every man.
There’s more to it though. I don’t mean to overcomplicate but there is actually another way the verse can be rendered. Rather than ‘the fire shall be burning on the altar’; rather than ‘the fire shall be burning in the altar’, the words there are literally translated as;
‘The fire of the altar shall burn in him…’
The translators rendered the Hebrew word ‘hu’ as ‘it’ assuming that ‘it’ is the altar. In actual fact the correct translation of ‘hu’ is ‘he’, as in a man/person. The verse here is referring to the priest bringing the offering (that’s the ‘he’) but we too can take this to heart (pun intended) as God’s ‘Kingdom of Priests’. The fire of the altar shall be burning in us.
In fact, I find it noteworthy that the wood for the fire was donated from all of Israel. The historical record teaches us that Israel actually had a number of ‘wood offerings’ each year in order to keep the eternal fire alive. It’s also noteworthy that the eternal fire of the altar was used to light the fire of the menorah which likewise had to be kept lit ‘continually’ and was twice daily tended to by the High Priest. Just like the wood for the altar, the oil for the menorah was the responsibility of all of Israel;
Leviticus 24:1–3 (NKJV)
1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “Command the children of Israel that they bring to you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to make the lamps burn continually.3 Outside the veil of the Testimony, in the tabernacle of meeting, Aaron shall be in charge of it from evening until morning before the Lord continually; it shall be a statute forever in your generations.
There is more to the symbol of fire but having mentioned that we are also priests of a sort responsible for its upkeep, there’s one special way worth noting where even we can now do this.
Now the worship system in the time of the temple was actually developed around the sacrifices. The sacrifices were always understood to be a paradigm of the service of your heart and they always understood that sacrifice goes hand in hand with prayer. We know of the symbolism of the incense service and how that corresponds to prayer, but another way this is seen is in
Hosea 14:2 (The Scriptures)
2 Take words with you, and return to יהוה. Say to Him, “Take away all crookedness, and accept what is good, and we render the bulls of our lips.
The Targum explains the odd wording here and paraphrases this as;
Let the words of our lips be accepted before you with favor as if they were like the bulls on your altar
That word for ‘bull’, in the Hebrew, is ‘parim’ and is also sometimes rendered as the word ‘fruit’ which it is in the book of Hebrews;
Hebrews 13:15 (The Scriptures)
15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a slaughter offering of praise to Elohim, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name.
Let me explain. Hosea says ‘render the bulls of our lips’. The word for ‘bull’ can also mean ‘fruit’, meaning that Hosea 14:2 can mean let us ‘render the fruit of our lips’ to God i.e. let us praise God with words etc. The play on words here in Hosea shows how the concept of sacrifice and praising God with our lips are intertwined. The book of Hebrews also uses this imagery and it quotes the continual burnt offering mentioned in our Torah Portion and then, like in Hosea, likens the animal sacrifice to an offering of praise from our lips.
In Hebraic thought, the offering of praise and the offering of an animal are not opposing subjects, they are the equivalent to each other and they go hand in hand.
This is where the liturgy comes from because Israel created a set of prayers which were to be said at the same time as the daily sacrifices. In fact, this is the context of the book of Psalms. In essence, it’s the liturgy for the Temple.
This is also where the ‘hours of prayer’ come from that Jews still keep today which is in sync to when the sacrifices would have occurred in the Temple. Knowing that prayer and songs of praise goes hand in hand with sacrifice and the temple helps us understand the context of the New Testament when the apostles are doing things like;
Acts 3:1 (The Scriptures)
And Kěpha and Yoḥanan were going up to the Set-apart Place at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.
Now I want you to imagine a priest offering an ascending offering. Funnily enough, he would recite a Psalm of ‘ascent’ whilst making the sacrifice. If he was giving a thanksgiving offering the priest would recite a psalm of thanksgiving (because that’s why many of the Psalms were written). Now what was so special about the liturgy is that it meant that the whole of Israel would in fact be reciting the same prayer that the priest was reciting at the time of the sacrifice. It was a wonderful way for all of Israel to worship God communally and for Israel to participate in the Temple Service of the priesthood.
