Tzav: Burning in the Dark

The fire upon the altar shall be kept burning upon it, it shall never go out. Each morning, the kohen shall burn wood upon it.

Leviticus 6:5

Although a supernal fire from heaven always burned upon the altar, nevertheless, it was imperative that an additional fire be provided by man.

Talmud, Eruvin 63a

The Ramban states (Commentary on Vayikra 1:9.) that the offering of an animal upon the altar was able to achieve atonement for a sinner because the person realizes that everything transpiring with the animal should have been happening with him, were it not that G-d in His kindness permitted the substitution.

It is thus understandable that all aspects of an offering, including the burning of fat and limbs, find corollaries in terms of man’s spiritual service.

How does “burning the fat” apply to our spiritual lives?

Fat is indicative of pleasure. (See Gittin 56b.) The lesson here is: “All fat is to be offered to G-d” (Vayikra 3:16.) – all of a Jew’s pleasure and satisfaction should be offered to G-d.

Commentary on Torah Portion Tzav
from the The Chasidic Dimension series

There’s a sort of “communication” that happens in substitutionary sacrifice. In saying that the body, the sinews, the flesh, and the fat of this animal is burning in your place because of your sins, God was showing the Jewish people the dire consequences of their sins. Extending that to we who are Christians, by showing us a picture of a Christ crucified and “abandoned” (Matthew 27:46) by God, He lets us see the ultimate consequences of our own sins. By continuing to show us that horrible image after we have come to faith and trust in God through the Messiah, we can see that any wrongdoing we commit as a “saved” person is throwing pain, suffering, blood, and death right back in the face of the Master.

If God so loved the world and the world continues to sin, what does His love mean to us anyway?

To be fair (if fairness comes into the equation), human beings are very frail and easily distracted. As I mentioned in yesterday’s morning meditation, we are all in search of a language and a method by which we can reconcile the spiritual and the “animal” within each of us. We strive to reach heaven while wallowing in the mud. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) We will never be “perfect people” this side of paradise and so our “fruits” will never be perfect either. I think it’s the struggle toward holiness that defines us just as much as the result.

…it is possible to explain the analogies of day and night on a deeper plane, enabling us to understand why offering the fats during the day is a positive mitzvah, while offering them at night serves merely to preclude sin.

In addition to the interpretation mentioned above, day and night can be seen as analogies for a person’s spiritual state. Day refers to a time when one feels the G-dly light in his soul. This applies not only when he is involved in the observance of Torah and mitzvos, G-d’s will and His wisdom, (Tanya , ch. 4.) but also when involved in material activities. Even in the worldly sphere, he serves G-d, following the dictum: (Mishlei 3:6.) “Know Him in all your ways.” To cite an example, when tzaddikim partake of food, their eating serves a higher purpose than humanity’s ordinary efforts at refinement; “A tzaddik eats for the satisfaction of his soul.” (Mishlei 13:25.)

Night, by contrast, refers to a condition in which a person does not feel G-dliness. Therefore his need to engage in material things generates a constant struggle to serve G-d rather than indulge his desires. Moreover, even when he is involved in studying Torah and observing its mitzvos, he must labor to remain properly motivated. For the law is enclothed in mortal intellect, and the mitzvos involve material entities and the potentials of our animal soul. And so it is necessary to strive that one study lishmah, only for the sake of the Torah. Similarly, our observance of the mitzvos must be for G-d’s sake, and not for our own.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
Lekutei Sichot: Tzav
“Day and Night in Our Divine Service”
Adapted from Sichos Yud-Tes Kislev, 5711

I think a lot of folks qualify as “night people” by the above interpretation and, sad to say, that includes me. I admire people who can “Know Him in all your ways,” but that behavior eludes me. I think it requires that I somehow repair the disconnect between the spiritual and the secular within me. I say that with the awareness that to “repair” something means it must have worked properly at some point in the past. However, in my case, maybe I never made the connection in the first place. Maybe I have never “known Him in all my ways.”

In that case, are all of my efforts in attempting to “know Him,” while constantly walking into walls in the material world, in vain? Maybe I am the one who is burning on the fire and I just haven’t let myself smell the aroma of my own incineration yet. Maybe like Peter and the two sons of Zebedee at Gethsemane, I’m also asleep at the switch, present in the garden because of my spirit but completely unconscious because of my “flesh.” In “practicing stillness,” I have “stilled” myself into a spiritual nap, and in my nightmares, I can’t escape the maze of my so-called day-to-day existence.

On today’s daf we find that, for certain sacrifices, one who is poor can use a bird instead of an animal. The birds permitted for use are either a pigeon or a dove.

