Halacha for Friday 19 Adar II 5784 March 29 2024

Parashat Tzav, Parashat Parah

A ma’amar from HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, Maran’s zt”l grandson
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

The Altar and Its Fire are Indicative of the Motivation Required to Engage in Torah Study

It states in this week’s Parashah, “Hashem spoke to Moshe, telling him to command Aron and his descendants, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall remain on the altar’s hearth all night until morning, so that the altar’s fires can be ignited with it” (Vayikra 6:1-2).

Our chachamim said that the Hebrew word “tzav” - “command” means “motivating”, for the immediate moment, and for future generations. Rebbi Shimon said, “motivating others” is especially relevant when there is a financial loss (Sifra, Parashat Emor, quoted by Rashi).

This means that since there is a substantial cost for the burnt offering, for the burnt offering was totally burnt and entirely consumed on the altar,  therefore Hashem motivated the cohanim in a unique way regarding the making of these sacrifices.

One must consider the following. There are many trials in the world, however, sometimes a person experiences a trial which literally may cause them to lose their sense of proportion. Sometimes the trial effects a person psychologically, which undermines the foundations of a person’s logic and we must be prepared for such trials.

In the Jerusalem Talmud (Terumot) a story is brought involving Rebbi Yochanan who lost a purse full of coins. After it became evident that he lost the purse, the pupils came and asked him a deep question in Torah study and Rebbi Yochanan didn’t know how to answer them. They said to him, “Because you lost your coins did you lose your ability to reason? Why don’t you know how to reply?” Rebbi Yochanan said to them, “Reasoning is dependent on the heart and the heart is linked to the money. Therefore, I don’t know how to answer you at the moment!”

We have learnt that when a person has a loss, especially a financial loss, the matter may also cause them a lack of thought. Therefore, the Torah had to motivate the cohanim regarding the sacrifices, which have a financial consideration, that they are not negligent in their work, the work of heaven.

Indeed, we must consider that in the Midrash quoted by Rashi it states that the motivation which was said to Aron was for the immediate moment, and also for future generations. Indeed, at that time of Aron the cohen, indeed there were sacrifices but in what way is it relevant to say that the mitzvah of motivating was also said to future generations? After the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed, there were no sacrifices whatsoever, so to what end are we required to a unique sense of motivation?

In the work “Sha’ar bat Rabim” [a vast anthology gathered from 500 works, pub. circa 1890 by the 19th cent. scholar Rav Chaim Aryeh Leib Fenster z”l from Jedwabne, Poland], he explains this well based on the statement of our chachamim at the end of Talmud Menachot. There the Talmud explains the passuk, “This is the sin of the sin offering” (Vayikra 6:18) and “This is the law of the guilt offering” (ibid. 7:1), that whoever studies the laws of the sin offering it is as if they have offered a sin offering and whoever studies the laws of the guilt offering it is as if they have offered a guilt offering”. Rava said, “This then is the law of the burnt offering, the meal offering, the sin offering” (ibid. 7:37), that a person who has in their hands Torah study does not require neither a burnt offering, a meal offering and nor a sin offering! From this we learn that a person who merits to study Torah is as if they have offered sacrifices in the Bet HaMikdash!

Now, a person may come and say, how shall I study Torah? I need to work all day for my livelihood, and I will have a great loss if I study every day for a few hours! Even the worried mother may say, how may I send my son to study Torah? Only if I send him for a general education, there is a hope that he will be able to earn a decent living, he will be a doctor or a computer programmer, but if he studies Torah, what will become of him?

Therefore, the Torah uniquely motivates us, remember! Be enthusiastic! When a person is enthusiastic for a mitzvah, or for any other matter, they become very well focused, they don’t address any side considerations. A person who values the holy Torah, the importance of its study - about which it states about its reward, “no eye had ever seen a god - except for you” (Yeshaya 64:3), a person who places belief in their heart that there is nothing more valuable in all the mitzvot like Torah study, as it states, “It is more precious than pearls” (Mishlei 3:15), more than the Cohen Gadol who enters the Holy of Holies (Sotah 4a), likewise it states, “and all your ‘desires’ cannot compare to it” (ibid.) and our chachamim (Moed Katan 9a) explained that even “desires of heaven”, which are the mitzvot, have no value [as it were] in relation to Torah study - such a person who fathoms these things will merit and be motivated and enthusiastic to study Torah themselves and to educate their children in every capacity to merit and to be amongst those who study the Torah.

