Parasha Tzav


Parasha Tzav

Our Parasha “Tzav” starts with a law concerning the fire, which was burning on top of the altar, over which the Kohanim were burning the sacrifices.  At the base of this fire were at least two pieces of wood that burned permanently, despite the fact that sacrifices were made only during the daytime.

 “And the fire shall burn on the altar; it shall not go out.”  And again, immediately the Torah returns and warns: “A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall not go out”

This seemingly unnecessary repetition led the Hakhamim of the Talmud to explain these verses and learn another rule from them: the fire burning on the altar was not exclusive for sacrifices only. It also served two daily actions – lighting the Menorah and setting fire to the incense which spread a good smell in the temple.

At first glance, these parashot in the book of Leviticus and the laws accompanying them seem irrelevant in our time when there is no temple, nor menorah, nor incense. But nevertheless, the Torah is a Torah of Life, and its messages are supposed to be relevant to every person and every generation.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch who lived in Frankfurt in the 19th century explains:

The actions done in the temple are mostly symbolic, representing different ways of worshiping God by man.  Thus, the Menorah symbolizes light and purity. Its flickering flame symbolizes life, like the soul in a person. That is why we light a candle for the soul of our dear people who have passed away because “The soul of a person is like God’s candle.” Also, the incense which emits a pleasant smell – symbolizes a special spiritual state and a noble atmosphere.

On the other hand, the offering of the sacrifices is an act in which it is difficult to find a spiritual symbol.  It is physical work accompanied by the not so pleasant smell of butchering.

Rabbi Hirsch says, the same way that the fire which burns the spiritual parts, like the Menorah and the incense, is taken from the same fire, which is used to offer the sacrifices, our deeds that are not necessarily spiritual but material, if they are done with purity of heart and with a proper intention, they too become holy and noble.

We all have a tendency to disconnect our spiritual experiences, noble ideals, and values, from the physical and material realm.  Sometimes it seems to us that only through complete detachment from everyday life will we be able to isolate ourselves and experience those sublime spiritual experiences.  But the Torah guides us to the opposite: to derive the spiritual experiences precisely from those material actions.

This is because when we disconnect spiritual experiences from everyday life, their impact, too, remains disconnected from life.  A person can have a wonderful experience of great significance, but if he does not know how to apply it to life, it will not affect nor improve his life.  It is only through the connection of our spiritual experiences to life, which makes it possible for us to realize the hope and the role assigned to each of us to realize our goal and purpose at Tikun Olam.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Refael Cohen

Leave a Reply