Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Beyond Pshat by Rabbi Yosef Kalatzky: Parshas Tzav

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 Beyond Pshat
       by Rabbi Yosef Kalatzky
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Parshas Tzav
4. Clarity is Achieved Through Torah Study

The Torah states, “This is the law of the elevation-offering, the meal offering…” The Yalkut cites the opinion of Raish Lakish who interprets this verse to mean, “One who engages in Torah study, it is as if he brought the elevation offering, meal offering, as well as the other offerings.” Rava poses a question to Raish Lakish, “How can you extrapolate from the verse that Torah study is the equivalent of bringing offerings when the verse itself is needed to teach us the laws pertaining to these offerings.” Rava explains that the Torah is communicating to us, “One who engages in Torah study does not need to bring any of the offerings.” If each specific offering (such as the elevation offering, meal offering, and sin offering) are intended to correct a specific spiritual failing, how is it possible that one who engages in Torah study is not in need of them? Additionally it is difficult because Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) tells us, “There is no tzaddik in the land who does good and does not sin.”

The statement of Shlomo HaMelech that there is no tzaddik who is perfect, means that the tzaddik has some degree of spiritual failing. However, it does not mean to say that the tzaddik has violated an area of Torah that would require him to bring an offering to rehabilitate his spirituality. Such a transgression would be the result of inadvertently violating the Shabbos or inadvertently benefiting from something that was consecrated. Rather, Shlomo HaMelech’s statement is referring to the tzaddik whose service to Hashem could have been performed at a more advanced level and it was not.

Thus, Rava’s statement that one who engages in Torah study does not need to bring an offering is not speaking about a person who had transgressed; rather, a person who engages in Torah study is given a level of clarity through the Torah, which does not allow him to fail - even inadvertently.

Spiritual failure emanates from a lack of clarity. If a person truly appreciated and internalized the reality of sin, one would not fail- just as one understands the destructive effect of fire and does not put his hand in it. A person who understands that he is walking through a minefield will be especially careful with every step not to accidentally step on a mine (realizing its consequences). Similarly, through the study of Torah, one achieves a level of clarity to appreciate the wrong at a depth that will not allow him to transgress. Thus, Rava explains that a person who engages in Torah study will not be in need of the offering because he will not require spiritual rehabilitation.

During the period of the First Bais HaMikdash (Temple), the Jewish people violated the three cardinal sins of adultery/incest, idolatry, and murder. The introduction to the Midrash Eicha tells us that Hashem had said at the time of the First Temple, “I wish that they (the Jewish people) would have abandoned Me but kept My Torah. Because the innate illumination in Torah would have ultimately led the Jews back to the good.” Even if a person falls to a level where he transgresses the three cardinal sins, the study of Torah has the innate ability to give him clarity to appreciate the wrong that he had perpetrated – thus causing him to repent. What would be considered proper and sufficient study of Torah to bring this about?

Ramchal explains that the level of Torah study referred to in the Midrash is when one’s time and mind are completely occupied with Torah study. A person, who is infused with Torah thoughts continuously, will ultimately be impacted in a way that despite his behavior, he will be given a level of clarity that will cause him to do teshuvah (repentance). Torah is inherently enlightening.

The Gemara in Tractate Taanis tells us that if one sees a Talmud Chacham (Torah Scholar) angered because of a halachic issue (Jewish law), one should understand his vantage point. Torah is referred to in the verse as “fire.” The Talmud Chacham, who is a repository of that Torah, contains something comparable to fire. Rashi explains this statement to mean that because of the Torah that the Talmud Chacham possesses he has a greater capacity to sense the wrong of the transgression than the one who did not study Torah. His reaction is only because he has difficulty tolerating the wrong. It does not emanate from the negative characteristic of anger.

Torah study causes one to have a greater capacity to be sensitive to spirituality. It brings about a level of clarity, which protects the person from doing wrong and gives him a greater appreciation for spiritual opportunity (mitzvos). This is what Rava means when he says that one who is engaged in Torah study does not need to bring an offering.

5. The Miracle of Free Choice

The Torah tells us that there had to be a continuous fire on the Altar (Mizbeiach) and it was forbidden to extinguish it. The Torah repeats the commandment to not extinguish the fire twice. Rashi cites Chazal who state that if one were to extinguish the fire one would be in violation of two Negative Commandments. Why is the Torah so adamant about not extinguishing the fire on the Mizbeiach?

The Gemara tells us that during the First Temple Period there was a heavenly fire on the Altar that consumed the offerings. This was in addition to the human fire that was brought every day. This heavenly fire was the same fire that consumed the offering that Aaron had brought when he began officiating. This fire signified the Shechina (the Divine Presence) entering into the Mishkan.

The Gemara in Tractate Zvachiem tells us that when King Solomon inaugurated the Temple there were 25,000 offerings that were brought in one day and the fires on the Altar consumed them all. It is not possible that an earthly fire could consume that number of offerings in such a short period of time with that level of intensity. In actuality, what consumed the offerings on the Altar was a heavenly fire. This was a miracle.

There is a Positive Commandment to add firewood to the Altar a number of times on a daily basis in order for the fire to burn continuously. It was possible that the manmade fire that was brought by the Priest could be extinguished. However, the heavenly fire, because its origin was supernatural/from G’d, it could not be physically extinguished. Chinuch explains that the reason the Torah insisted that the fire on the Altar not be extinguished was to conceal the miracle of the heavenly fire that burned continuously on the Altar. If one were to witness the heavenly fire (which was G’d’s Presence) in such an obvious manner one’s power of free choice would be taken away. Since the purpose of man’s existence is to maintain a state of free choice to give him the opportunity to grow spiritually, then revealing G’d’s Presence through extinguishing the man made fire would be contrary to that objective.

Chinuch points out that we find similar circumstances at the Splitting of the Sea. The Torah tells us that before G’d split the Sea, there was a strong Easterly wind that blew throughout the night, which concluded with the splitting of the Sea at daybreak. Chinuch explains that the prelude of the Easterly wind that preceded the splitting of the Sea was necessary to maintain a state of free choice. If one were to choose to deny G’d’s involvement in the splitting of the Sea, one could attribute this miracle to the natural phenomenon of the strong wind. If one chooses to be irrational, G’d provides him with the setting to express that irrationality. This is for the sake of maintaining free choice.

The Mishna in Perkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) tells us that there were ten revealed miracles that could be witnessed every day in the First Temple. For example there was a tree that grew golden fruit. According to Chinuch’s explanation of why the fire on the Altar was not to be extinguished, why did these revealed miracles not impact on our free choice? These miracles were even more revealed than the fire that burned on the Altar because all of the Jewish people witnessed them; whereas the fire on the Altar was seen only by the Priest. The non-Priest was not permitted to enter the sanctuary beyond the point of eleven cubits. Why should witnessing the fire have a greater impact then any of the other miracles vis-à-vis free choice?

When the Jewish people stood at Sinai and said “Naaseh V’nishma (we shall do and we shall listen),” regarding the Torah, G’d brought heaven to earth and the entire Jewish people witnessed His Presence. Why were we privileged to this level of revelation? The Jewish people were at such a high level of spirituality because they had said “Naaseh V’nishmah.” This made them worthy of this unique level of revelation. However, after the Sin of the Golden Calf, the Jewish people were no longer worthy of being able to witness His Presence (the fire of Sinai.)

After becoming unworthy as a result of the Sin of the Golden Calf, the Jewish people were no longer able to witness G’d’s Presence directly. The Mishkan needed to be erected in order to act as the intermediary between the Divine Presence and the Jewish people. Thus the heavenly fire in the Mishkan was concealed not because it would undermine free choice, but rather because the Jewish people were no longer worthy to witness it directly.

After the destruction of the First Temple, the Jewish people became even less worthy. G’d’s Presence was no longer there even in concealment. Because of our current spiritual level, we no longer perceive revealed miracles nor do we see miracles in nature. We must therefore increase our Torah study and observance in order to merit perceiving G’d within the state of concealment.
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Beyond Pshat, Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Torah.org.
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.
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