In Bava Kama, Rabbi Avahu learns a lesson from this. “One should be among those whom others pursue rather than among those who pursue others. We learn this from the birds used when bringing a sacrifice: pigeons or doves. There are no birds which are more pursued than these.”

Ramban, zt”l, explains why specifically these birds are used. “There are no birds more readily available than pigeons or doves. As our sages say regarding the animals used for sacrifices, he brings a sheep or a goat since no other animals are more readily available. This is so that a person should not have to hunt to bring a sacrifice. God wanted us to use big pigeons since they never take another mate. Similarly, Yisrael is God’s nation and will never leave Him for anything. Doves will take new mates however. That is why we find that only small yonim are qualified to be used as a sacrifice.

“Our sages tell us that if a person takes eggs or chicks out of the nest, most birds will never take them back. The yonah is an exception to this rule—it will never abandon its eggs or offspring. This symbolizes, that we will never leave God no matter what duress we may have to endure. As the Midrash writes, Jews would say, ‘Either let me live as a Jew, or crucify me!'”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Doves”
Kereisos 10-1

According to the Daf, a Jew must be allowed to live as a Jew in every detail of day-to-day existence because it is that lifestyle that expresses his worship of and devotion to God. When the church has historically demanded (and forced) Jews to abandon their Judaism in order to “be saved” and to worship the Jewish Messiah (though the church did not depict him as such in that bygone era), they were asking the impossible. They were asking a Jew to abandon God for the sake of worshiping the Christian Jesus. As the Daf concludes, “As the Midrash writes, Jews would say, ‘Either let me live as a Jew, or crucify me!'”

It’s that level of devotion in the face of human tribulation that escapes me. The ability to rise above adversity, the arguments about religion, politics, and what it means to be good or bad, given the various biases in the world is (as I see it) impossible for me to achieve. Where is the “one small still voice” and the “peace beyond all understanding” in a world of controversy surrounding whether the Jewish murder victims in Toulouse are more or less worthy of compassion than shooting victim Trayvon Martin in Florida? Why does the world insist that I choose and why should I care what the world insists upon? Why can’t I see beyond the arguments of the moment and extend my perspective to the world as God sees it? Does God not care equally for all of the hurt, and the fearful, and the dying?

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

-John Donne
No Man Is An Island

This is a very old poem, and yet it presents the modern day humanity with a perfect image of how we should feel about one another. The Master said that the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) were to love God and to love our neighbor, and he forever, inexorably linked the two mitzvot. If we love God, we must love each other, but that requires that we step outside of ourselves, our petty squabbles, our biases, our wants, our needs, and our humanity. To love God requires a mystical connection to the supernatural, ephemeral essence of God, the Ayn Sof, the Infinite, the Unique One. The Jewish Messiah provides the conduit we non-Jews require to make that happen, but it’s hardly automatic.

I sometimes wonder if these “day people” are truly real or even possible, and it’s only a matter of some people being better able to hide their “night” persona better than others? Yesterday, while sitting at the bottom of the abyss, I optimistically reached out for the first rung in my metaphorical “Jacob’s ladder” of prayer and dared to imagine I could climb up and achieve a “light at the end of the tunnel” experience with God.

Today, it seems like my reach has greatly exceeded my grasp and nothing but wishful thinking and presumptuous arrogance allowed me to imagine I could go that far. But restructuring probably isn’t an event that can be achieved in a moment of brilliance. It’s rather a process that occurs as slowly as the movement of the constellations against the velvet dark sky.

So here I am, a night person in the dark, sitting with my Bible and my humanity, wrestling with that other part of me created in God’s image. They don’t like talking to each other, and although perfectly aware of each other’s presence, they can barely see or even stand each other. So I try to light a candle to give off even a tiny modicum of light in the hopes that humanity and divinity can come to some sort of accord, but is that light the illumination of my inner holiness, or is it just my flesh burning on the pyre?

By our nature, we are aflame. We burn with anxiety, the angst of survival in a hostile world.

To channel this fire, there is meditation and prayer. With these, we fan a fire of love for that which transcends this world. One fire swallows another and we are set free.

Liberated from fear, we face the world no longer as slaves, but as masters.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Fire Burning Fire”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Good Shabbos.



2 thoughts on “Tzav: Burning in the Dark”

  1. “Sometimes a man
    will start crying in the middle of the street,
    without knowing why or for whom.
    It is as though someone else is standing there,
    holding his briefcase, wearing his coat.
    And from beneath the rust of years,
    come to his tongue the words of childhood:
    “I’m sorry,” and “God,” and “Do not be far from me.”
    And just as suddenly the tears are gone,
    and the man walks back into his life,
    and the place where he cried becomes holy.” (Yehoshua November: God’s Optimism)

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