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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tzav: Resisting obligations
The instruction from G'd to "command Aaron" was unusual. The expression of "commanding" is used when G'd wants special encouragement given regarding a specific issue both at the time of original instructions and to be repeated to future generations. Compared to the other offerings, the benefits of the burnt offerings to the Kohanim were very minor. G'd knows human nature including their challenges of the evil inclination. The fact that the laws of the Torah are eternal necessitates the need for constant encouragement throughout the generations. Everyone was very motivated to donate and help in constructing a sanctuary for G'd's presence. The two basic differences between the donations used to construct the Tabernacle and the bringing of the burnt offerings are: (1) voluntary vs. obligatory; and, (2) one-time vs. ongoing. The Kohanim were obligated to teach Torah to the nation and to serve in the Temple. It is human nature to resist an obligation to perform a job. The Torah teaches that the closer one is to a person the more obligated one is to give a helping hand. Many people are ready to do something as a one-time effort rather than an ongoing commitment. People are eager to donate to construct a building but they are reluctant to pay for the upkeep and the ongoing budget of the institutions that constructed the building. People do not realize that there is eternal value of buying basic food and other necessities for Torah scholars. Every year we strengthen the foundation of the House of Israel when we celebrate the Seder night and the seven days of Passover.
It the beginning of this week's Torah portion G'd instructs Moses and says (Vayikra 6:2): "Command Aaron and his sons … 'This is the law of the burnt offering'". Rashi quotes our sages (Sifra 1:1) who note that this is an unusual expression. In general G'd instructed Moses to say the commandments to Aaron, to the Kohanim, or to the Jewish nation. This time G'd told Moses to command Aaron and his sons the instructions.
Our sages explain that this expression of "commanding" is used when G'd wants special encouragement given regarding a specific issue both at the time of the original instructions and to be repeated to future generations. G'd wanted Moses and future teachers and mentors of the Kohanim to give special encouragement regarding the instructions of the burnt offering, to explain the importance of this service and the deeper rationale behind it. Rashi concludes that Rabbi Shimon (Ibid) explains that the reason that there was a special need for encouragement with respect to this commandment was because it involves a monetary loss.
The Sifsei Chachamim explains that compared to the benefits to the Kohanim from the other offerings the benefits of the burnt offerings were minor. By the other offerings, the Kohanim who performed the service would receive specific parts of the offerings. However, the burnt offerings were totally consumed by the fire except for the hides that were given to the Kohanim.
Aaron and his sons were no doubt on a very high spiritual level, and it seems strange that they would need special encouragement to perform a commanded service. However, G'd created everyone with their evil inclination. Even the greatest people have their challenges. The Talmud (Succah 52a) teaches that the greater the person the bigger is his evil inclination, and the more difficult are the challenges presented to this individual. In addition to this we must always remember that the eternal laws of the Torah were given for all generations. The constant encouragement throughout the generations were directed to the Kohanim who would not reach the high level of Aaron and his children.
Motivated to donate
Looking back at last week's Torah portions, we see the tremendous generosity of the Jewish nation, donating every kind of material needed for the construction of the Tabernacle. Everyone was very motivated to donate and help in constructing a sanctuary for G'd's presence. As soon as the word came out that there was an opportunity to participate, women and men came with an abundance of the various materials and to take part in the actual work necessary to build the Tabernacle. As it says (Shemos 36:4): "And all the wise people came … and they said to Moses … the people are bringing more than necessary for the work that G'd has commanded."
We may wonder why no special encouragement was needed when it came to the construction of the Tabernacle. After all, the monetary cost was much greater than the lack of revenue by a burnt offering? The answer is that G'd, Who created us, understands every detail of our nature. He knows exactly when we need to be encouraged and when not. There are two basic differences between the donations used to construct the Tabernacle and the bringing of the burnt offerings. Firstly, participation in constructing the Tabernacle was a voluntary opportunity that everyone could join. The bringing of the offerings was a job designated to the Kohanim. Secondly, constructing the Tabernacle was a one-time project, whereas bringing the burnt offerings was ongoing.
There was no need to give special encouragement at the construction of the Tabernacle. People with a generous nature like to volunteer, and they feel good about their participation. On the other hand, the Kohanim were chosen by G'd to perform the service in the Sanctuary. They had no other source of earning a living since they did not own any land in Israel like the other Tribes, as it says: (Bamidbar 26:57-62) "And these are the countings of the Levites … an inheritance was not given them among the Children of Israel." Together with the rest of the Tribe of Levites, the Kohanim were obligated to teach Torah to the nation and to serve in the Temple. As we find in Moses' final blessing: (Devarim 33:8-10): "Regarding Levi he said, 'They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob and your Torah to Israel. They shall put the incense in front of You and the burnt offerings on Your altar." They did not work the fields or have any other crafts. Their livelihood was dependent on the twenty-four kinds of donations provided by the other Tribes as outlined in Parashas Korach (Bamidbar 18:8-32). These donations were a payment for their service, as it says (ibid) "For this is a wage for your service in the Tent of Meeting."
