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Parashat Tzav 5774 — 03/12/2014

Parashat Tzav 5774 — 03/12/2014

Command Aharon and his sons, to say.. (Vayikra 6:2)

   The midrash teaches that the term to say (leimor) here is actually an instruction to Aharon and his sons “to tell the Jews to read the Torah’s verses about the olah (burnt offering), because even though they would actually offer up the olah, they would also read the parshah about the olah. They would thus merit having offered the olah and having read the verses concerning it.’

   It would appear that the explanation of this matter is as follows: HaKadosh Baruch Hu set up the Creation in such a way that by performing the act of bringing the proper sin offering, a person repairs the [actual damage created by his] sinful deed in the higher spiritual realms. On a deeper level, however, it is the Torah study that repairs the roots of the damage, when the one obligated to bring the offering reads the parshah about the offering. This is because the Torah is the very source of the offerings. Accordingly, the Creator commanded that when someone brings an offering, he also must learn the Torah’s verses about that offering.  (Chafetz Chaim)

There is a famous verse from the prophet Hosea: Let our lips make up for [sacrificial] bulls (14:3).  Now Hosea lived during the First Temple period, but he lived in the Northern Kingdom, whose kings forbade worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.  It is possible, therefore, that Hosea was proposing to his fellow residents of the Northern Kingdom that they use prayer as a compensation for not being able to participate in the Temple rituals.  It is also possible that he foresaw the destruction of the Temple and gave us a guide to allow Judaism to continue after its loss.

The Chafetz Chaim appears to be discussing the matter on a deeper level, as he is not talking about a substitution or compensation for an offering we can no longer make (he does go on to discuss this in a section I haven’t quoted).  Rather, even at a time when the Temple stood and offerings were made, it is incumbent on us to study and recite the relevant passages in the Torah, and presumably  the Talmud as well.  This is understandable when it’s our only option, but why should we have to do this when we can actually bring an offering?  Isn’t going through the procedure actually better than simply studying it?!

The Chafetz Chaim actually answers this question.  He says Torah study … repairs the roots of the damage.  Now, of course, we need to understand the answer!

What happens when we sin?  Our Sages tell us that sin creates a barrier between ourselves and Gd, and that this barrier makes us more impervious to Gd’s light than we were before.  This is the basis of the statement (Pirke Avot 4:2): For a mitzvah brings another mitzvah in its wake, and a transgression brings another transgression in its wake.  When we sin, we become that much more insensitive to the effects of sin, and the next sin is that much easier to commit, in a vicious cycle that leads us into a very bad state of life.  Anyone who has known someone who has succumbed to an addiction will know exactly what this phenomenon is all about.

The solution is also given in our quote from Pirke Avot: a mitzvah brings another mitzvah in its wake.  Just as every sin we commit makes us denser and more impervious to light, so every mitzvah we perform (that is, every action we take in accordance with Gd’s Will, not only rituals we participate in) makes us more transparent to that effulgence.  Eventually, if we can keep on this positive cycle and avoid the negative cycle, we could, theoretically, purify ourselves to such an extent that we were completely transparent, pure channels of Gd’s light into the world.  At that point, sin would be an impossibility; there would be no dross pulling us down, no impurities to cause turbulence.  While we would still inhabit and use our bodies, their earthy nature would no longer have any hold on us, any more that our clothes control our actions.

Now the ultimate mitzvah is Torah study.  Every mitzvah that we perform puts some aspect of our personality more in line with the ideal that we are supposed to be expressing.  Torah itself however, is a perfect expression of the ideal structure of creation, issuing as it does from Gd directly.  Therefore when we study Torah, by which we mean really make it part of ourselves, we are directly imbibing the ideal structure of life directly from the Source.

Here is another approach.  There are various levels to our existence as individuals.  There is action, and there is speech.  Both action and speech grow out of and depend on our thought process.  Thoughts come out of our Being: I am, therefore I think (apologies to Descartes).  The offerings correspond to the level of action, and read[ing] the Torah’s verses about the offerings corresponds to speech.  As we have discussed on a number of occasions, the language of Torah is in some way an exact parallel to the vibratory qualities of the referents of that particular passage.  Thus, the passages about the offerings somehow contain the same qualities as the offerings themselves.  Whatever effect actually, physically bringing an offering creates, the recitation of the corresponding Torah passages creates the same effect, albeit, in our case, on a smaller scale.

