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The Pursuit of Happiness in the Context of Parshat Tetzaveh

Published on Friday March 26th, 2021

The Sages of the Talmud regularly debated on which verse of the Torah is the most important.

According to Ben Azai, it’s the verse (Genesis, 5, 1): "Ze Sefer Toldot Adam - This is the story of the generations of humanity", which reminds us of the common origin of men, all created equal in dignity, in the image of G-d.

According to Ben Zoma, it’s the well-known verse (Devarim, 6, 4): "Shema Israel, Ado-nai Elo-henou, Ado-nai Echad - Listen to Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one”.

Ben Nanas proposes the following verse (Vayikra, 19, 18): "Veahavta Lereacha Kamocha - Love your neighbor as yourself".

Finally, Ben Pazi quotes a verse from our Parshah related to daily sacrifices (Shemot, 29, 39): "Et Hakeves Ha Echad Taasse Baboker, Veet Hakeves Hasheni Taasse Ben Ha Arbayim - You will bring a lamb in the morning, and a lamb the afternoon ".

The reading of our Parsha, which essentially describes the clothes and the service of the  Cohen Gadol in the sanctuary does not suggest that a verse of such importance is singled out a priori. And yet, Ben Pazi reminds us opportunely that unsuspected gems and secrets are found in every verse of the Torah. It is up to man to discover these gems and bring them to light.

Returning to our verse, "You will bring a lamb in the morning, and a lamb in the afternoon," let us examine how this verse may be considered the most important in the entire Torah. Our Sages offer several explanations. On the one hand, they remind us that these daily sacrifices were financed by the Half-Shekel collected from every single member of the people, each contributing exactly the same amount as his neighbor, neither more nor less. Also, when all is said and done, social differences and economic inequalities come into consideration, but the service of the Temple reminds everyone that every man is equal before the Lord.

Moreover, the "Korban Tamid - perpetual sacrifice", performed daily, morning and evening, teaches men the virtue of regularity and discipline in spiritual matters, which overall contribute to man’s development.

Indeed, a man’s religious life comprises several daily rituals, as well as isolated moments of inspiration, emotion, or purposefulness. A man may tend to prioritize the singled out moments of elation to the daily rituals, which may be weighed down by the banality of routine.

However, our text offers a new perspective and stresses the importance of regular, acts done routinely. Indeed, moments of religious elation have to mean only on condition they lead to or are accompanied by long-term concrete commitment. They gain long-lasting meaning for a man, only under these circumstances.

This is precisely what the service of the Kohen Gadol teaches us, particularly through his "Avoda" (R. J. Sacks), which holds a place of paramount importance in our tradition, by the repetition of identical acts and procedures carried out on a daily basis. Likewise, with the Sanctuary or the Temple in absentia, the life of observant men is punctuated by the rhythm of the three daily prayers, the blessings before and after meals, Shabbat, festivals, etc. The recurrence of prayers, mitzvot, acts of loving kindness is gradually internalized in the heart of man and eventually become an intrinsic part of him. However, man must not be satisfied by performing Mitzvot automatically; he must strive to gain renewed energy, concentration, and enthusiasm.

Modern psychology has highlighted the value of "rituals" in men’s personal development. These include morning rituals, allowing men to establish the foundations for a peaceful and successful day, with the Almighty’s help. Taking some time to reflect on essential matters is also part of this ritual. The Torah has always advocated for instilling regular ritual habits, and the first law of Shulchan Aruch reminds man of the importance of the first moments of his day.

Quite often, when we question great thinkers, writers, and businessmen about the secrets of their success, they respond that they have adhered to regular habits every day of their lives. And that the latter leads to rigor in their work and add structure to their lives.

Let us remember Rabbi Akiva’s story: when he noticed how a single drop of water which fell repeatedly on a rock, eventually flattened it. Similarly, Maimonides teaches that when a man wishes to dedicate a sum of money to Tzedakah, he benefits doubly by distributing it among several needy people, rather than by handing it out to one person. Indeed, by multiplying acts of loving kindness, he grows accustomed to act generously.

So, with the help of Hashem, we must strengthen ourselves in prayer and mitzvot that structure our day and our relationship with Hashem. Day after day, they contribute to shaping our being, and bring us balance and appeasement, leading to the fulfillment and happiness in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom!

Jérome TOUBOUL - © Torah-Box Account

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