BODY & SOUL
Rabbi Shimon Wiggins
If this week's Torah portion could be played on a CD player, a rousing alarm would fill our ears, motivating us to take action, for it begins with Hashem telling Moses to command Aaron and his sons regarding the korban olah (elevation offering).
If this week's Torah portion could be played on a CD player, a rousing alarm would fill our ears, motivating us to take action, for it begins with Hashem telling Moses to command Aaron and his sons regarding the korban olah (elevation offering). The structure of the verse in the Torah that instructs Moses to do so is peculiar. Usually Hashem tells Moses, "Speak to the Children of Israel" or "Say unto them". However, here it uses the term "tzav - command [Aaron and his sons]". This language indicates that there is an urgency and importance regarding what will follow.
What is so important and urgent about the korban olah? Furthermore Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, quotes the Midrash that the Hebrew word "tzav" connotes urgency to action in the present and in the future. Why does this mitzvah require such strong language to ensure its fulfillment in future generations while no such emphasis exists for most mitzvot of the Torah?
The key to resolving this mystery lies in Rashi's next statement - the Torah uses the word "tzav" when a monetary loss is involved in performing a mitzvah. In our case, it is a financial obligation upon the Jewish nation to bring the korban olah twice daily. Therefore, the Torah uses the word "tzav" to strongly charge us in this mitzvah's fulfillment despite the monetary loss. But is the monetary loss really so great? After all, the entire Jewish nation shares in the obligation to bring the daily offerings. Aren't there other mitzvot that result in a greater monetary loss?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab, the late leader of the well-known Breuer's community in New York, offers an enlightening analysis of the Jewish nation's relationship to korbanot (offerings). There are two aspects to korbanot: the first is the physical animal which is being offered to Hashem. The second aspect is the intent of the person bringing the korban (offering). These two aspects are not given equal value. In Hashem's eyes, the essential aspect of a korban is the intent, motive, and attitude of the person offering it; the physical is only of secondary importance. Throughout history, it has been Man's challenge to properly combine these two aspects.
Being overly concerned with the physical aspect of the offering is completely missing the point. According to the Sforno, a classic 16th century Italian commentator on the Torah, this is why Cain's offering was rejected by Hashem (Genesis 4:3-7). Cain thought that Hashem was only interested in the physical gift. Since his intent was not to become closer to Hashem, his offering was rejected.
Overemphasis of the physical aspect of korbanot was the Jewish nation's error during the period of the first Temple. Numerous verses in the Prophets reprove the Jewish nation for merely bringing animals without any sincere intent to become closer to the Divine.
However, later during the period of the second Temple, the exact opposite occurred. The Jewish nation completely ignored the physical aspect of korbanot. They reasoned that if the essential aspect of a sacrifice is to grow spiritually, then why bother with the physical aspect. Does it really matter if the animal does not come from the best of the flock?
Once again, the Jewish nation is reproved by the Prophets. Indeed, one's intent is the essential aspect of a sacrifice. But one cannot overlook the physical aspect. As human beings composed of a body and a soul, we must serve Hashem on both physical and spiritual levels. Just as we cannot ignore the physicality of our own being, we also cannot ignore the physical aspect of serving Hashem.
Now we can understand the Torah's concern of there being a monetary loss with regard to korbanot and especially with regard to the korban olah. Since a korban olah is completely burned on the altar, and knowing that Hashem is essentially concerned with a person's intent, one could easily think that the physical aspect doesn't matter, precipitating a desire to limit the monetary expense. Therefore, the Torah stresses the word "tzav - command" which connotes urgency now and for future generations. The Torah is telling us that even when we realize the importance of sincere intent in serving Hashem, we must also be sensitive to the physical part.
A practical example of this challenge faces us everyday during prayer. If I have proper intent to accept Hashem's sovereignty, then does it really matter if I pronounce the words of prayer correctly? Doesn't Hashem know what I am thinking? The answer is a resounding yes. But there is an equally resounding imperative to serve Hashem with our physical being as well, and thus use the totality of our existence for Hashem's service.
Rabbi Shimon Wiggins is a teacher at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta.
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