Simcha and Holiness
Returning to the fire however;
The fire is also deeply related to the word for joy because joy (simcha) starts with the letter shin which in Hebraic thought is a symbol of fire. Your love for God then, which must be continual, must also be something done in a state of joy.
Fire in Hebrew is also related to the word for holiness. Holiness is ‘Kadosh’ which is made up from two Hebrew words;
Meaning, ‘ignited fire’.
Holiness, love, joy; these things culminate in the symbol of fire and must manifest themselves in our outward devotion to God in all aspects of our lives. Torah, being the light that emanates from the fire is your guide in how to truly ‘burn’ for God and shine that light;
Proverbs 6:23 (The Scriptures)
23 For the command is a lamp,
And the Torah a light…
This symbol, of servants ‘on fire’ for God, is perhaps where even the symbolism of Psalm 104 is derived. It says;
Psalm 104:1–4 (The Scriptures)
Bless יהוה, O my soul!
O יהוה my Elohim,
You have been very great:
You have put on excellency and splendour,
2 Covering Yourself with light as with a garment,
Stretching out the heavens like a curtain,
3 Who is laying the beams of His upper rooms in the waters,
Who is making thick clouds His chariot,
Who is walking on the wings of the wind,
4 Making His messengers the winds,
His servants a flame of fire.
Now I will risk losing you, and even myself, but let me attempt at least to explain how all this relates to Messiah. I need to completely de-rail our train of thought for a moment and I need you to consider the Hebrew word for ‘truth’. In Hebrew it is the word ‘emet’.
Emet (truth) is actually a title for God;
Jeremiah 10:10 (NKJV)
10 But the Lord is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King…
Literally the start of Jeremiah 10:10 says ‘Wa YHWH emet Elohim’ (and YHWH Truth…) and so the sages derive this title for God being ‘YHWH truth’.
Emet is made up of three letters; alef, mem, tav. What is so amazing about this word is that alef, mem and tav are the first, middle and last letters of the alephbet.
Emet is the ‘first and the last’ which we know to be a title for God and which we know to be a title for the Messiah. As we see in Isaiah and Revelation;
Isaiah 44:6 (The Scriptures)
6 “Thus said יהוה, Sovereign of Yisra’ěl, and his Redeemer, יהוה of hosts, ‘I am the First and I am the Last, besides Me there is no Elohim.
Revelation 22:13 (The Scriptures)
13 “I am the ‘Aleph’ and the ‘Taw’, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.
First, Middle, Last Words
Naturally, the sages can’t leave this alone. They go looking for ‘emet’ in the scripture and they actually identify the first, middle and last words of the Torah knowing that these words all relate to the concept of truth and even the identity of YHWH and Messiah.
So the first, middle and last words of the Torah are;
Beresheet (in the beginning)
Put together and you get something like this ‘In the beginning, the foundation of Israel’, or perhaps ‘in the beginning of Israel’s foundation’.
This poses an important question. What is the foundation?
1 Corinthians 3:11 (The Scriptures)
11 For no one is able to lay any other foundation except that which is laid, which is Yeshua Messiah.
Messiah is the foundation of all things and upon Him, like the altar and the continual offerings, should we place our very souls and give all over to God.
The Diminished Mem
Now the middle word of the Torah, yesod, which corresponds to the mem of emet actually brings us back to our Torah portion. The middle word is derived from Leviticus 8:15 which is right in the middle of the ordination of Aaron has high priest. The yesod being described is actually the foundation of the altar where the blood of the sin offering was poured;
Leviticus 8:15 (The Scriptures)
15 and it was slaughtered. And Mosheh took the blood, and put some on the horns of the altar all around with his finger, and cleansed the altar. And he poured the blood at the base/foundation/yesod of the altar, and set it apart, to make atonement for it.
