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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tzav: Cautious and eager to fulfill the commandments
The Elevation Offering, more than any of the other offerings, needed extra encouragement due to the financial loss involved. The kohanim throughout the generations would need special encouragement to bring this offering despite that they would not have any personal benefit from its meat. Whenever an opportunity for a mitzvah presents itself, one should fulfill it immediately. We must be cautious when appropriate and be eager when appropriate. "And remove the Satan from in front of us and from behind us." The Talmud mentions the character trait of cautiousness before eagerness. If one is so eager to cross the road and does not take the necessary precautions, it could be very dangerous. In general, the preferred way to determine what is right is by asking one's rabbi or mentor, or even another lay person whose opinion will be more objective than the person involved. We must always remind ourselves that the fulfillment of any commandment is so much more valuable than any money we can save. "[This] could be compared to someone going into a candy store to buy a snack with a million dollar cheque." There is hardly any Festival that is so widely observed as the Festival of Pesach. We must make an effort to apply the same eagerness to observe all other commandments whenever they present themselves.
In the beginning of this week's Parsha it says (Vayikra 6:1-2), "And G'd said to Moses … 'Command Aaron and his sons … this is the law of the Olah [Elevation] Offering.'" Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim (1:1) that points out that it is unusual for G'd to instruct Moses to command someone. Commonly, G'd would instruct Moses to speak and give over G'd's instructions. Says the Toras Kohanim, the Torah uses this expression to encourage a special eagerness in fulfilling this commandment. The Toras Kohanim explains that this special eagerness would be needed by future generations. It adds that the Elevation Offering, more than any of the other offerings, needed extra encouragement due to the financial loss involved.
In his commentary Gur Aryeh, the Maharal explains that the kohanim exhibited great personal sacrifice as they dedicated themselves to the service in the Temple. During the forty years that the Jewish people sojourned in the wilderness, there was not much difference between the kohanim and the rest of the people. Everyone was sustained by the miracles of Manna from Heaven and water from the well of Miriam. However, once the Jewish people settled in the land of Israel, the members of every tribe received a portion of the land to develop and earn a livelihood from. Not so the Tribe of Levy. The Kohanim and Levites were expected to elevate themselves and live a life of spirituality in the designated towns given to them. They did not own land of their own but were sustained by the various tithes and donations provided by their fellow Jews. Parts of the donations given to the kohanim were specific cuts of meat from the offerings. There was one particular offering where the kohanim did not receive any portion of the meat. All of the meat from the Elevation Offering was burnt on the altar. This, says the Maharal, is the financial loss the Toras Kohanim refers to. The kohanim throughout the generations would need special encouragement to bring this offering despite that they would not have any personal benefit from its meat.
This encouragement is appropriate at this time of the year when Jewish households worldwide are preparing for Pesach. All the extra expenses involved in getting the special foods for the holiday can be a real financial sacrifice for many families. It is interesting to note that in Parashas Bo (Shemos 12:17) it says: "And you shall safe-guard the matzos." The simple meaning of this refers to the caution needed to be taken when one produces matzah to make sure that it does not turn into chametz. However, Rashi quotes a homiletical interpretation from the Mechilta that points out that the word matzos can also be read as mitzvos. This comes to teach us, says the Mechilta, that just like one should safeguard the matzos, not to leave them to become chametz, so one should safeguard the mitzvos. Whenever an opportunity for a mitzvah presents itself, one should fulfill it immediately.
Cautious and eager
This verse thus teaches both to be cautious when appropriate and to be eager when appropriate. In his famous work, The Path of the Just, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, paves a way for character building step by step. He bases this on the Talmud (Avodah Zara 20b). The Talmud presents a list of various character traits, of which the first two are to be cautious and to be eager. Rabbi Luzatto (Chapter 6) explains that these two traits really go hand in hand. Cautiousness should be applied primarily in connection with prohibitions, where one must be on a constant watch not to fall into any trap set up by our evil inclination. But the trait of eagerness should be applied when it comes to the fulfillment of any of the Torah obligations. There our evil inclination will try to slow us down and stop us from fulfilling the commandments.
