The word “tzav” itself conveys much of the basic message of Judaism and
the traditions of Torah life. Even though we live, or believe that we do,
in a world of ultimate free choice and personal autonomy, the structure of
all civilizations and societies is that we are commanded to do certain
things in life. Sometimes it is our family that makes these demands on us,
other times it is our work or profession and still other times it is the
government that intrudes upon our autonomy. There is always a piece of us,
deeply hidden within the recesses of our psyche, which rebels against
these intrusions on our private choices and lives.
The Torah recognizes this nature of ours and therefore emphasizes the
necessary requirement of commandments that can thereby insure a moral
lifestyle and a better society. Even the great Aharon, the paradigm of
human goodness and peace, the holy High Priest of Israel, has to be
commanded. The strength of being commanded – of “tzav” – is the bulwark of
Jewish life and tradition. Without that ingredient of asher tzivanu –
blessed be God Who has commanded us – there is no Judaism and ultimately
no private or public Jewish life.
All of our lives, from the time of infancy onward, we are shaped and
raised by commandments. The rabbis called this process chinuch – the
laying of a strong foundation for our lives. Thus the word “tzav” which
introduces our parsha this week is not only to be understood in its
literal and narrow meaning as it applies to the laws of sacrifices in the
Temple and to the High Priest of Israel but it is to be seen as the basic
expression of the values and mindset of Judaism in all of its aspects.
Special note should be made that this word “tzav” appears in conjunction
with the commandments regarding the sacrifice of the olah in the Temple.
The olah, unlike any of the other sacrifices, was a sacrifice from which
no human being obtained any immediate tangible benefit. It was completely
consumed by the fire on the altar.
Thus there must have been a hidden voice of hesitancy that resonated
within the person bringing that sacrifice and even within the priest that
was offering it up on the altar to be totally consumed. After all, of what
value was a sacrifice if no one would derive any immediate value from its
Because of the limited range of human logic as compared to God’s infinity
so to speak, the Torah emphasized here the word “tzav” – this is an order,
a commandment – not subject to human logic or choice. Many times in life
demands are made upon us there are illogical and sometimes appear even to
be capricious, but nevertheless they must be met.
By realizing the innate necessity in life for “tzav” – for bowing to
Divine Will and for obeying commandments, we therefore make our lives
easier to live and more meaningful as well. And we also must realize that
life at times demands an olah from us, selfless sacrifice that shows
little immediate or tangible reward or benefit. We are here to serve. That
is our ultimate life’s purpose.
Chag kasher v’sameach
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com