1. What are We Naturally Inclined to do?
The Torah states, “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Urge (Command) Aaron and
his sons saying: This is the law of the elevation-offering: It is the
elevation-offering [that stays] on the flame, on the Altar, all night until
morning…” Why did Aaron and his sons need to be “urged” more than any other
mitzvah in the case of the elevation offering? Rashi cites Chazal who
explain that if there is a situation in which there is a loss of money, one
needs to be urged to participate. In the case of the elevation offering,
the limbs and the fats are burnt throughout the night, which requires the
presence of the Kohen (Priest). The Kohen does not receive a portion of the
elevation offering (unlike other offerings) because it is totally consumed
on the Altar. Thus, the Kohen might feel that it is not worth his while to
be awake all night to ensure that the limbs and the fats are burnt. Even
though the Kohen’s compensation is the merit of having performed the
mitzvah, nevertheless, the Torah tells us that Hashem had to tell Moshe to
“urge” Aaron and his sons to do so. How do we understand this?
The Gemara in Tractate Megillah tells us that because the Jewish people were
not motivated regarding their performance of mitzvos. They remained in their
natural state of inertia and thus did not sufficiently engage in Torah
Study. It was because of the lack of Torah study that they did not merit
the protection of Hashem and were subject to the decree that was issued by
Haman to annihilate the Jewish people. What is the cause of one’s lack of
When one appreciates the value of a deed, he will be motivated and can
easily overcome the natural state of inertia. However, if one does not
perceive the value, he will not engage in that activity and will therefore
need to be urged to act.
The Torah states, “This is the law of the elevation-offering…” The Baal
HaTurim explains in his commentary that if one studies the verses pertaining
to the elevation offering it is valued by G’d as if he brought that
offering. The Gemara in Tractate Menachos tells us that if one studies and
fervently recites the portion of the Torah pertaining to any offering, it is
valued as if the person had brought that offering.
The Baal HaTurim explains that there is a commonality between the Torah and
the elevation offering. The Torah is referred to as “fire” just as the
elevation offering is burnt in fire. In addition, offerings are referred to
in the verse as “bread” and a verse in Mishlei refers to the Torah as
“bread.” Just as the world cannot survive without bread, which is the
staple of life, it cannot survive without Torah.
The Gemara in Tractate Berachos tells us that one cannot acquire Torah
without personal sacrifice for its own sake. However, if when one truly
appreciates the value of this endeavor, then he does not perceive it as a
sacrifice, even if he did so initially. Aaron and his sons needed to be
“urged” to perform the elevation offering because its true value was not
perceived. So too, initially one needs to be “urged” to study Torah because
its value is not understood. The Prophet tells us that all existence is
sustained through Torah study. There is no mitzvah that has greater value
than the study of Torah itself. As our Rabbis teach us, “Talmud Torah
Keneged Kulam - the study of Torah is equivalent to all the mitzvos combined.”
When one brings an offering, it is referred to as a “sacrifice.” The
sacrifice itself is a process that rehabilitates spirituality when it has
been diminished because of inadvertent sin. If this is the case, why is it
considered a sacrifice? When one pays a doctor for a remedy that heals, it
is not considered a “sacrifice.” How do we understand this? Evidently, the
Torah is teaching us that recognizing one’s failing and feeling remorse is
the sacrifice of the individual. Bringing an offering is an expression of
that sacrifice. Similarly, Torah study can only come about through
sacrifice. Since one naturally values the material more than the spiritual,
if one overcomes that predisposition and recognizes Torah study to be
primary, then that is true sacrifice. Therefore, regarding Torah study and
the elevation offering, one needs to be “urged” to make these sacrifices.
2. The Consequences of Our Actions
The Torah tells us that the same sin, which is transgressed by two
individuals, will have different ramifications based on the status of the
person. For example, if an ordinary Jew sins, the blood of the sin offering
is sprinkled on the outer Altar (which was located in the courtyard).
However, if the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) transgresses the same sin, the
blood of the sin offering is sprinkled in the direction of the Paroches
(curtain), which was located in the inner sanctuary (covered sanctuary).
The level of sanctity in the Bais HaMikdash (Temple) intensifies as one
approaches the Holy of Holies, which was located in the far end of the
covered sanctuary. Thus, the service performed in the covered sanctuary has
greater spiritual ramifications.
