Say to Aaron and his sons: “These are the regulations for the sin offering: The sin offering is to be slaughtered before the LORD in the place the burnt offering is slaughtered; it is most holy.” — Leviticus 6:25
The Torah portion for this week is Tzav, which means “command,” from Leviticus 6:1–8:36, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 7:21–28; 9:22–23.
If you’ve ever seen a picture of a Sabbath table, you may have noticed that among the wine and candles is special bread called challah. You may have also noticed that the challah is always covered by a pretty cloth. Have you ever wondered why?
One reason given is so that the challah will not be “embarrassed.” You see, Judaism prescribes a hierarchy when it comes to blessing our food. Generally, we bless bread before wine, but on the Sabbath, we bless the wine first. Since the challah may feel shamed by being set aside for the sake of the wine, we cover it so that it doesn’t “see” what is happening.
Like every child who has ever heard that explanation, you are probably thinking, “Come on, Rabbi! Everyone knows that bread doesn’t have feelings!” And you are right. However, people do. The Jewish sages felt that being sensitive to people’s feelings was so important that they extended this sensitivity to other things as well.
The idea is that a person who is sensitive to the feelings of a loaf of bread will certainly be thoughtful when speaking about the person who baked it. As we sit down to our Sabbath meal, we begin by remembering how important it is to speak to, and about, those sharing the meal with us with sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and kindness.
In the Torah reading of Tzav, we are commanded: “The sin offering is to be slaughtered before the LORD in the place the burnt offering is slaughtered . . .” Out of sensitivity to sinners, God ordered that their offering be prepared in the same place as the burnt offering. This way no one would know who had sinned and who was merely bringing a burnt offering. God goes out of His way to make sure that no one would be embarrassed, and so should we!
The sages teach that embarrassing someone in public is akin to murder. That’s how seriously we take sensitivity to others. When someone is embarrassed, he or she loses self-respect and that’s almost as bad as losing a life. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how important it is to be careful with the feelings of others. We might be “just joking around” or not thinking at all. But Scripture is telling us that we have to be cognizant of other people’s feelings all of the time.
Just as we cover our bread every Friday night for the Sabbath, we must also shield our brothers and sisters every single day. We must protect them from any shame or embarrassment, and instead clothe them with beautiful words of encouragement, praise, and love.