This past week, the Washington Convention Center was transformed into the largest gathering place of Jews and supporters of Israel. Over 18,000 (mostly) Jews gathered together to show support of Israel. One would think that the presence of so many Jews in one building would de facto create a synagogue – a sacred gathering place. However, in order for that to really be the case, there would have to be a dedication ceremony like the one described in this week’s Torah portion.
In Leviticus 8:31-32, we read the following: “Moses said to Aaron and his sons: Boil the flesh at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and eat it there with the bread that is in the basket of ordination — as I commanded: Aaron and his sons shall eat it; and what is left over of the flesh and the bread you shall consume in fire.”
Commentators have asked, which part of this ritual actually constituted the moment when the space was consecrated – was it the boiled meat, the bread basket or the broiled meat?
The first text to address this issue was the Talmud in the tractate of BaBa Qama. Hillel taught, “Be a disciple of Aaron the High Priest a lover of beef and a griller of beef, feeding your fellow creatures and bringing them closer to the Torah (BT BBQ 3b).”
A few generations later, Rabban Gamliel taught: “A congregation that has not boiled its meat has not fulfilled its obligation (BT Yeboilit 27a).”
Of course, we also preserve the teaching of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah in Pirkei Avot (3:21): “If there is no grain, there is no Torah. Without Torah, there is no grain.” This, of course, comes to teach us that it is the bread that makes the sacred space.
So, how does a modern Jew synthesize these three disparate traditions?
First we turn to other words of Hillel as preserved in the Passover Haggadah, “Thus Hillel was accustomed to do when the Temple was still standing: he used to place together some of the Paschal offering, unleavened bread and bitter herb and eat them as one.” The Paschal offering was always roasted – not boiled. So, in this instance, we combine the roasted meat and the bread to make a BBQ sandwich. The House of Shammai says that one can fulfill one’s obligation with a hot dog on a bun (see BT Kalba Hamma 2b).
But what to do with the teaching of Rabban Gamliel? We get the answer in the tractate of Bubbe Maises in which Rabi Flay teaches that Rabban Gamliel was talking only in the case of when a member of the community was ill and the purpose of boiling the meat was to get the soup. So, there’s no contradiction with Hillel. The important thing is that whether one boils or roasts, one must use a “kli barzel – כלי ברזל“ or iron vessel.
In the final verse of this week’s portion, we read: “Aaron and his sons did all the things that the Lord had commanded through Moses (Lev. 8:34).” And upon completion of the grilling and consuming, Aaron emerged from the Tent of Meeting as Israel’s Top Cohen.