The Chofetz Chaim writes in his work Shmiras HaLoshan (Guarding One’s
Tongue) that the spiritual state of the person transgressing the sin will
determine the magnitude of the consequence. He explains that everything in
this world is a reflection of the spiritual world. Just as there is the city
of Jerusalem on the terrestrial level, there is a Jerusalem on the spiritual
level. Just as there is an outer courtyard in the Bais HaMikdash, which was
a location of holiness, so too there is a courtyard on a spiritual level,
reflecting the physical one. Just as there is an inner covered sanctuary in
the Bais HaMikdash, which was considered holier than the outer sanctuary
(courtyard), identically there is a spiritual inner sanctuary reflecting the
When the ordinary Jew sins, he causes a diminishment in the outer spiritual
sanctuary, which corresponds to the courtyard of the Bais HaMikdash. Thus,
the sprinkling of the blood that is required to bring about the required
spiritual correction must only be done in the outer courtyard.
The spiritual failing of the Kohen Gadol, whose dimension of spirituality is
greater than that of the ordinary Jew, has a more far-reaching consequence
which even diminishes the spirituality of the inner sanctuary. Therefore,
in order to effect rehabilitation for the Kohen Gadol, the blood of his sin
offering must be sprinkled in the direction of the Paroches.
The Chofetz Chaim tells us that on Yom Kippur when the Kohen Gadol enters
the Holy of Holies, the first service that he performs is that of the
incense offering, which is referred to as the “cloud of the Ketores
(Incense).” The Gemara explains that the incense offering atones for
loshan hara (evil speech). The spiritual ramifications are so severe and
profound that it detracts from and undermines the most advanced realms of
spirituality. Thus, the atonement that is needed for its correction, takes
place in the Holy of Holies. Therefore, the Chofetz Chaim explains that
when one wishes to engage in the teshuvah (atonement) process, one should
first repent for the sin of loshon hara – (unproductive negative speech).
If one has violated this sin he must first attend to what is most serious,
followed by the other issues that need to be corrected.
The Kli Yakar cites the Midrash, which states that a person who is arrogant
and haughty deserves to be judged by fire. The Kli Yakar explains that this
does not mean that the person deserves to be burnt for his arrogance (G’d
forbid), but rather the burnt offering atones for arrogance. The Torah
refers to the burnt offering as an elevated offering, which is consumed by
fire. When the offering is burnt, the smoke rises and is similar to the one
who is arrogant and has an elevated self-image.
The Kli Yakar points out that Torah juxtaposes the removal of the ash from
the Altar to the law of the burnt offering. What is the significance of this
juxtaposition? He explains that the correction for arrogance is humility.
Only when one humbles himself is the atonement complete. Avraham, our
Patriarch, was one of the most humble people to ever live. He referred to
himself, as “I am only dust and ash.” Thus, the juxtaposition of the
removal of the ash to the burnt offering indicates that in order for one to
be truly atoned for arrogance, he needs to be humbled. However if after one
brings the offering he remains arrogant, his offering has little value.
The Gemara tells us that the arrogant person undermines G’d’s place in the
world. The person, who believes that he is the cause of his own success and
everything that surrounds his life, is actually denying the existence of
G’d. In his mind, G’d exists only to do his own bidding. Thus, based on
what the Chofetz Chaim had said, the behavior of this type of person
decreases the spirituality of all existence. Therefore, the fire of the
elevation offering moves upward towards heaven in order to correct the
diminishment that was brought about through arrogance. In order for the
burnt offering to be fully effective, one needs to internalize the
seriousness of the failing and change one’s behavior.
3. How Does One Recognize Truth?
The Torah tells us that Moshe installed Aaron as the Kohen Gadol (High
Priest) and his sons as Kohanim (Priests) before the entire assembly of the
Jewish people. The Torah states, “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Take Aaron
and his sons with him, and the garments…Gather the entire assembly to the
entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Moshe did as Hashem commanded him; and the
assembly was gathered to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Moshe said to
the assembly, “This is what Hashem commanded to be done…”
It is important to note that the assembly of Jewish people was comprised of
several million people. How is it possible that all of these people were
able to gather in a relatively small space at the entrance to the Tent of
Meeting? Rashi cites Chazal who explain that this was one of the few
instances in Jewish history that G’d performed the miracle that gave a
limited location an unlimited capacity thus enabling the entire Jewish
people to stand before the entrance to the Tent. Because of this miracle
the entire Jewish people was able to witness the installation of Aaron and
his sons as Kohanim.