Deeper than recitation of the passages is truly understanding the passages, as a result of Torah study.  This corresponds to the level of thought, and once our thought patterns are aligned with the subtle reality that underlies the Torah, then our mind has expanded to encompass its own inner pure Being.  I believe that it is this alignment that repairs the roots of the damage caused by the sin.  Whatever sin we may, Gd forbid, commit, it is based on thought patterns that are out of sync with Gd’s thought patterns.  This being out of sync is caused by the limitations of our finite mind.  Offerings, recitation of Torah verses, and deep Torah study, all expand our awareness and realign it with the infinite.  The speech and action that come out of such properly aligned thinking will themselves be properly aligned – that is, not sinful at all.

Nowadays we have no Temple and, therefore, no offerings.  On the level of action we still have plenty of mitzvot, and on the level of speech and thought we still have the Written and Oral Torah.  If we make good use of what we have, Gd will surely be merciful and restore to us what we lack.

Shemoneh Esrei

Our Gd and Gd of our ancestors,

May there arise and come, reach and be seen and be pleasing

And be heard and considered and remembered,

Our remembrance and our consideration,

And the remembrance of our ancestors,

And the remembrance of Your servant, Mashiach son of [King] David,

And the remembrance of You holy city, Jerusalem,

And the remembrance of all Your people of the house of Israel before you,

For deliverance, for good, for grace and kindness and mercy, for life and for peace

On this day of <the New Moon (or) the Feast of the Matzot (or) the Feast of fWeeks (Shavuot) (or) the Feast of Booths (Sukkot)>

Remember us Hashem our Gd on it for goodness,

And consider us on it for blessing,

And save us on it for life.

And in the matter of salvation and mercy, pity us and be gracious unto us and be merciful to us,

For our eyes are turned to You,

For You are a Gd, King, gracious and merciful.

Just when you thought we had finished Shemoneh Esrei!!  There are three seasonal additions (besides the several additions during the Ten Days of Repentance that are scattered throughout the Amidah) that are worth considering.  They are Ya’aleh v’Yavo (above), which is recited on the Festivals (including the intermediate days) and New Moons, Al haNisim (“For the Miracles”), which is recited on Chanukkah and Purim (a different version for each, as we briefly recount the story of each holiday) and Aneinu (“Answer Us”) which is recited on fast days.

Our Sages tell us that each holiday in our calendar is a recreation, in miniature, of the subtle influences that held sway at the time of the original miracle.  Thus, Shavuot is an auspicious time for learning Torah, for it was at that time of year when Torah was revealed – something about that day lends itself to revelation of deep truths.  Our prayers reflect this reality.  In Ya’aleh v’Yavo, we recognize that on these special days, Gd makes Himself more available to us, as it were, and is more amenable to showering His blessings upon us.  We therefore pray that our prayers actually come before Gd – that is, that we don’t create barriers that prevent our prayers from rising up, for indeed, any interference in our relationship with Gd comes from our side, not His, Gd forbid.

I think it is significant that this prayer is inserted in the next-to-last blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, where we ask for the restoration of the Temple and its service.  As we discussed above, prayer and Torah study have been given to us to make up for the lack of the Temple, but still, it is a lack.  Now that the time is auspicious for prayer, what should we pray for?  We would have to say we should pray for that lack which, if fulfilled, will allow us to fill all our other needs, and that is the Temple and its Divine Service!

Shabbat Zachor

This week is the second of the “Four Parshiyot” leading up to Pesach.  The first was Shabbat Shekalim, two weeks ago, the Shabbat right before (or of) Rosh Chodesh Adar (Adar II in a leap year).  Shabbat Zachor is the Shabbat right before Purim, which starts right as Shabbat ends this year.  The connection is that we read as a special Maftir the verses that mandate us to wipe out Amalek.  Amalek was the son of Esau’s firstborn, Eliphaz, by his concubine, Timna, and he is described in Torah as pure, unadulterated evil.  Many centuries after Amalek’s attack at the time of the Exodus, King Saul was commanded by Gd, through the prophet Shmuel, to wipe out Amalek, people, livestock, everything.  Evil has no place in the world.  Saul proceeds to raise an army and do just that, except that he saves the King, Agag, and the choicest of the flocks to make offerings.  Shmuel rebukes him, Saul makes excuses, Gd declares that Saul will have to forfeit the kingdom.  In the meantime, King Agag has managed to sleep one last time with his wife (before Shmuel executes him – the Midrash doesn’t explain why Shmuel didn’t execute her as well), and his descendent is Haman the Agagite.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  The moral of the story – when Gd gives instructions, carry them out exactly.  Don’t pit your intellect against Gd’s, and don’t pit your sense of right and wrong, of mercy and justice, against Gd’s.