Tzav 5776: Quality, Not Quantity
When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and no one will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.
— Steve Jobs
We are often told that a way to become a better Jew and grow closer to G-d is to increase the number of mitsvot we do in our lives. Yet, the mindset and feelings one must have, and the context in which a mitsva must be performed, are rarely, if ever, discussed. We have overwhelmingly come to believe that G-d is interested in a quota of deeds rather than the heart and mind that drive them.
Perashat Tsav does not, on the surface, help this. We read of a great many intricacies involving all manner of offerings that were commanded to be brought before G-d in the Bet haMikdash. One could mistakably understand that G-d was primarily interested in the allocation of offerings rather than the hearts that brought them.
It is Tsav’s Haftara that emphatically clarifies that all we do with G-d, including the intricate commandments, is to be primarily defined in terms of the relationship and mutual commitment that we share with Him. It is in this context that the deeds and details find their meaning and value:
When I freed your forefathers from the land of Egypt I did not speak with them or command them concerning offerings or sacrifice! But this is what I commanded them: Listen to my voice, that I may be your G-d and you may be my people. (Jer., 7:22-23)
We never find our prophets and hakhamim encouraging the people to add mitsvot to their repertoire as a way of repentance or achieving atonement and closeness with G-d.
It is not quantity they teach us but quality.
One can do little or one can do much, but it is only valuable if his heart is aimed towards Heaven. (Berakhot, 5b)
The Holy One desires the heart. (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemuel I, 124).
These statements by the Hakhamim draw directly from such indications in the Torah and Prophets. Before Moshe can give over a single commandment he is warned by G-d that it must be first qualified with a preamble announcement to the entire nation; an introduction meant to define the terms for all that was to come afterwards.
Now Moshe went up to G-d. And G-d called out to him from the mountain saying: Say thus to the House of Yaakov, tell the children of Yisrael: You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me. So now, if you will hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be a special treasure from among all people, for all the earth is mine; And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
These are the words that you are to speak to the children of Yisrael. (Ex., 19:3-6)
G-d insists that the people hear the mitsvot in the context of a covenant and perform them exclusively in that context. When done mechanically or for ulterior motives, there is no longer love and no longer a mitsva. It may resemble a mitsva in its act, language and laws but there lacking the quality of care it is only an analogue to a true mitsva.
An act of love is naturally joyful. It is done with excitement, alacrity and passion. And thus, every mitsva — every commandment from G-d — is best seen as a charge to enthusiasm. The opening word of our parasha signals this and sets its tone.
‘Tsav’ (literally, ‘command’) always only means ‘with enthusiasm’! (Sifra, Tsav, I)
Focusing on numbers deadens the passion of the soul by looking at accomplishing the mechanics of the actual deed rather than the dedication to the individual for whom the deed is performed. When one cares about who an act is done for the act is lifted and becomes profoundly meaningful by that care.
Tsav teaches us that although deed is essential in a strong and loving relationship there is also a need for protecting and keeping the reasons for which the deed is performed. The Torah tells us both to keep/protect and to act: Lishmor veLa’asot. A real relationship with G-d includes both lishmor (to protect) and la’asot (to do). When we protect a mitsva we are not performing it per se but guarding its value. We are ensuring that the heart, mind and proper context are available for it.
Doing without keeping leaves a relationship empty. True dedication to mitsvot is knowing what it means to do a mitsvah with joy, love, excitement, and in covenant. A mitsva is a chance of a lifetime to connect to G-d. Anything less, while bearing a close resemblance, is simply not a mitsva.
The Daily Olah, a burnt offering. Fire burnt
perpetually on the altar (6:1-6)
The Olah described in Vayikra is a freewill offering of
an individual whereas the Olah here is the continual
offering brought every morning and evening in the
name of the community. It is therefore called the
Tamid – perpetual offering.
14b Directions concerning the Mincha, a grain based
The daily Mincha that is to accompany the Tamid.
15 The special Mincha for Kohanim (6:12-16)
The regular Kohanim offer a special Mincha on the day
they are installed but the Kohen Gadol offers one
everyday: half in the morning and half in the evening.
This is the Mincha Tamid.
16 Directions for Chatat, a sin offering (6:17-23)
Instructions are given for the Kohanim about where to
kill the Chatat, when it can be eaten, who can eat it and
where it is to be eaten.
17 Directions for the Asham, a forfeit offering (7:1-10)
Unlike Vayikra, no mention of why the Asham is given,
only how the Kohanim should offer it.
18 Directions for the Shelamim, a peace offering (7:11-27)
Toda, ‘thank offering’ is a kind of Shelamim offered
when delivered from sickness or danger (7:12-15).
Regular Shelamim for when you either vowed to make
an unspecified offering or when you just want to i.e. as
a freewill offering (7:16-21). No eating of animal fat or
19 Kohanims’ share of the Shelamim (7:28-38)
Fat for altar while breast and right thigh for Aharon and
sons (7:28-34). Offerings sum up (7:35-38).
20a Priesthood sanctification: Aharon & sons (8:1-36)
According to Rashi this section was spoken seven
days before the final construction of the Mishkan and
is a detailed account of exactly what Moshe did to
consecrate Aharon and his sons into the priesthood.
All those involved dutifully carry out God’s
instructions to the letter.
Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS