Where Terumah suggested ways to understand the meaning of sacrifice through spatial arrangements, Tetzaveh offers additional insights by looking at the priests’ activity, their garments, the spaces they use and the role of blood. What we learn is that sacrifice is a boundary event, operating between finity and infinity, life and death, creation and uncreation:
“Blood, like food, signifies the boundary between transcendence and the world of creation. Blood represents life and death; it makes impure and it purifies. It serves an intermediary function, and the ears, thumbs and toes represent the boundaries of a body, echoing themes prominent in sacrifice…Death and brutality, love and compassion intermingle at the boundary in a transaction mediated by the priest.”
THE ANIMALS’ STORY
Following are the passages with animal references in Tetzaveh:
וְזֶ֨ה הַדָּבָ֜ר אֲשֶֽׁר־תַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה לָהֶ֛ם לְקַדֵּ֥שׁ אֹתָ֖ם לְכַהֵ֣ן לִ֑י לְ֠קַח פַּ֣ר אֶחָ֧ד בֶּן־בָּקָ֛ר וְאֵילִ֥ם שְׁנַ֖יִם תְּמִימִֽם׃
This is what you shall do to them in consecrating them to serve Me as priests: Take a young bull of the herd and two rams without blemish;
וְהִקְרַבְתָּ֙ אֶת־הַפָּ֔ר לִפְנֵ֖י אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וְסָמַ֨ךְ אַהֲרֹ֧ן וּבָנָ֛יו אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־רֹ֥אשׁ הַפָּֽר׃
Lead the bull up to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the head of the bull.
וְשָׁחַטְתָּ֥ אֶת־הַפָּ֖ר לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃
Slaughter the bull before the LORD, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting,
וְלָֽקַחְתָּ֙ מִדַּ֣ם הַפָּ֔ר וְנָתַתָּ֛ה עַל־קַרְנֹ֥ת הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ בְּאֶצְבָּעֶ֑ךָ וְאֶת־כָּל־הַדָּ֣ם תִּשְׁפֹּ֔ךְ אֶל־יְס֖וֹד הַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ׃
and take some of the bull’s blood and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger; then pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar.
וְלָֽקַחְתָּ֗ אֶֽת־כָּל־הַחֵלֶב֮ הַֽמְכַסֶּ֣ה אֶת־הַקֶּרֶב֒ וְאֵ֗ת הַיֹּתֶ֙רֶת֙ עַל־הַכָּבֵ֔ד וְאֵת֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י הַכְּלָיֹ֔ת וְאֶת־הַחֵ֖לֶב אֲשֶׁ֣ר עֲלֵיהֶ֑ן וְהִקְטַרְתָּ֖ הַמִּזְבֵּֽחָה׃
Take all the fat that covers the entrails, the protuberance on the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat on them, and turn them into smoke upon the altar.
וְאֶת־בְּשַׂ֤ר הַפָּר֙ וְאֶת־עֹר֣וֹ וְאֶת־פִּרְשׁ֔וֹ תִּשְׂרֹ֣ף בָּאֵ֔שׁ מִח֖וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה חַטָּ֖את הֽוּא׃
The rest of the flesh of the bull, its hide, and its dung shall be put to the fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.
וְאֶת־הָאַ֥יִל הָאֶחָ֖ד תִּקָּ֑ח וְסָ֨מְכ֜וּ אַהֲרֹ֧ן וּבָנָ֛יו אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־רֹ֥אשׁ הָאָֽיִל׃
Next take the one ram, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the ram’s head.
וְשָׁחַטְתָּ֖ אֶת־הָאָ֑יִל וְלָֽקַחְתָּ֙ אֶת־דָּמ֔וֹ וְזָרַקְתָּ֥ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ סָבִֽיב׃
Slaughter the ram, and take its blood and dash it against all sides of the altar.
וְאֶ֨ת־הָאַ֔יִל תְּנַתֵּ֖חַ לִנְתָחָ֑יו וְרָחַצְתָּ֤ קִרְבּוֹ֙ וּכְרָעָ֔יו וְנָתַתָּ֥ עַל־נְתָחָ֖יו וְעַל־רֹאשֽׁוֹ׃
Cut up the ram into sections, wash its entrails and legs, and put them with its quarters and its head.
וְהִקְטַרְתָּ֤ אֶת־כָּל־הָאַ֙יִל֙ הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חָה עֹלָ֥ה ה֖וּא לַֽיהוָ֑ה רֵ֣יחַ נִיח֔וֹחַ אִשֶּׁ֥ה לַיהוָ֖ה הֽוּא׃
Turn all of the ram into smoke upon the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD, a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD.
