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Parashat Tzav 5777 — 04/08/2017

Parashat Tzav 5777 — 04/08/2017

Vayikra 6:1-8:36

Moshe took from the oil of anointment and some of the blood that was on the altar, and he sprinkled it upon Aharon and upon his vestments (8:30)
Moses was commanded to sprinkle them with the anointing oil, representing chesed, and the sacrificial blood, representing din. The two were mixed together, tempering the din with chesed, and then sprinkled upon Aharon and his sons. …
Why was the sprinkling [of the blood] the final step of the procedure investing them as Kohanim? The essence of the Kohanim is their being rooted in chesed, as the Mishnah states that Aharon haKohen “was a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace” (Avot 1:12). Chesed is not complete until the final stage when it has incorporated din, which will become sweetened and tempered and subservient to chesed. (Ramchal)

 The previous parashah dealt with the offerings; our parashah focuses more on the Kohanim who perform the service of the offerings. Just as we need to create a balance of chesed and din by way of the offerings, so a balance must be created in the person of the one making those offerings. Ramchal describes the need for balance between chesed and din by analogy with rainfall: too much din = drought, too much chesed = flooding. In either case, the result is destruction and disintegration.

Ramchal points out another example of the need to balance chesed and din, and the necessity for din to be subservient to chesed. This is the Akeidah, where Avraham (the paradigm of chesed) binds his son, Yitzchak (the paradigm of din), and is prepared to slaughter him at Gd’s command. The fact that Yitzchak allowed himself to be bound represents the subservience of din to chesed. I think what we mean by this subservience is that din, which is the boundaries of life, are required to channel the flow of chesed in a constructive manner. Thus Gd does not allow Avraham to slaughter Yitzchak, because boundaries are absolutely necessary for life to be lived. If there are no boundaries, no distinctions, there can be no flow of chesed, because the very concept of “flow” implies that there is a here and a there, a now and a future and a past. If there is no flow of chesed, there is no creation.

On the other hand, if the boundaries are not subservient to the chesed, they can choke off the flow of chesed, as in the case with the drought. In this case it is sometimes necessary to break down some of the boundaries so that a properly channeled flow can be restored. Alternatively, one can bring oneself into contact with the transcendental source of all chesed, which will enhance the flow directly, and in so doing, clear out any boundaries that are impeding proper flow, much as the water company periodically flushes the water mains to remove accumulated debris.

I recently came across another example of the tension between chesed and din. In the early development of the Oral Law there were two major schools / schools of thought. They were associated with the last of the “pairs” in Pirke Avot (Chapter 1) – Hillel and Shammai. The difference between them is neatly encapsulated in the famous Talmudic story of the non-Jew who came and said, “Teach me all of Torah while I’m standing on one foot.” Shammai drove him away with a builder’s measure, while Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole of Torah, the rest is commentary. Now go and study.”

In their halachic disputes, Hillel’s school (Beit Hillel) is almost always on the lenient side, where Shammai’s (Beit Shammai) is on the side of strictness – this should not be surprising given the above story. Therefore, Beit Hillel is associated with the Attribute of chesed, while Beit Shammai is associated with din. Yet the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) testifies that eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chayim – both viewpoints are the words of the Living Gd. In other words, there is room for both viewpoints, even though they sometimes are diametrically opposed. In terms of the paradigm that we are discussing here, we might go so far as to say that both viewpoints are necessary, not merely tolerated, as both chesed and din are necessary components for creation and evolution to function correctly. In other words, a correct understanding of Torah is not possible without the consideration of both positions, even if practically, in the way halachah directs us to act, only one can be followed.

The Talmud continues, v’hahalachah k’Veit Hillel – and the halachah is according to Beit Hillel. That is, in all but a handful of cases, the actual halachah is in accord with the opinion of Beit Hillel. In other words, chesed is to predominate, as we have been saying, while din plays a subordinate role. However, there is a Midrash that when Mashiach comes, the halachah will switch to being according to the more stringent view of Beit Shammai. It is often explained that this is because in the Messianic Era we will no longer be tempted to do wrong (almost as if we lose our free will) and Gd will be able to run the world according to strict justice, as He apparently originally planned. But, based on our discussion, we could perhaps argue that a preponderance of chesed is no longer needed for us to survive – instead we can handle life with a stricter set of rules, boundaries, that will actually enhance the flow of chesed into the universe. In other words, now the boundaries can do their job without needing to be extra flexible to make up for human weakness.

Aharon, of course, was inaugurated after the sin of the golden calf. At that point, the need for chesed to overpower din was especially pressing. It has remained so to this day. May Gd bring us liberation soon!
Chag Pesach Same’ach!

Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshat Tsav
The parshah continues with Gd’s commandments to Moses about the nature of the korbanot (offerings, to draw near to Gd), adds details about the blood and oil used by Moses at Gd’s command to anoint the Tabernacle and  Aaron and his sons — to bring out, reveal, the Holiness in them, Gd’s Presence.

Blood is something that flows through living organisms, that brings nourishment to every part of the organism. Fat is something that also sustains living organisms . Oil is to a seed as fat as to humans.

Anointing Oil in a way was like the fat that was offered; so was the anointing blood like the blood that was offered. Both sustained life, allowed the offerer to draw near to Gd; the anointing oil and blood establish the offerer as a priest, permanently near.

Today, we offer prayer instead of animals and their blood and fat and there is no full Temple standing and no visible Tabernacle, and there is no Kohen HaGadol to be anointed, but each of us is responsible for our own spiritual growth, though rabbis and cantors may serve as the spiritual leaders of a community.

Prayer from open hearts, pure souls, flows and provides the essence of what blood, fat and anointing oil once provided. Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, rabbinical and cantorial ordination substitute for the anointing.

Though purity of soul, openness of heart, are the essence of drawing near through prayer, preparation for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and for rabbinical and cantorial ordination helps us to master the skills of reading Hebrew, reciting it, and leading a good life, a life according to the mitzvahs of Torah, a life in which we experience ourselves and Torah at deeper and deeper levels, and begin to draw near to Gd so that we experience that we and Gd are One, Torah and Gd are One — Gd is All there Is.

Joy and Love are signs of this growth. We have a lot of this in our congregation and our community and we show strong signs of continuing. Some of the things that can help our growth are learning as we learned when we were Bar/Bat Mitzvahed, and even dipping more deeply into the well of Jewish wisdom, by learning Hebrew and cantillation better, learning more of the skills of rabbis and cantors. These seem to be lovely and joyous activities; the Internet has vast amounts that we can dip into and we can share with each other and grow together.
How lovely!
Thank you. Gd!

Baruch HaShem