“The Command”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this coming week’s parasha, parashat Tzav, the Al-mighty says to Moses (Leviticus 6:2): “Tzav et Aharon v’et bah’nahv lay’mor: Zoht toh’raht ha’olah,” Command Aaron and his sons saying, “This is the Law of the Olah, the burnt offering.”

In last week’s parasha, Vayikra, the Torah enumerates the general rules for all the offerings: the burnt offering, the meal offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. The second verse of parashat Tzav, however, is the first instance where the word “Tzav,” command, is used with respect to a sacrifice. The other offerings were introduced with the words (Leviticus 1:2): “v’ah’mar’tah” say or (Leviticus 4:2): “da’bayer,” speak. Apparently, when the rules of the offerings are addressed directly to the people who bring these offerings the Torah uses a softer language. Now, however, when the Torah speaks directly to Aaron and his sons to teach them additional laws that have bearing on the sacrificial service, the Torah uses the more forceful imperative, “command.”

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105, foremost commentator on the Bible)explains that the word Tzav, command, implies that the Kohanim, the priests, must be urged to be especially diligent when performing the Olah service. Furthermore, it applies not only to contemporary times, but also to future generations. Rashi also cites Rabbi Shimon’s statement in the Midrash, who argues that the priests must show particular commitment in this instance because their involvement with the Olah offering may result in a considerable financial loss to them.

Many commentators wonder why the Midrash’s reference to monetary loss is specifically associated with the Olah offering. The Taz in his volume, Divrei David, amplifies the question, pointing out that Rabbi Shimon was also perplexed as to why the word Tzav is mentioned only with regard to the Olah, the burnt offering. Shouldn’t the priests be urged to be conscientious in performing all sacrifices, not only the Olah, not only for now, but for all generations?

The Taz points to the fact that the priests needed encouragement with the burnt offering, in particular, since the offering is consumed completely by fire. This is in distinction to all other sacrifices where priests receive some of the flesh and are permitted to eat parts of the other sacrifices. Consequently, there is some doubt whether the priests will be as punctilious when dealing with the burnt offering. After all, the priests receive no personal benefit from this particular sacrifice.

The Gur Aryeh (supercommentary on Rashi, authored by Rabbi Judah Lowe, 1526-1609, the Maharal of Prague) adds to this by saying that not only do the priests not receive any benefit from the burnt offering, they may in fact suffer significant losses since, being preoccupied with the Olah, they are not free to earn their regular livelihood. Furthermore, even though the hides of the Olah are given to the priests, the hides’ value does not equal the priests’ loss of income.

The Ramban (Nachmanides, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270, Spanish Torah commentator) says that the monetary loss here is not that of the offering itself. He believes that it refers to the meal offering that priests are required to bring of their own resources to accompany each burnt offering.

Rabbi Yaakov Philber (Jerusalem scholar and educator, a leading disciple of Rav Kook), in his writings on the weekly parasha entitled Chemdat Yamim, further develops this theme. Citing the Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839, Rabbi of Pressburg) and other commentators, Rabbi Philber points out that the priests need encouragement especially with the Olah sacrifice. Because they receive so little from the Olah sacrifice, they would probably encourage the people to bring other sacrifices such as sin or guilt offerings from which the priests’ share is much greater.

The Chatam Sofer even suggests that emphasis should be placed on the first verse that states that G-d spoke to Moshe “lay’mor,” saying, indicating that there is a special mitzvah incumbent upon the priests to teach the people about the “Torah” of the burnt offering. The Talmud in Menachot 110a, cites Rabbi Isaac who asks: Why does the verse in Leviticus 7:37 state, “This is the law [Torah] of the burnt offering”? To teach that anyone who studies the laws of the burnt offering is considered as if he had already brought the offering. The Talmudic sage Ravah adds that those who study Torah are relieved of the obligation of bringing any sacrifices.

It may very well be that priests would be reluctant to encourage the people to study the laws concerning these offerings, since they know that those who study them are no longer required to bring offerings, resulting in significant financial losses for the priests. For that reason, the priests must be encouraged to be honest in their instruction, even though they may suffer financially. Ironically, it may even be to the benefit of the priests that the people sin, since they stand to profit from the sacrifices that are brought by the sinners!

Rabbi Philber points out that the “loss” may not necessarily be only financial, since the Olah ritual includes the priests’ responsibility to clean the ashes and maintain the fire on the altar. The cleaning of the ashes and the lighting of the fire might be regarded by the priests as denigrating. The priests, therefore, need encouragement in order to be prepared to sacrifice their self-esteem or honor when they fulfill their duties.

There is another important and powerful lesson that can be learned from the command given to the priests with regard to the burnt offering. There is an ongoing debate regarding the ultimate purpose of Jewish life. There are those who argue that the ultimate goal of Jewish life is to achieve joy. They maintain that one who keeps the Jewish commandments and lives a life according to G-d’s instructions will find great personal happiness and joy. In fact, they point to the Garden of Eden, the garden of pleasantness or pleasure, as the ultimate ideal of Judaism.

I would argue that Judaism stands for a value significantly higher than joy. The ultimate value of Judaism is more a sense of fulfillment than a sense of joy or happiness. When one shops for the elderly or the infirm, visits the sick, or buries the dead, it can hardly be said that one reaps much joy from the experience. Quite to the contrary. Oftentimes, the experience is not very pleasant at all. But, there is a profound sense of fulfillment that one experiences that brings pleasure to the person who has performed a kindness or good deed.

The Kohen who has to burn the entire burnt offering without taking a part for himself and his family, experiences no joy. There is little joy in cleaning up the ashes or in keeping the fire of the altar burning 24 hours a day, every single day of the year. There is no joy for the priest who teaches the people of Israel not to sin, when he knows that it will likely lead to fewer sin offerings and less income for himself and his family. But there is the sense of knowing that what he is doing is the right thing, which results in a profound sense of fulfillment.

That is perhaps why our rabbis (Kiddushin 31a) say: “Gadol ha’metzuveh v’oh’seh, yoh’ter me’me sheh’ay’no metzuveh v’oh’seh” Greater is the reward for one who is commanded to do something and does it, than for someone who does it voluntarily. No one likes to be commanded to do anything. There is always resistance to commands! But there is right and wrong. There is benefit and a detriment. But, since there is great resistance when one is told what to do, the reward is greater, because one’s natural instincts are defied. The Kohen has sublimated his normal reaction to a command–-the tendency to lash out and say “absolutely not.”

These lessons are not for priests alone, but for all people. By faithfully living by this dictum, not only is the burnt sacrifice elevated, but the priests and the people are elevated as well.

May you be blessed.

This Shabbat, the Shabbat that immediately precedes Passover, is also known as Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat. On this Shabbat, we read a special Haftarah from the prophet Malachi 3:4-24, in which we find the verse: “Behold I send to you Elijah the Prophet, before the great and awesome day of G-d.” For more information on Shabbat Hagadol, see Tzav 5762-2002.

The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Monday night, March 29th and all day Tuesday and Wednesday, March 30th and 31st. The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Sunday night, April 4th, and continue through Monday and Tuesday, April 5th and 6th.

Chag Kasher v’Samayach. Wishing all our friends a wonderful, joyous and meaningful Passover.