וְלָ֣קַחְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת הָאַ֣יִל הַשֵּׁנִ֑י וְסָמַ֨ךְ אַהֲרֹ֧ן וּבָנָ֛יו אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־רֹ֥אשׁ הָאָֽיִל׃
Then take the other ram, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the ram’s head.
וְשָׁחַטְתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאַ֗יִל וְלָקַחְתָּ֤ מִדָּמוֹ֙ וְנָֽתַתָּ֡ה עַל־תְּנוּךְ֩ אֹ֨זֶן אַהֲרֹ֜ן וְעַל־תְּנ֨וּךְ אֹ֤זֶן בָּנָיו֙ הַיְמָנִ֔ית וְעַל־בֹּ֤הֶן יָדָם֙ הַיְמָנִ֔ית וְעַל־בֹּ֥הֶן רַגְלָ֖ם הַיְמָנִ֑ית וְזָרַקְתָּ֧ אֶת־הַדָּ֛ם עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ סָבִֽיב׃
Slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear and on the ridges of his sons’ right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet; and dash the rest of the blood against every side of the altar round about.
וְלָקַחְתָּ֞ מִן־הַדָּ֨ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַֽל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ֮ וּמִשֶּׁ֣מֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה֒ וְהִזֵּיתָ֤ עַֽל־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְעַל־בְּגָדָ֔יו וְעַל־בָּנָ֛יו וְעַל־בִּגְדֵ֥י בָנָ֖יו אִתּ֑וֹ וְקָדַ֥שׁ הוּא֙ וּבְגָדָ֔יו וּבָנָ֛יו וּבִגְדֵ֥י בָנָ֖יו אִתּֽוֹ׃
Take some of the blood that is on the altar and some of the anointing oil and sprinkle upon Aaron and his vestments, and also upon his sons and his sons’ vestments. Thus shall he and his vestments be holy, as well as his sons and his sons’ vestments.
וְלָקַחְתָּ֣ מִן־הָ֠אַיִל הַחֵ֨לֶב וְהָֽאַלְיָ֜ה וְאֶת־הַחֵ֣לֶב ׀ הַֽמְכַסֶּ֣ה אֶת־הַקֶּ֗רֶב וְאֵ֨ת יֹתֶ֤רֶת הַכָּבֵד֙ וְאֵ֣ת ׀ שְׁתֵּ֣י הַכְּלָיֹ֗ת וְאֶת־הַחֵ֙לֶב֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עֲלֵהֶ֔ן וְאֵ֖ת שׁ֣וֹק הַיָּמִ֑ין כִּ֛י אֵ֥יל מִלֻּאִ֖ים הֽוּא׃
You shall take from the ram the fat parts—the broad tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the protuberance on the liver, the two kidneys with the fat on them—and the right thigh; for this is a ram of ordination.
וְלָקַחְתָּ֣ אֶת־הֶֽחָזֶ֗ה מֵאֵ֤יל הַמִּלֻּאִים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לְאַהֲרֹ֔ן וְהֵנַפְתָּ֥ אֹת֛וֹ תְּנוּפָ֖ה לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְהָיָ֥ה לְךָ֖ לְמָנָֽה׃
Then take the breast of Aaron’s ram of ordination and offer it as an elevation offering before the LORD; it shall be your portion.
וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֞ אֵ֣ת ׀ חֲזֵ֣ה הַתְּנוּפָ֗ה וְאֵת֙ שׁ֣וֹק הַתְּרוּמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר הוּנַ֖ף וַאֲשֶׁ֣ר הוּרָ֑ם מֵאֵיל֙ הַמִּלֻּאִ֔ים מֵאֲשֶׁ֥ר לְאַהֲרֹ֖ן וּמֵאֲשֶׁ֥ר לְבָנָֽיו׃
You shall consecrate the breast that was offered as an elevation offering and the thigh that was offered as a gift offering from the ram of ordination—from that which was Aaron’s and from that which was his sons’—
וְהָיָה֩ לְאַהֲרֹ֨ן וּלְבָנָ֜יו לְחָק־עוֹלָ֗ם מֵאֵת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּ֥י תְרוּמָ֖ה ה֑וּא וּתְרוּמָ֞ה יִהְיֶ֨ה מֵאֵ֤ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ מִזִּבְחֵ֣י שַׁלְמֵיהֶ֔ם תְּרוּמָתָ֖ם לַיהוָֽה׃
and those parts shall be a due for all time from the Israelites to Aaron and his descendants. For they are a gift; and so shall they be a gift from the Israelites, their gift to the LORD out of their sacrifices of well-being.