In front and behind
We allude to these two approaches of the evil inclination in our evening prayer where we ask of G'd: "And remove the Satan from in front of us and from behind us." This can be understood to mean that when the Satan, through our evil inclination, encourages us and pushes us from behind to do what is against the Torah law, G'd should assist us to be cautious and carefully evaluate what we are about to do. On the other hand, when our evil inclination stands in front of us, and tries to stop us from fulfilling our obligations, then G'd should assist us to be eager to do His will.
Cautious before eager
It is important to note that the Talmud mentions the character trait of cautiousness before eagerness. Proceeding with eagerness without being cautious first can be dangerous. As the Talmud (Pesachim 50b) teaches: "Sometimes the eager person will gain and sometimes the eager person will lose." Rabbi Aaron Levin (Ha'drash veha' Igun) explains that this lesson is symbolized in the production of matzah. The Talmud (ibid 42a) teaches that the water used to bake matzos should be drawn the night before one bakes. After the water has been kept overnight, the next morning one is ready to bake the matzos with the necessary speed and eagerness.
Crossing the road
This can be compared to a person who is in a situation where it is not clear what is the right course to take. Time, place, and other details play a role to determine what one should do. Just as when one has to cross the road, one has to be cautious before crossing and make sure that there are no cars coming. Once that has been determined, then one can cross quickly before the situation changes. So it is with many situations in life. If one is so eager to cross the road and does not take the necessary precautions, it could be very dangerous.
Ask one's rabbi
In general, the preferred way to determine what is right is by asking one's rabbi or mentor, or even another lay person whose opinion will be more objective than the person involved. When Rabbi Chaim of Valozhin wanted to open his yeshiva he first consulted with his great teacher, the Vilna Gaon. The Vilna Gaon advised him not to proceed. When Rabbi Chaim approached the Gaon a second time, he let him go ahead. Apparently, the Gaon felt that Rabbi Chaim was too eager the first time he asked him.
Commandment more valuable
Ideally, we should fulfill every commandment with the proper eagerness to show our appreciation for the opportunity to do G'd's will. But this is not always easy, as our evil inclination designs other priorities for us. This can be especially challenging in times of financial difficulties, when we start to wonder whether we can afford the extra expenses to live a life of Torah observance. However, we must always remind ourselves that the fulfillment of any commandment is so much more valuable than any money we can save. This is what the Mishnah teaches in Pirkei Avos (2:1): "One should always evaluate the gain of fulfilling a commandment against the financial loss incurred."
Million dollar cheque
The following anecdote clearly illustrates the value of fulfilling just one commandment. Rabbi Shmuel Greineman assisted the Chofetz Chaim in many of his activities. During the Great Depression, when the financial situation for the Jewish population in Eastern Europe was extremely difficult, many Torah scholars were barely able to put food on the table. One day, Rabbi Greineman approached the Chofetz Chaim with an idea he had thought about. He suggested that he would forgo his reward for putting on tefillin for one day. He would pray to G'd that in lieu of this G'd should provide sustenance for all the needy people. When the elderly sage heard his assistant's proposal, he smiled and said, "You have no idea what you are talking about. What you are suggesting could be compared to someone going into a candy store to buy a snack with a million dollar cheque." The Chofetz Chaim understood the real value of fulfilling a commandment. If we manage to internalize this message then it would be a lot easier for us to be eager to fulfill any commandment, even if it involves a financial loss.
There is hardly any Festival that is so widely observed as the Festival of Pesach. Even people, who are otherwise far removed from observing the commandments, will at great expense make sure to have shmura matzos, kosher wine and all other things needed to celebrate the Seder night in the proper fashion. The only explanation for this is that when they grew up they themselves experienced such an eagerness by their parents and grandparents. This in turn fostered by them a similar approach, as they try to convey this feeling to their own children and grandchildren.
Eager for all commandments
We must make an effort to apply the same eagerness to observe all other commandments whenever they present themselves. In this way, future generations will live as proud Jews every day of the year. If we would only merit this reward for fulfilling a commandment it would already outweigh manifold the cost and effort expended to fulfill it.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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