"And He has Commanded Us"
The entire thrust of Torah life lies in the word tzav which informs us as
the title of the parsha of this week. Tzav means command, order, instruct.
It allows little leeway for individual creativity in the performance of
ritual and commandments.
The values of Torah life come with an instruction manual. And just as the
wonderful gadgets of technology in our lives require adherence to the manual
that accompanies each device, in order for it to operate effectively, so too
the Torah in the spiritual realm of Judaism requires adherence to specific
It is not for naught that any and all of the blessings that were composed by
the rabbis to be recited before the performance of a mitzvah contains the
word v’tzivanu – and He has commanded us, for the word mitzvah itself, which
we usually translate in terms of being a good deed, literally means
something which has been commanded.
It is this recognition of being commanded, of following the instruction
manual of the Torah in a committed and punctilious fashion that defines
Judaism throughout the ages. In today’s world there are many who seek to
“improve” upon the Torah. They have written a new and ever changing manual
of instructions using such sweet sounding terms as “relevant” “progressive”
“attractive” to describe prayer services, Torah commandments and Jewish values.
The fault line in Jewish life today remains as it always has been this
acceptance or rejection of the concept of v’tzivanu. But Jewish history
teaches us that none of this tinkering with that concept survives the
passage of time and the ever changing mores of human society. It is only the
old instructional manual that still stands and preserves us after all else
has passed from the scene.
The concept of v’tzivanu rubs us the wrong way. We are by nature rebellious
against authority imposed upon us by others. From infancy onward we demand
to do it all by ourselves, when and how we wish. Therefore we can sense what
the rabbis meant when the said that the people of Israel accepted the Torah
at Mount Sinai and they felt that the mountain hung over their heads as a
terrible and forced burden.
Here they were going to be commanded to do things a certain exact way, to
make the Torah’s values supreme over their own personal desires, logic and
way of life. But they were warned then that abandoning the Torah and not
following the instructional manual would bring personal and national
problems, tragedies, defections and harsh judgments.
The mountain still hangs over our heads as we are witness to this fact in so
many facets of our lives. So again we are brought full circle to the idea of
tzav and v’tzivanu. The concept of tzav as promulgated in this week’s parsha
is not addressed solely to Aaron and his descendants but it is part of the
heritage of Judaism for all Jews and for all who wish to witness Jewish
continuity in their families and the Jewish people as a whole.
Rabbi Berel Wein