The climax of the revelation at Sinai was the commandment to construct the Sanctuary, otherwise called the Mishkan or the "Tabernacle." Nearly half of the Book of Exodus is focused on the Tabernacle, and the book concludes with the Glory of God filling the Holy of Holies partition of the Tent. The Book of Leviticus begins right where the book of Exodus left off, with God calling to Moses from the Tent to explain the various animal and grain offerings (korbanot) that may be offered at the new Tabernacle...
In this week's Torah portion (Tzav) many of the laws of the sacrifices are repeated, though this time Moses addressed the priests directly and provided additional details about how to perform their functions. For example, the priests were to ensure that the fire of altar never went out and that the whole burnt offering (olah) was consumed as it burned throughout the night. Additional rules concerning the removal of ashes from the altar, the portion of the offerings that were given to the priests, and the cleansing of utensils are given.
God then instructed Moses to consecrate Aaron and his sons for their service in the priesthood. This involved washing them with water, arraying them in the priestly garments, and anointing them with holy oil. During the ordination ceremony, a sin offering and burnt offering were slaughtered on behalf of the priests, and then a special "ram of ordination" (eil ha'milu'im) was slaughtered. Some of this ram's blood was put on the right ear, right thumb, and big toe of the priests, and the rest was sprinkled around the altar. The sacrifice was then "waved" before the LORD and its meat was eaten with unleavened bread at the entrance to the Mishkan. Aaron and his sons were thereafter required to remain within the Mishkan for seven days and nights until their period of consecration was complete.
Four special Sabbaths occur just before the start of spring: two before Purim and two before Passover. Collectively, these Sabbaths are called "The Four Shabbatot" and four additional Torah readings (called Arba Parashiyot, or the "four portions") are read on each of these Sabbaths in preparation for the holidays.
The Sabbath that precedes the holiday of Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The maftir (additional reading) instructs us to "remember" (זָכוֹר) how the nation of Amalek functioned as Satan's emissary by attacking the Jews at Rephidim, immediately following the Exodus from Egypt (see Exod. 17:8-16). After Israel routed the attack, God told Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod. 17:14). Moses later explained that Amalek did not fight using conventional methods of war but rather attacked and killed the weakest members of Israel, "those who were lagging behind" in the camp (Deut. 25:17-19). This cowardly approach represented the first attack of God's newly redeemed people, a Satanic assault that God vowed never to forget.... Amalek therefore embodies satanic forces arrayed against the people of God.
Note that the name "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt. Amalek therefore suggests "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). Amalek therefore represents spiritual blindness as it acts in the world...
The additional Haftarah portion (1 Sam. 15:2-34) speaks of how King Saul later failed to "devote to destruction" the evil tribe of Amalek -- a mistake which cost him the kingship of Israel. Samuel's rebuke of Saul's compromise is always timely: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.... Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."
These two readings were selected before Purim because Haman was an Agagite (Esther 3:1), i.e., a direct descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek (whom Saul nearly spared, see 1 Sam. 15:32-33), and we should therefore link the 'wiping-out' of Haman with the 'wiping-out' of Amalek. The spiritual war between the light and the darkness admits of no compromise. For more about this Sabbath, click here.
The Holiday of Purim - פורים
The holiday of Purim (פּוּרִים) celebrates the victory of the Jewish people over the dark forces of anti-Semitism in the world. In a sense, the entire holiday is a spoof or joke made at the expense of those who senselessly hate the Jewish people (and who therefore hate the God of Israel). Purim is therefore both a time of irony and a time to celebrate how God secretly acts on behalf of His people so that they will eventually triumph over their enemies.
Throughout the centuries and in various places, many have tried to destroy the Jewish people, but none has succeeded. עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37). Christians likewise can trust that God's sovereign hand works all things together for good -- even if at times things appear bleak and desperate (Rom. 8:28).
This year Purim is celebrated Saturday, March 15th (at sundown), that is, on the 14th of Adar, the day after Haman's roll of the dice indicated that the 13th of Adar was most "propitious" date to exterminate the Jews of Persia. Note that Purim is celebrated the day after since it was at that time that the Jews experienced the joy of their deliverance (in Israel, Purim is observed a day later still (i.e., on Adar 15th) and is called Shushan Purim).
פּוּרִים שָׂמֵחַ / Purim Sameach: "Happy Purim!"
Blessing before Torah Study:
Parashah is the weekly Scripture portion taken from the Torah. Each parashah is given a name and is usually referred to as "parashat - name" (e.g., parashat Noach). For more information about weekly readings, click here.
Aliyot refer to a smaller sections of the weekly parashah that are assigned to people of the congregation for public reading during the Torah Reading service. In most congregations it is customary for the person "called up" to recite a blessing for the Torah before and after the assigned section is recited by the cantor. For Shabbat services, there are seven aliyot (and a concluding portion called a maftir). The person who is called to make aliyah is referred to as an oleh (olah, if female).
Maftir refers to the last Torah aliyah of the Torah chanting service (normally a brief repetition of the 7th aliyah, though on holidays the Maftir portion usually focuses on the Holiday as described in the Torah). The person who recites the Maftir blessing also recites the blessing over the Haftarah portion.
Haftarah refers to an additional portion from the Nevi'im (Prophets) read after the weekly Torah portion. The person who made the maftir blessing also recites the blessing for the Haftarah, and may even read the Haftarah before the congregation.
Brit Chadashah refers to New Testament readings which are added to the traditional Torah Reading cycle. Often blessings over the Brit Chadashah are recited before and after the readings.
Mei Ketuvim refers to a portion read from the Ketuvim, or writings in the Tanakh. Readings from the Ketuvim are usually reserved for Jewish holidays at the synagogue.
Perek Yomi Tehillim refers to the daily portion of psalms (mizmorim) recited so that the entire book of Psalms (Tehillim) is read through in a month. For a schedule, of daily Psalm readings, click here.
Gelilah refers to the tying up and covering the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) as an honor in the synagogue.
Divrei Torah ("words of Torah") refers to a commentary, a sermon, or devotional on the Torah portion of the week.