What again is the foundation? Messiah, our High Priest.
Thus the ‘mem’ likewise corresponds to the High Priest and in our portion the letter mem actually makes an interesting appearance. In verse 6:9 the mem is ‘diminished’, meaning that it’s written in a much smaller way then the other letters.
The verse reads;
Leviticus 6:9 (NKJV)
9 “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the burnt offering: The burnt offering shall be on the hearth upon the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it.
The word that has the ‘diminished’ mem within it is the word for ‘fire’, or in this translation, the word for ‘hearth’. In the Hebrew it’s actually the word ‘moqdah’ which means burning, whereas in the other ‘fire’ verses we’ve been discussing the word for fire is ‘esh’. Don’t be confused; just think of ‘moqdah’ and ‘esh’ as synonyms for now.
But the mem of ‘moqdah’ is smaller and the moqdah is describing the altar which corresponds to the heart. This teaches that Messiah is hidden within the heart of every man. It teaches us that the Messiah has to be on your altar because in comparison no other sacrifice matters and you can’t have the flame that God is truly seeking if you don’t have the eternal one, Yeshua the Messiah within your heart
The Covenant of Fire
If you unify these concepts the picture we begin to see is amazing. Take the Messiah, the High Priest (who is Messiah), the ‘foundation’ which refers to the altar, apply it to the beginning (beresheet), ‘the foundation of Israel’, and you can see how these things allude to the sacrifice of the lamb that was slain before the foundation of time. How it alludes even to the continual sacrifice which burns eternally (the olah offering) which was commanded for reasons Leviticus 1 doesn’t explain, but that which is given voluntary and completely (like the sacrifice of Messiah). It even alludes to Messiah as High Priest and how He has always, from the foundation of time, being our Messiah and Priest.
The word beresheet (in the beginning...) is spelled beit, resh, aleph, shin, yod and tav.
If you take the first two letters and the last two letters it spells the word ‘brit’. As many of you will know, brit means ‘covenant’ (literally ‘cutting’).
The remaining two letters, right within the word for brit, are aleph and shin. These two letters spell the word ‘esh’; meaning ‘fire’.
‘Brit Esh’. This means ‘covenant of fire’.
It’s the same fire of the altar, but it’s the true fire if you understand the allusion; the fire that God truly wants us to connect with that which is the Messiah which has stood forever.
The covenant of fire is synonymous with the ‘creation covenant.’ People don’t tend to realize but the process of creation was in fact the process of God creating a covenant with creation itself. In Genesis 12, God separates the parts of the sacrificed animals and passes through them in order to create the covenant with Abram. In creation, God separates all things and places His Shabbat within the middle of them; it’s His covenant which was ‘cut’ before the dawn of time and dare I say the true covenant that will be restored at the end of time when we return to that pure Edenic state where we live again in true harmony with God in the world to come.
The creation covenant plays a far larger role in the sacrifice of Yeshua then what we realize. His sacrifice paved the way for you and I to enter into the resurrection which in essence is a return to the beginning before sin ruined it.
Is it any surprise then that the place of Yeshua’s sacrifice is known by many names? I’ve shared how it’s Golgotha, explained how it’s ‘the place of the counting’, showed you how it’s the spot of the red heifer; but it’s also known by another name.
On account of the large signal fire that stood on the Mount of Olives to alert Israel of the festivals; of the fact that the first rays of sunlight hit the mountain before Jerusalem; that the lights of the Temple light up the mountain; the place then of Yeshua’s sacrifice was also aptly named ‘the Mountain of Light’ where His heart was set ablaze for the ones that He loved and gave His all. This is the light of the altar that burns eternal; this is the light of creation.
People teach that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son’, but let me share with you now that God, knowing the end from the beginning, so loved the world that He still said the words ‘let there be light’.