Tag Archives: Tzav

Tzav: Ashes at Dawn

burnt-offering-altarHe shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.

Leviticus 6:4 (JPS Tanakh)

What lesson do we learn from the ceremonious taking out the ashes from the altar each morning?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that the taking out of the ashes that remained on the altar from the previous day expresses the thought that with each new day, the Torah mission must be accomplished afresh, as if nothing had yet been accomplished. Every new day calls us to our mission with new devotion and sacrifice. The thought of what has already been accomplished can be the death of that which is still to be accomplished. Woe unto him who with smug self-complacency thinks he can rest on his laurels, on what he has already achieved, and who does not meet the task of every fresh day with full devotion as if it were the first day of his life’s work!

“Carry forth the ashes out of the camp.” Every trace of yesterday’s sacrifice is to be removed from the hearth on the Altar, so that the service of the new day can be started on completely fresh ground. Given these considerations, we can understand the law that prescribes the wearing of worn-out garments when one is occupied with the achievements of the previous day. The past is not to be forgotten. However, it is to be retired to the background, and is not to invest us with pride before the fresh task to which each new day calls us. (Rabbi Hirsch’s commentary)

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Tzav

I have been accused of being a very simplistic, very lyrical player, and that’s okay. That just comes from the blues, which is my background. But every day you wake up and transcend. You can’t ever rest on your laurels.

Carlos Santana

I could probably find dozens of similar quotes to illustrate this single point. But it’s a difficult point. Rabbi Packouz uses this lesson to tell us that our past successes do not transfer into the present. No matter how well you’ve done in anything, even serving God, you are only as good as you are today. Serving God well yesterday and then not serving God today just means you’re not serving God. Your “laurels” are already wilting, so to speak.

Carlos Santana says that “every day you wake up and transcend.” The Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson said this:

When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness.

Each day is a new opportunity to live, to serve God, to serve other people. Each day is a new opportunity to discover something new and exciting about yourself. It is why observant Jews recite the following blessing as their very first blessing to God, even before getting out of bed in the morning.

“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King
for restoring my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness.”

But the sentiment works in another direction as well.

Success isn’t permanent and failure isn’t fatal.

-Mike Ditka
US football player and coach

failureI’ve noticed a good many people working in sales have that particular quote jotted on a sticky note or written on a white board in or around their work area. Success isn’t permanent. Rabbi Packouz and Carlos Santana both agree on that. But failure isn’t fatal, either. It only feels that way sometimes.

We were told to transcend limitations — but that doesn’t mean just jumping into the air with no idea of where you’re going to land!

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Said to one who fell into enormous debt trying to achieve miracles

Adding all this up, you might say, success isn’t permanent, serve God today as well as yesterday. Failure isn’t fatal, but don’t do anything stupid that will likely result in you failing God.

And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Luke 4:12 (ESV)

You may be eager to serve God but good intentions aside, eagerness is not enough. In fact misdirected, eagerness can get you in a lot of trouble. One horrible modern example is the “eagerness” of the Westboro Baptist Church which results only in demonstrations of bigotry and increasing the grief of the families of our fallen military personnel who gave their lives in the service of our nation.

Here’s another example of misguided eagerness and zealousness.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-5 (ESV)

Fortunately, Paul’s zealousness took a turn for the better, but he had to encounter the Master in a dramatic and startling way and be robbed of his sight before Paul could begin to see that he needed to travel in a different direction. Before that, he jumped into the air but didn’t realize where he was going to land.

Serving God is a partnership. It’s not just what you do and it’s not just what God does. We know we have a God who neither slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121:4) and He is at work continually in the lives of human beings. But He requires that we work each day in His service, and that our work be considered and mindful, not random and reckless. This is why we not only read the Bible but study it. This is why we seek out fellowship with sober and mindful believers. This is why we pray for guidance and direction from the Holy Spirit. This is why we strive to do His will rather than our will.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Luke 22:42 (ESV)

Landron Paule_Histoire Sainte_Première Alliance_Droguet Ardant_Limoges 1991We don’t often think about the Master having a choice as to being crucified. It’s an uncomfortable thought that Jesus could have just said “no,” and escaped that night as he prayed in Gethsemane rather than surrender to God’s will and death.

But he had a choice. He could have said “no.” Instead, he said, “not my will, but yours, be done.”

Jesus had served God and human beings flawlessly for three years. He was without sin, so for his entire lifetime, we have to believe he never sinned. But it wasn’t about what he did yesterday. It was always about what he was going to do next with each coming dawn. So it should be with us.

Soon, Christians and believing Jews will mourn the loss of our Lamb and rejoice in the resurrection of our King. He teaches us that there are days when we dine on ashes, but then, the ashes of the offering are removed. Then it is time for us to rise from those ashes at dawn and to serve God anew. Some days we feel as if we have failed and have been burned out. But there is a new day coming, like the resurrection from the dead. If we fail to serve God today, it is as if we are still in the tomb. If we resolve to approach the service of the King as the dawning light of a new day, then we rise with him and in some small measure, share in his glory.

Remove the ashes of yesterday’s service for it is done. The sun has set and darkness is here. Then rise from the cold and dead ash and fly up like sparks into the flaming dawn. Today is bright and clear. It is life from the dead.

Good Shabbos.

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.