Tsav (Leviticus 6 - 8:36)
Updated: Apr 10
Halachah is often translated as “Jewish Law”. Like the word Torah though, the association with law is not quite a precise definition, or at least, does not quite capture the entirety of its intended meaning. A more exact definition would be “the way to walk”, or “the way to behave”. We come to this understand, as we often do in defining Hebrew words, through the root word which in this case is derived from “to walk”. Halachah then, while being law in Judaism, is more about how one walks out the Torah, or how one implements the Torah.
There are many debates in our movement regarding how to view and position Jewish Halachah, let alone Jewish traditions, but when Halachah is understood in this sense – one could reasonably assess that as an aide in helping us keep and practice the Torah, the benefits of understanding Halachah speak for itself.
With this in mind, we are going to look at Leviticus 7, where Israel is commanded to not eat the fat of an animal. It is one of those issues that pop up in our movement, so I thought it best to firstly address this peculiar command. Before we do though, it has been observed that within our movement, many go to great lengths to not eat any fat with there meat. It is not the intention of what follows to justify this measure, in fact, one is justified in eating the fat with there steak.
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 dies naturally, 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.
Addressing Leviticus 7, we see clearly that the prohibition to not eat fat from meat sits within the sacrificial system, specifically the peace offering where one is permitted to eat his share. Leviticus 7 is therefore not a blanket ban on eating fat with meat but is instead a prohibition on not eating the fat of meat intended for a sacrifice to God. Verse 25 confirms this when it says, “for whoever eats the fat of the animal of which men offer an offering made by fire…”.
The issue of fat and meat is inconsequential in verse 24 of Leviticus 7. Verse 24 prohibits the eating of any animal that has died in and of itself, that is, not slaughtered in the appropriate manner. This verse corresponds to Deuteronomy 14:21, which states;
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.
This prohibition is also referenced in the New Testament, where it is stated that one cannot eat the meat of a strangled animal (i.e. was not slaughtered correctly).
To settle the great fat eating debate then, when it comes to an animal that has died in and of itself, you cannot eat the fat because you are prohibited from eating the animal. When it comes to other meat, you cannot eat the fat if it is intended for a sacrifice to God. In the absence of a temple, this is not a concern, therefore, one is free to enjoy there steak at dinner, fat and all.
Leviticus 3 is a little more complicated. The fat being discussed in this section of the Torah is a specific kind of fat, that which is found around internal organs. There is some debate with this verse that has suggested this particular fat cannot be eaten no matter the circumstance, however, it does not alter the fact that God will not punish us for enjoying a steak at dinner.
Now we will address the issue concerning the blood.
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.’
Leviticus 3 is dealing specifically with sacrifices and in this case the prohibition to not eat blood is equated to the prohibition to not eat fat. In Leviticus 7, where we again read of the prohibition to not eat fat, the commandment regarding the blood is expounded on, Leviticus 7 adds ‘in any of your dwellings’.
We just established that you can eat fat when an animal is not sacrificed, notwithstanding the debate around the fat around an internal organ. 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 in that we cannot 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 which cannot be drained. All that can be offered 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 is this biblically supported? When Israel left Egypt and ate the Passover sacrifice it is a well-known and established fact that there was no time to drain the lamb. Our ancestors did not 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) was not how this was done biblically. The command then must be referring to blood that can be drained and that alone, as one would fairly presume that when preparing the Passover lamb our ancestors did not commit a breach of Torah, one that was forced upon them by the circumstances at that time.
To therefore settle another great debate, can you order a medium to rare steak? Yes, you can, in fact, it would be rude not to. The red hue of your steak and the red juice is not blood because it is common practice in today’s time to drain the blood. The red stuff comes from a protein called myoglobin which exists in muscles. When it interacts with oxygen it goes red, that is, it is not blood.
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.
With these perennial issues now addressed, we will move onto exploring 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, 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.
This means that the fire is continually burning on the altar and that there is always 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 is 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.
The Fire- A Deeper Look
To get at the deeper significance of the fire and the altar we need 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. 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.
One then might 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.
It should then come as no surprise that the olah is one of the voluntary offerings of the sacrificial system.
There are other interesting ways one can further reveal the meaning behind this sacrifice and the fire. The NKJV states that ‘the fire shall always be burning on it’.
The sages in the Midrash point something out about this verse;
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. At risk of over-complicating the matter, there is actually another way the verse can be rendered. Rather than ‘the fire shall be burning on the altar’; and 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, it is 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.
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 it was 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;
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 in 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.
Imagine a priest offering an ascending offering. He would, and there are no surprises here, 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).
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
With this in mind, lets return to the fire.
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 - ‘Yikode Esh’ - 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.
Let us now attempt to explain how this all relates to Messiah.
The Hebrew word for truth is emet. Emet is also 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;
1. Beresheet (in the beginning)
2. Yesod (foundation)
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 as 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 than 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 commended 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, been 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 is 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 tend not 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 than 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?
It has been known as Golgotha, the place of counting, the spot of the red heifer, but is also known by another name. On the Mount of Olives, were the signal fire was lit to alert Israel to the festivals that the lights of the Temple would light up the mountain with the sun’s rays. The place then of Yeshua’s sacrifice was also called the Mountain of Light and it was at this spot that his heart was set ablaze for the ones that he loved and gave His all. This was the light of creation, the eternal fire, and God, knowing the end from the beginning, still commanded “let there be light”.