Job loses excitement
Although the Kohanim were split into twenty-four groups, and the Temple service was rotated with each group serving one week at a time, so that most Kohanim would only serve at the Temple twice a year for one week at a time, nevertheless it was still a job. When something becomes a job, it loses the excitement generated by volunteering and needs special encouragement. We often find both adults and children who are eager and ready to volunteer and help for anything outside their own home. The exact same activity requires a lot of encouragement and prodding when it needs to be done in their own house. The difference between doing something outside the home and inside the home is that outside the home it is considered volunteering and doing a good deed in helping an individual or the community, whereas inside the home it is considered a job to be done. It is human nature to resist having an obligation to perform a job because in this situation a person is being told by another individual what to do. A volunteer, on the other hand, has no obligation to participate and decides by himself whether or not to participate in the task at hand.
Charity at home
The Torah teaches that the closer one is to a person the more obligated one is to give a helping hand (see Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 251:3). This obligation is often neglected. People are frequently more willing to give a helping hand and donate money to causes that may be worthy but should take second place in priority to family and local obligations. The old saying of "charity begins at home" is very much in line with the laws of the Torah.
One-time vs. ongoing
The second difference between the donations for the construction of the Tabernacle and the burnt offerings is that the construction of the Tabernacle was a one-time donation whereas the burnt offerings were an ongoing service. Many people are ready to do something as a one-time effort rather than an ongoing commitment. To keep something up on an ongoing basis requires extra-encouragement. This teaches us an important lesson in our daily lives: Every Jewish home is a potential mini Sanctuary. When a young couple gets married there is an initial excitement of building a home in the best possible way. Each spouse is ready to give the marriage their best. However, for a marriage to be successful, it is necessary to have the ongoing encouragement to be ready for daily offerings and sacrifices.
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, the Rabbi of Slutzk, adds a further insight explaining that it is easier to raise funds for the construction of buildings than other charities. He relates in his commentary Oznayim LaTorah (Shemos 25:2) that there was a big meeting in Warsaw for the benefit of the Lithuanian yeshivot. It took place between the two World Wars, a time of great poverty worldwide. Especially the poor Jewish communities of Poland and Lithuania were suffering in this difficult time. A journalist who attended to cover the big meeting stood up and asked a question: "How could it be justified that Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin was building such a magnificent Yeshiva at the same time as so many Yeshiva students all over Lithuania were suffering from hunger?" Rabbi Sorotzkin answered him in good Jewish fashion with another question: "Why did G'd instruct Moses only to collect donations for the Tabernacle from those who were motivated on their own to donate. As it says, (25:2): 'And they shall take for Me a donation from every man whose heart motivates him.' Whereas everyone was obligated to participate to give one-half shekel for the sacrifices?" Said Rabbi Sorotzkin: "The answer is that people are eager to donate to construct a building but they are reluctant to pay for the upkeep and the ongoing activities for which the building was constructed."
Buildings vs. food
Rabbi Sorotzkin continued to explain that everyone would agree that the offerings brought in the Tabernacle were more important that the Tabernacle itself. The actual purpose for constructing the Tabernacle was to have a fixed place where to bring the offerings. Nevertheless there was a greater eagerness to be part of this construction than to participate in the expenses of the daily offerings. There was no need to obligate the people to donate towards building the Tabernacle. However, when it came to bringing the offerings there was a need to make it obligatory to make sure that everyone would participate. Concluded Rabbi Sorotzkin: "This is how it is with the Yeshivot as well. Obviously, the study of Torah is the purpose and the buildings are only a means to an end to provide a place for the teaching and study of Torah. Nevertheless, there is a greater eagerness to donate to a building campaign than for the daily sustenance of the students of Torah. People feel that by donating a building, a room, even a brick, they have done something eternal. They do not realize the eternal value of buying basic food and other necessities for Torah scholars thus enabling them to continue the study undisturbed." The message of Rabbi Sorotzkin is clear. The money that was given to build Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin would not have been available to feed the Yeshiva students throughout Lithuania.
Safeguard eternal future
As we are approaching Passover, it is beautiful and amazing to see how so many Jews are ready to spend large sums of money to make sure that they have what it takes to make a kosher Passover. In addition, Jews worldwide eagerly participate in the Kimcha De' Pischa collections to provide for the needy to make sure that they also are able to celebrate this beautiful holiday in the best possible way. There is no need for special encouragement for these expenditures and these donations. Although no one is constructing physical buildings for Passover, the secret behind this generosity may be an inner awareness that the foundation of the House of Israel is the belief in the exodus from Egypt. As G'd said when He revealed Himself at Mount Sinai: (Shemos 20:2) "I am HASHEM Your G'd Who took you out of Egypt from the house of slavery." As with all buildings, the initial ceremony is at the laying of the foundation. Every year we strengthen this foundation when we celebrate the Seder night and the seven days of Passover. And every Jew who cares about Jewish continuity understands that we could not make a better investment to safeguard our eternal future.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network