Category Archives: Tzav

A Life for a Life

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tzav-a-life-for-a-life/]

Ibn Ezra Leviticus: Tzav

A Life for a Life

“Behold, I do not give lectures or a little charity. When I give I give myself.” -Walt Whitman

How does a person show thanks? How does one repay an enormous debt of gratitude? How can “thank you” be meaningful?

Why, by bringing a sacrifice, of course.

At least that’s what they did in the old days. By slaughtering and burning an animal upon the altar one could give thanks to God for saving one from trouble. Ibn Ezra (on Leviticus 7:12) says that a sacrifice was the appropriate method of giving serious thanks. Anything less than that just didn’t show enough appreciation to God.

On Leviticus 8:23, he takes the concept of an animal sacrifice another step. The truth is we should be ready to lay our lives on the line for God (when called for). We should be able to give our life in His service. A significant demonstration, beyond mere lip-service was the offering of an animal. A life for a life. The animal being sacrificed was really a substitute for ourselves. It was taking our place on the altar. We needed to imagine, visualize and believe that it is our body being offered. By strongly identifying with the animal and understanding that it is dying instead of us, we can ennoble both its death and our lives.

That is a serious thank you. However, in our days we need to find less destructive and fatal forms of thanks. We have to find some other way to give of ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

Thanks to the leadership of both the Kehila of Uruguay as well as the Yavne school community of Montevideo for their extraordinary hosting. Here my thanks are a mere dedication, but I look forward to the opportunity of showing more significant thanks.

Study vs. Action

Kli Yakar Leviticus: Tzav

Study vs. Action

Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at very small expense. He whom nature has made weak, and idleness keeps ignorant, may yet support his vanity by the name of a critic.”

Samuel Johnson

I have met very knowledgeable and studious people over the years. There is one version of such educated people that for some reason always troubled me – the professional student. It’s that rare bird of academia who is constantly studying, constantly delving into wisdom or knowledge, but never taking it outside the study hall or classroom.

There is a deep line of thought throughout Jewish doctrine as to the value of study, particularly Torah study. The Kli Yakar (Leviticus 6:2) is no exception and he learns this from the extraneous phrase, “these are the laws of the burnt offering” and quotes the talmudic explanation, that “whoever has learned the laws of the burnt offering, is as if he has sacrificed the burnt offering.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Menachot 110a). In some metaphysical fashion, study, just learning the theoretical aspects of some discipline, is converted and considered the equivalent action, of having truly performed with one’s hands and body the subject being learned.

He adds, however, a notable caveat. Study is indeed a replacement for doing, but only when there exists an inability to do. When a person has the ability to perform a commandment, to do the right thing, to accomplish what is within his power, but he sticks to his books, then according to the Kli Yakar, the person didn’t do anything and his study itself, though perhaps commendable, lacks the power of action.

May we be continuous students and perhaps more importantly, may we know how to turn that study to action.

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the highly educated men of action I have met in Uruguay and particularly to Rav Tzvi Elon for his hospitality and home-made pizza.

Teach the Children, Redeem the Parents

Leviticus Hizkuni: Tzav

Teach the Children, Redeem the Parents

On the Seder night, there is an eternal service that parents need to provide to their children. They must tell them about the Exodus from Egypt. Conversely, there is a potentially greater service that children provide to their parents.

In the commands in Leviticus to the Priests there is mention of either “Kohen” or “Sons of Aaron”. Directives to Aaron himself are notably absent until Leviticus 6:2: “Command Aaron and his sons…”

Rabbi Yaakov ben Manoach (Hizkuni) notes that during the sin of the Golden Calf, Aaron the priest was an unwilling but prime facilitator. This placed him on God’s bad side. According to Hizkuni, Moses intervenes on Aaron’s behalf to bring about reconciliation by referring to Aaron’s innocent children.

The argument that he attributes to Moses is intriguing:

“God! All trees are acceptable before you on the altar except for olive trees and grape vines, however olive oil lights the candelabrum and wine is brought as a libation, the trees receive a place of honor because of its fruit. And for Aaron you will not give honor because of his sons? Immediately, God commanded Aaron and his sons…”

Hizkuni indicates that children have the opportunity to be the parent’s redemption. No matter how grievous the sin, the failing, the unfulfilled dreams, children represent the eternal hope of the next generation. A child’s deeds can not only give credit to one’s parents, but even honor and redemption.

May our parents always remain a source of instruction and our children a source of hope.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’sameach,

Bentzi

Dedication

To Michal and Rachel Nachmani. They receive well the noble teachings of their parents. And they provide great honor to their family by being their children.

Scouring Our Souls

Scouring Our Souls

In the preparations for Passover, there is an inordinate focus on cleaning. We clean the bedrooms, the floors, the windows, the refrigerator, the cabinets, the drawers, the counters, the oven, and every nook and cranny that is accessible and even some not so easily accessible.

This tradition has been attributed as the source for the popular term and activity of Spring Cleaning amongst the general population. Many Rabbis however, have taken the arduous task of cleaning our physical home and transposed it as an opportunity to get our spiritual homes in order.

This weeks’ Torah reading also reflects a similar theme.

The Torah gives a detailed list of further types of sacrifices that are brought at the Temple. A fairly common variety is the “chatat” offering, known also as the sin-offering. This category of sacrifice is utilized as a tool of repentance for a spectrum of transgressions – from seeking forgiveness for the entire people of Israel, down to the penitence of an individual.

The list of sacrifices also includes the “olah” offering group, or the elevation-offering. The “olah” is less remorseful and more commemorative, and is apparently meant to “elevate” our connection with God.

In Leviticus 8:2, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno inquires as to the mention of the “chatat” first. He says that the precedence is important. The law requires that the “chatat” is sacrificed before an “olah”.

Sforno explains that there is no sense or rationale to bring the elevation-offering before the sin-offering. Seeking to elevate ourselves and come closer to God will be difficult if there are still unrepentant or unaddressed sins on our psyche.

Sforno seems to indicate that we need to clean up our act first, or at least take concrete steps towards redeeming ourselves before seeking to rise further in our spiritual stature, and that is mirrored by the order of the sacrifices.

May we succeed in cleaning both our homes and our spirits, and may the upcoming Holiday help elevate us further.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’sameach,

Bentzi

Dedication

In memory of Mr. Ben Genauer of Seattle/Jerusalem, patriarch and grandfather of a large and wonderful clan, including my sister-in-law, Nechama Spitz. Though I only met him recently I was so struck by how a man of his very advanced years was brimming with zest for life, happiness and love of family.

At the shiva this week I learned much more about him and it seems clear that his life was one of constant elevations, kindness, generosity and achieving closeness to God in his own unique way. May he be a “melitz yosher” for his entire family and the people of Israel.