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Rashi’s Mussar: Pure Inner Thoughts

Published on Thursday May 13th, 2021

This week’s parsha, Tzav, continues the description of the various types of offerings, which began last week in Vayikra. The Torah teaches us that there were different types of offerings, according to the faults incurred upon by men. They were classified as transgressions in action, in thought, pre determinedly or accidentally, etc. Each type of fault corresponded to a relevant Korban (offering).

In addition, the process of bringing an offering to the sanctuary varied, depending on the faults incurred. Some offerings were not related to transgressions. They evoked a man’s wish to show gratitude to Hashem for personal miracles or particularly good tidings, which brought joy upon men and enticed them to express acknowledgment to their Creator.

Amid the different types of offerings to bring to Hashem, the Korban “Ola” occupies a particular status for a number of reasons. The root of the term “Ola” means to elevate oneself. In fact, an “ola” offering had to totally consume itself on the altar, leaving nothing in its wake, as opposed to other sacrifices, which were partly consumed by the Kohen and sometimes, also by the person making the offering. In addition, this sacrifice was special because it expiated faults committed in thought, but did not necessarily manifest in action.

The laws related to the Korban Ola are introduced by a command addressed to Moshe Rabbeinu to “order” Aharon and his sons to execute the laws associated with this sacrifice, from which our parsha draws its name: Tzav. Rashi comments on the use of this term in the following way:  

Order (Tzav) Aharon: the term Tzav is associated with zealousness, both in the moment, as well as in future generations. Rabbi Shimon taught that the text implies immediacy, before even considering the expenditure of money involved in the offering  (Torat Kohanim).

According to Rashi, it was important to use the term “order” in order to stimulate the children of Israel to perform the commandment immediately and avoid falling into inertia or apathy, or back out, given the financial expenditures associated with this sacrifice.

In fact, according to Rashi, when men are confronted to perform a commandment that requires a financial investment, they tend to be weighed down and thus,  it is necessary to motivate them. In this case, expenditures were significant. Not only was the Korban Ola a daily one in Temple services, but the financial loss was total because the offering was burned to ashes and could not benefit anyone.

Of course, Rashi’s observations can be interpreted on various levels. They call us to reflect upon the idea that divine service is performed via concrete and material actions, requiring monetary investments. Our Avoda is not narrowed down to spontaneous emotional fervor, nor to intellectual or rational pursuits to come close to Hashem. Man is more comfortable with the concept that confines the spiritual dimension in the area of thought and emotion and which is devoid of material commitment. The spiritual dimension “should” be associated with a man’s spirit and to his relationship with God. On the other hand, a monetary pledge associated with an offering influences man’s concrete economic reality.

Of course, Judaism’s vision is more onerous. It opposes the notion of the duality of convenience, which could quickly evolve into a form of schizophrenia, whereas man divides his life into two distinct spiritual and material dimensions. The Torah encourages a man to perceive the unity of his life as a merge between the material and spiritual worlds.  

At this point, the commandments gain cognizance, inviting a man to imbue his material actions with spirituality to create unity in his existence. The mitzvot often rely on concrete acts, or on abstaining from action to create a bond with Hashem.

The Korban Ola in question at the beginning of the parsha incarnates this principle. To begin with, it is material, but it will consume itself all night to rise integrally to heaven, forging a direct and unrestricted link between heaven and earth, matter and spirit.

It is possible to further deepen this concept in our minds, by pointing out that the Ola offering expiates faults committed in thought and not in action. The Ola was thus offered to expiate all negative or impure thoughts. In fact, often a man has a tendency to consider that only thoughts leading to action need to be accounted for. But the Torah makes additional demands. It requires inner and outer coherence. It asks a man to aspire to become virtuous both inside as well as outside.

Moral human virtues are not only judged in action but al, so in man’s inner private thoughts, in the desires, he cultivates in his heart, in his intentions, and in his cravings. Of course, controlling one’s thoughts is no easy task. And it is laudable to self-censor one’s thoughts before they materialize into action. But the scope of human greatness goes beyond this.

A man may strive to reach a higher level. Through constant and regular effort, he may reach a stage where he only cultivates pure and elevated thoughts.

Significantly, the Ola offering had to burn all night; because it is precisely in the absence of natural light that immoral thoughts take center stage.

During the night, or during life periods where the Yetzer Hara assails us, we must try to burn our evil inclination in the sanctuary of our indestructible faith in Hashem, using the precious antidote He bestowed upon us: Torah study. Armed with this invincible weapon, we will not only face all challenges and confront the nefarious forces attempting to trap us, but we will let them consume themselves to ashes in the image of this Korban Ola.

Man’s vocation surpasses material achievements. His greatness is measured by the inner work he applies himself to; it is a concrete, objective and specific endeavor, even though it is invisible to the naked eye. But in following this journey, a man might succeed in accomplishing one of the critical issues of life on earth, as taught by the prophet Jeremiah (ch.9, 22-24) at the end of our Haftarah.   

Thus spoke the Almighty: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength  or the rich boast of their riches, But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises loving devotion, justice, and righteousness on the earth—for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.…”

Jérome TOUBOUL - © Torah-Box Account

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