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Parashat Tzav

Dedicated Leilui Nishmatot Alyce and Maurice Ades A’h

by Albert Ades and Family

Parashat Tzav

Keep the Fire Burning!

This week, Parashat Tzav continues the discussion of the korbanot—sacrifices that Bnei Yisrael were commanded to bring to the Bet Hamikdash. The parasha begins, “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘command Aharon and his sons,’ saying, ‘this is the law of the Olah offering.’” An Olah offering is burnt entirely on the altar. Rashi comments according to Masechet Kidushin (29a), “Every place where the word Tzav—command is used, it is an indication that the Torah is giving us a command that should be carried out with zeal and immediacy for all the future generations to follow the same way.” It says in Tzav, “The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, it shall not be extinguished. A permanent fire shall remain aflame on the altar; it shall not be extinguished.” We can learn from this that we must keep a flame burning constantly within us for Torah and mitzvot. We must keep our enthusiasm as strong as on the day of our Bar Mitzvah and be careful not to fall into the trap of mediocrity. Now is the time to reinvigorate our dedication to Hashem.

Rabbi Frand says Aharon and his children were given the tremendous responsibility of the Temple Service. But the first thing that Aharon was instructed to do was “And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen pants shall he wear on his flesh, and take up the ashes to which the fire had consumed the elevating-offering on the altar, and lay them down at the side of the altar (6:3).” There is a biblical command known as “Terumat Hadeshen.” One of the first things that had to be done every morning, as part of the service, was to remove the ashes of the wood and offerings that had burnt the previous night.

The Chovot HaLevavot says that the Torah is particularly careful that people should not let things go to their heads, so they don’t become a baal ga’avah—haughty person. Here, the kohen thinks he is something special — and in fact he is something special. He is among the select few who were chosen to do the Avodat Hamikdash. The Torah, nevertheless, instructs him, “Take out the ashes!” The Torah is very sensitive to human emotions and tells Aharon to begin his day with the lowly task of taking out the ashes, so he wouldn’t think too highly of himself.

How to Thank

Among the sacrifices mentioned in this week’s parasha is the “Korban Todah-- The Thanksgiving Offering.” The Medrash says that in the future all the sacrifices will be nullified except the Thanksgiving Offering because there is always a need to give thanks.

Rav Hutner Zt’l, makes a very interesting point. “Todah--thanks” comes from the word “Hoda’ah,” meaning giving thanks. However, the word “Hoda’ah” also means to admit (as in the expression Hoda’at ba’al din k’meah edim dami – an admission of a litigant is like one hundred witnesses).

Rav Hutner says that it is no coincidence that the word for thanking and the word for admitting are the same. In order for a person to give thanks, he must be able to admit that he needed help in the first place. The first step in being grateful to someone for doing something for you is the admission that you need help and that you are not all-powerful. For example, when you thank someone for lending you twenty dollars, you are stating to the lender that you need the money. Thanking and admitting go hand in hand. Therefore, it makes sense that the Hebrew words for gratitude and admission are the same.

How do we know whether an occurrence of the word “Hoda’ah” means admission or thanks? Rav Hutner says that we need to look at the preposition that comes after the word. The word for admittance, “Hoda’ah” is always followed by the Hebrew preposition “sheh—that.” The word for thanks, “Hoda’ah”— is always followed by the Hebrew word “al—for.”

In the prayer of Amidah, one of the blessings we say is Modim, the Blessing of “Hoda’ah.” It begins with the words, “Modim anachnu lach sheh…” This indicates that the first thing we must do is not to thank G-d, but admit to Him that we are dependent on Him. Once we come to and verbalize that understanding, only then are we ready for the end of the blessing where we say “Nodeh lecha….al—We thank You…for…” Thus, we can see that Birkat HaHoda’ah is a two-stage blessing. It begins with a Hoda’ah of admission and then climaxes with a Hoda’ah of thanking at the end. One cannot thank without admittance first.

The Worth of One’s Honor

On one hand, the Torah ensures the kohen gadol does not become a baal ga’avah, but on the other hand, the Torah is also very particular about the honor of the less fortunate. There’s a very interesting Gemara in Baba Kama 92a. Every year, the people would bring the first fruit that sprouted for the season and give it to the Bet Hamikdash and present them to the kohen. The wealthy people used to bring their Bikkurim—the first fruits in golden and silver baskets. The poor people couldn’t afford golden baskets, so they had baskets made from straw.

The Gemara says that the gold and silver baskets were returned to the wealthy, but the straw baskets from the poor people were kept by the kohen. Rava asks why this rule applies, “Basar anyah azla aniyusa—the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” The rich man gives his basket and gets it back, while the poor person who can’t afford it, doesn’t get his basket back. Why is that?

The reason the kohen takes the basket is to bolster the ego of the poor person. Keeping the fruit in the basket makes it look like a more substantial gift. The Torah says, let the kohen keep the basket and let the poor person suffer the financial loss, but let him, at least, keep his pride and dignity. It’s better for the poor person to lose the basket, rather than take back the basket and swallow his pride. The Torah is very sensitive and goes to great lengths to protect a person’s honor.

I remember a person asking me about raising money for another Jew to help him make a wedding for his daughter. The fellow who approached me wanted to raise money on the other person’s behalf so that he could make the wedding. His question was that if he told people who he was raising the money for, there was no question that he could raise a lot of money quickly. The person who was in need was a well-known and respected member of the community. However, if he didn’t use the person’s name and made the collection anonymous, he would not be able to expect that much, for these types of vague requests are made several times per week. I asked my Rabbi whether he should mention the name, which would allow him to raise more money, or should I keep it anonymous and raise less money?

Immediately, the Rabbi said it should be anonymous — because a person’s pride is worth a whole lot as well. A person’s respect and honor are worth a lot. It’s even worth the monetary loss. Money can always be replaced, but kavod and pride are much harder to restore if lost.

There was a story told by Rabbi Duvi Bensoussan about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Zt’l. Years ago, right after World War II, many orphans arrived here on American shores, after being left without family. A lot of these orphans were sent to New York to learn in Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s yeshivah on the Lower East Side. The people involved with the yeshivah started collecting money to buy clothing for the orphans.

The president of the shul in the city planned a huge fundraiser, a black-tie dinner, to help collect the money these young orphans needed for clothing and essentials. Everyone from the community was invited to help raise money for them. The well-meaning president stood up in front of all the guests and began to thank the very generous benefactors for their donations for the “Orphans of World War II.”

He said, “I would like to ask the orphan boys in this crowd to stand up and give a respectful hakarat hatov to the donors here tonight.” Of course, these young boys would stand out of humility and respect, but before anyone could get up, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rosh Hayeshivah, shot up from his chair in the front of the room. When the people saw the great Reb Moshe Feinstein standing, the entire room stood up to honor him. And with the whole room standing, no one could tell who was an orphan, and who was not.

The greatness of this gadol was so incredible. With barely a second to think, he immediately reacted and thought about the honor of the children there that day. He was known to have an enormous amount of sensitivity, and just as we learned in Tzav, the Torah goes to great lengths to protect the dignity of those less fortunate.

Korbanot of Today

Though we don’t bring korbanot today, there are personal sacrifices we make all the time. For instance, a big, personal sacrifice could be when someone decides to stop eating out in unkosher restaurants. It may be a sacrifice of a social life with friends of many years. Another big sacrifice could be a woman who starts to wear skirts or cover her hair. Once a person makes a commitment like that, it’s difficult to stick to. Making any of these sacrifices comes with a lot of hesitation and fear. It’s important that when we make a sacrifice, personal or otherwise, we commit and stick to it to continue to grow. We should never be afraid of growing, because although it may seem like a sacrifice, in hindsight we will see how much it makes sense.

In Parashat Tzav, we learn that the sacrifices Hashem asks, are not just OF us, but FOR us. Hashem doesn’t need our connection, yet He wants us to grow closer to Him for our benefit. Everything He asks us to do is only for us! Hashem is perfect and Omnipotent and needs nothing from us, but we need everything from Hashem! Rabbi Fishman says to bring a korban is to bring a piece of oneself. We must have this attitude, to give pieces of ourselves over to Hashem and to serve Him with love, even in trying times. Hashem will always see our actions and reward us for our “korbanot” of today.

Accepting Criticism

Rabbi Mansour discusses the prophecy read in this week’s haftorah, which comes from the Book of Yirmiyahu. Yirmiyahu criticized the people for offering korbanot without undergoing a process of repentance and change. Parashat Tzav spoke about the sacrifices, and this prophecy in the haftorah reminds us that sacrifices alone do not suffice. In order to achieve G-d’s atonement and favor, the sacrifices must be accompanied by a genuine commitment to improve one’s conduct.

After his rebuke of the people, Yirmiyahu said “They did not listen to Me, they did not turn their ear; they made their necks stiff (7:26).” The people refused to accept the prophets’ rebuke, stubbornly persisting in their wayward conduct.

Rav Avraham Pam elaborated on the importance of humbly accepting criticism. Our instinct upon hearing it is to reject it, to insist that we’re correct and that we have no need to change anything. But if we never accept criticism, we will never grow. There are many improper things that we do of which we are unaware until somebody draws our attention to the fact that we act wrongly. Thus, we cannot possibly hope to change and become better if we refuse to accept criticism, to listen with an open mind and ear when people point out to us our mistakes.

Rav Pam related a humorous story about his father, Rav Meir Pam, who served as a Rabbi in Brownsville. Once, Rav Meir found it necessary to harshly rebuke the congregation, and delivered a speech critical of their conduct. Afterward, one of the members approached him and said, “Wow, Rabbi, you really gave it to them!”

“I had to bite my lip not to laugh or say anything,” Rav Meir later told his son. “He was exactly the person I was talking to!”

This exemplifies the natural tendency that we all have when it comes to criticism. It’s uncomfortable to admit that we act wrongly, so we prefer to deflect it, to insist that our behavior is perfect and beyond reproach, and it’s everyone else who needs to hear criticism. We must keep our minds open, humbly acknowledging that we are far from perfect, and being prepared to accept the uncomfortable criticism given to us by others. If we live this way, then we will continually grow and become better, thereby fulfilling our purpose here in this world.

May we learn from the parasha to be careful with our friend’s honor, no matter what his financial situation is. May we all be able to make sacrifices for Hashem and get closer to him. May we continue to do chessed, give tzedaka, and look out for our fellow Jew anonymously and with care. May we humbly accept criticism and constantly strive to grow and improve!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

When we do chessed or give tzedaka, do we do it anonymously, while protecting the honor of the less fortunate?

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