וְאֵ֛ת אֵ֥יל הַמִּלֻּאִ֖ים תִּקָּ֑ח וּבִשַּׁלְתָּ֥ אֶת־בְּשָׂר֖וֹ בְּמָקֹ֥ם קָדֹֽשׁ׃
You shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh in the sacred precinct;
וְאָכַ֨ל אַהֲרֹ֤ן וּבָנָיו֙ אֶת־בְּשַׂ֣ר הָאַ֔יִל וְאֶת־הַלֶּ֖חֶם אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּסָּ֑ל פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃
and Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
וְאָכְל֤וּ אֹתָם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר כֻּפַּ֣ר בָּהֶ֔ם לְמַלֵּ֥א אֶת־יָדָ֖ם לְקַדֵּ֣שׁ אֹתָ֑ם וְזָ֥ר לֹא־יֹאכַ֖ל כִּי־קֹ֥דֶשׁ הֵֽם׃
These things shall be eaten only by those for whom expiation was made with them when they were ordained and consecrated; they may not be eaten by a layman, for they are holy.
וְֽאִם־יִוָּתֵ֞ר מִבְּשַׂ֧ר הַמִּלֻּאִ֛ים וּמִן־הַלֶּ֖חֶם עַד־הַבֹּ֑קֶר וְשָׂרַפְתָּ֤ אֶת־הַנּוֹתָר֙ בָּאֵ֔שׁ לֹ֥א יֵאָכֵ֖ל כִּי־קֹ֥דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃
And if any of the flesh of ordination, or any of the bread, is left until morning, you shall put what is left to the fire; it shall not be eaten, for it is holy.
וּפַ֨ר חַטָּ֜את תַּעֲשֶׂ֤ה לַיּוֹם֙ עַל־הַכִּפֻּרִ֔ים וְחִטֵּאתָ֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ בְּכַפֶּרְךָ֖ עָלָ֑יו וּמָֽשַׁחְתָּ֥ אֹת֖וֹ לְקַדְּשֽׁוֹ׃
and each day you shall prepare a bull as a sin offering for expiation; you shall purge the altar by performing purification upon it, and you shall anoint it to consecrate it.
וְזֶ֕ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֑חַ כְּבָשִׂ֧ים בְּנֵֽי־שָׁנָ֛ה שְׁנַ֥יִם לַיּ֖וֹם תָּמִֽיד׃
Now this is what you shall offer upon the altar: two yearling lambs each day, regularly.
אֶת־הַכֶּ֥בֶשׂ הָאֶחָ֖ד תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה בַבֹּ֑קֶר וְאֵת֙ הַכֶּ֣בֶשׂ הַשֵּׁנִ֔י תַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה בֵּ֥ין הָעַרְבָּֽיִם׃
You shall offer the one lamb in the morning, and you shall offer the other lamb at twilight.
וְעִשָּׂרֹ֨ן סֹ֜לֶת בָּל֨וּל בְּשֶׁ֤מֶן כָּתִית֙ רֶ֣בַע הַהִ֔ין וְנֵ֕סֶךְ רְבִעִ֥ית הַהִ֖ין יָ֑יִן לַכֶּ֖בֶשׂ הָאֶחָֽד׃
There shall be a tenth of a measure of choice flour with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil mixed in, and a libation of a quarter hin of wine for one lamb;
וְאֵת֙ הַכֶּ֣בֶשׂ הַשֵּׁנִ֔י תַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה בֵּ֣ין הָעַרְבָּ֑יִם כְּמִנְחַ֨ת הַבֹּ֤קֶר וּכְנִסְכָּהּ֙ תַּֽעֲשֶׂה־לָּ֔הּ לְרֵ֣יחַ נִיחֹ֔חַ אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃
and you shall offer the other lamb at twilight, repeating with it the meal offering of the morning with its libation—an offering by fire for a pleasing odor to the LORD,
עֹלַ֤ת תָּמִיד֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם פֶּ֥תַח אֹֽהֶל־מוֹעֵ֖ד לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אִוָּעֵ֤ד לָכֶם֙ שָׁ֔מָּה לְדַבֵּ֥ר אֵלֶ֖יךָ שָֽׁם׃
a regular burnt offering throughout the generations, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before the LORD. For there I will meet with you, and there I will speak with you,
לֹא־תַעֲל֥וּ עָלָ֛יו קְטֹ֥רֶת זָרָ֖ה וְעֹלָ֣ה וּמִנְחָ֑ה וְנֵ֕סֶךְ לֹ֥א תִסְּכ֖וּ עָלָֽיו׃
You shall not offer alien incense on it, or a burnt offering or a meal offering; neither shall you pour a libation on it.