Sadly, there were times when this was forgotten from the heart. For hundreds of years, there were luminaries of Torah, and every mother dreamt that her child become a talmid chacham and they were all concerned that heaven would provide their livelihood whether in penury or abundance. But over 100 years ago when the Jewish Haskalah (Enlightenment period 1770s-1881) pervaded the holy kehillot, it sowed a catastrophic destruction and the Torah was almost forgotten from Am Yisrael. For example, in the East, in a matter of just a few years the concept of Torah study was almost extinct! For example, in the splendid city of Constantinople and in Izmir, there were Torah centres, there geonei Torah were nurtured by the thousands, pious and exceedingly holy to the extent that until today their ideas are constantly studied in the batei midrashim. Yet in a few decades the community produced numerous accountants, lawyers, doctors and engineers but most if not all of them were far from the Source of living waters [see Yirmiyahu 2:13], from the life of our holy Torah. Likewise, it happened in Tunisia, Salonika and other holy kehillot, who suffered a huge and strong blow, due to weakness and naivety, and inattention, that came due the actions and trickery by the “Maskillim” – [so-called] “Enlightened Ones”.

I remember as a child I said to Maran, grandfather zt”l that someone said how may a yeshiva student earn a livelihood, he doesn’t even have  “Bagrut”?! (A graduation certificate or a matriculation certificate from high school). Maran zt”l said, “I also don’t have Bagrut”, the Torah enriches those who study it! We believe that HaKadosh Baruch Hu feeds and provides for all, we just have to strive for it!

He once said to me. “See, that we were poor, with great difficulty we had just bread and vegetables. This is how we were, me, and also my friend the Gaon Rebbi Baruch ben Chaim, and behold baruch Hashem, ‘He raises the needy from the dust, from the trash heaps He lifts the destitute’ (Tehillim 113:7), behold Baruch Hashem we earn a living and also Chacham Baruch ben Chaim, who was destitute poor, travelled to America and became a great rav in Am Yisrael, and Baruch Hashem had a livelihood. ‘Anyone who fulfils the Torah whilst poor, will eventually fulfil it from a position of wealth’ (Avot 4:9). In our time also we see that it is so, ‘…with their own eyes they will see that Hashem returns to Zion’ (Yeshayahu 52:8).”

It is possible to say that this concept is alluded to in the continuation of the passukim [quoted at the beginning of this D’var Torah], “The burnt offering shall remain on the altar’s hearth all night until morning, so that the altar’s fires can be ignited with it” (Vayikra 6:2), which indicates to us that a person who motivates themself to study Torah, will inevitably think what will be in the future? Isn’t it worth earning a bit of money so that I will have provisions when I am old? So you should say to them, “The burnt offering shall remain on the altar’s hearth all night until morning, so that the altar’s fires can be ignited with it”. At the beginning of the burning it appears that flammable fluids are required in order to make the fire burn, however here, this isn’t a natural fire but rather the altar’s fire burns eternally, a holy fire which burns and keeps alive the hearts of those who study Torah in Am Yisrael.

How happy are we and how good is our lot that we have times where we have the ability to increase in Torah study. If in the previous generations, where genuine dire poverty was commonplace and the difficulties were numerous, yet nevertheless there was almost no kehillah in Am Yisrael where there weren’t people studying Torah, in Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Spain and Italy, France and Turkiye, Germany and Poland, and in every single place there were yeshivot, in which talmidei chachamim toiled in Torah day and night and ba’alei batim would come to Hashem’s courtyard to toil in Torah, and even women were well-versed in halachah and full and overflowing with pure yirat shamayim, if so, all the more so in these times when we have so many more possibilities for most people, surely we have a double duty, to motivate ourselves in Torah study and to strengthen the knees of Torah learners, to study and to teach, and to observe and keep.

Shabbat Shalom!

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