וְכִפֶּ֤ר אַהֲרֹן֙ עַל־קַרְנֹתָ֔יו אַחַ֖ת בַּשָּׁנָ֑ה מִדַּ֞ם חַטַּ֣את הַכִּפֻּרִ֗ים אַחַ֤ת בַּשָּׁנָה֙ יְכַפֵּ֤ר עָלָיו֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם קֹֽדֶשׁ־קָֽדָשִׁ֥ים ה֖וּא לַיהוָֽה׃
Once a year Aaron shall perform purification upon its horns with blood of the sin offering of purification; purification shall be performed upon it once a year throughout the ages. It is most holy to the LORD.
As I commented last year, the blood sacrifice occurs in the wider area of the Tabernacle, beyond the sacred precinct inside that houses the ark. The priests operate at the boundary in their role. The blood of consecration is applied to the boundaries of their bodies, the ridges of their right ears, the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. Sacrifices are offered at the boundaries of time, at dawn and at twilight. The meat the priests eat is prepared in the sacred precinct, boiled so it is bloodless for consumption. It is then eaten at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. None can remain for recirculation in less holy realms. If there is remaining food from that meal, it must be burned.
In this way, blood, part of the world of creation, enters the transcendent realm as what remains in the meat after the animal is sacrificed on the altar is boiled off in the sacred precinct. It is not in the meat the priests eat. Priests operating at the boundary negotiate the transformation of a living creature into a message and the transmission of that message from the world of creation to the transcendent realm. As at Mt. Sinai, the priests eat their transformed meal before G-d:
וַיִּקַּ֞ח יִתְר֨וֹ חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֛ה עֹלָ֥ה וּזְבָחִ֖ים לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וַיָּבֹ֨א אַהֲרֹ֜ן וְכֹ֣ל ׀ זִקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לֶאֱכָל־לֶ֛חֶם עִם־חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֖ה לִפְנֵ֥י הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃
And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices for God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to partake of the meal before God with Moses’ father-in-law (Ex. 18:13).
וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹ֑ן נָדָב֙ וַאֲבִיה֔וּא וְשִׁבְעִ֖ים מִזִּקְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended;
וַיִּרְא֕וּ אֵ֖ת אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְתַ֣חַת רַגְלָ֗יו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה֙ לִבְנַ֣ת הַסַּפִּ֔יר וּכְעֶ֥צֶם הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם לָטֹֽהַר׃
and they saw the God of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity.
וְאֶל־אֲצִילֵי֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לֹ֥א שָׁלַ֖ח יָד֑וֹ וַֽיֶּחֱזוּ֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים וַיֹּאכְל֖וּ וַיִּשְׁתּֽוּ׃
Yet He did not raise His hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank (Ex. 24:9-11).
Once the blood of a sacrifice enters the transcendent realm, the meat of a creature thus transformed cannot reenter the created world. It must be fully consumed with any remains burned outside the camp. It must be pure to enter the transcendent realm and any parts that return to the created world generate impurity.
It is the disciplined intention of the priest, offering a sacrifice on behalf of Israelites expressed through a carefully followed set of ritual actions, that transforms an animal into a message of gratitude or atonement, due from the Israelite. The animal life substitutes for a human life. Efficacy of the sacrifice requires purity of the sacrificial animal and correct practice from the priest. Priestly meals are absent the blood of the sacrifice.
And the animal itself, central to the activity inside the Tent of Meeting/Tabernacle and the work of the priests on behalf of the Israelites inside that realm? That “pure” animal, an animal with no imperfections, is transformed through the sacrifice at the boundary between this world and a transcendent world, the altar in the Tabernacle. It becomes a message of either gratitude or atonement, substituting for the life due from an Israelite. Only post-transformation and devoid of its blood can the carcass be consumed.
The nature of a paradox is that it resists resolution and reduction to a one-to-one correspondence. Even as I feel like I edge closer to the meaning of the sacrifice as presented in the biblical text, I feel that something is out of reach. It may remain that way. I continue to think it has something to do with sparing the life of human beings for a sin related to the state of affairs in their current existence, an existence that is one of predator and prey. The Israelites without a covenant agreement are as subject to becoming prey as any other creature. This profound awareness hovers around the sacrifice and at meals that include meat. Both the sacrificial animal and the priest on behalf of Israelites are transformed through the meal attendant on sacrifice.
One thing is clear from the text: a hastily eaten meal, a meat meal eaten without conscious intention, transforms no creature, not the human and not the sacrificial animal. It is, in effect, lawless bloodshed.