After the Jewish people assembled at the entrance to the Tent, Moshe spoke
to them saying, “This is the thing that Hashem commanded to be done (to
initiate Aaron and his sons)…” Why did Moshe need to tell the Jewish people
that he was acting in accordance with the commandment of Hashem? Was it not
obvious since they all witnessed the miracle of the entire Jewish people
being contained in a limited location? Nevertheless, Moshe needed to tell
the Jewish people, “This is what Hashem commanded to be done.” How do we
The Jewish people witnessed many supernatural events. Some of them, as
miraculous as they may have been, caused the Jews to be misled and to
succumb to idolatry. For example, when Moshe ascended to receive the Torah
in heaven, the Jewish people were told that he would return after forty days
and forty nights. However due to a misunderstanding of the calculation,
Satan caused the Jews to believe that Moshe had passed away and would never
return to them. Rashi cites Chazal who say that Satan blackened the sky
(during the daytime period) and caused the Jewish people to see in it the
image of Moshe lying on his funeral bier. It was the first time in history
that the sky blackened in the middle of the day, which indicated to the
Jewish people that Moshe had actually died. This event caused them to feel
abandoned because their leader was no longer with them. Thus, they were
vulnerable to the influence of idolatry (sin of the Golden Calf).
Therefore, the fact that the entire Jewish people experienced the miracle of
being gathered in a limited location was not sufficient proof that the
communication to them was in fact the Word of Hashem. It was only after
Moshe told them explicitly “This is what Hashem commanded to be done” that
the Jews believed that the installation of Aaron and his children was the
Word of G’d. It is possible to witness many miraculous events that may seem
to emanate from the Word of G’d; however, this may not be the case.
Two of the thirteen tenets of Jewish faith state, “I believe with absolute
faith that the Torah in its entirety was given by Hashem to Moshe Rabbeinu.
I believe with absolute faith that the Torah is immutable and it will not be
exchanged or altered in any way.” Every letter of the Written Torah and the
entire Oral Law is the Word of Hashem, which was transmitted by Moshe to the
Jewish people. If something was not transmitted by Moshe, who was the
appointed spokesman for G’d, then it should not be accepted.
Regardless of the magnitude of miracle, or whether the world becomes dark
and an image of Moshe’s remains appears it has no meaning whatsoever
vis-à-vis the Word of Hashem. The limited location before the Tent assumed
an unlimited capacity, yet until Moshe told the Jewish people that it was
the command of G’d, it was not to be taken as such.
4. Clarity is Achieved Through Torah Study
The Torah states, “This is the law of the elevation-offering, the meal
offering…” The Yalkut cites the opinion of Raish Lakish who interprets this
verse to mean, “One who engages in Torah study, it is as if he brought the
elevation offering, meal offering, as well as the other offerings.” Rava
poses a question to Raish Lakish, “How can you extrapolate from the verse
that Torah study is the equivalent of bringing offerings when the verse
itself is needed to teach us the laws pertaining to these offerings.” Rava
explains that the Torah is communicating to us, “One who engages in Torah
study does not need to bring any of the offerings.” If each specific
offering (such as the elevation offering, meal offering, and sin offering)
are intended to correct a specific spiritual failing, how is it possible
that one who engages in Torah study is not in need of them? Additionally it
is difficult because Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) tells us, “There is no
tzaddik in the land who does good and does not sin.”
The statement of Shlomo HaMelech that there is no tzaddik who is perfect,
means that the tzaddik has some degree of spiritual failing. However, it
does not mean to say that the tzaddik has violated an area of Torah that
would require him to bring an offering to rehabilitate his spirituality.
Such a transgression would be the result of inadvertently violating the
Shabbos or inadvertently benefiting from something that was consecrated.
Rather, Shlomo HaMelech’s statement is referring to the tzaddik whose
service to Hashem could have been performed at a more advanced level and it
Thus, Rava’s statement that one who engages in Torah study does not need to
bring an offering is not speaking about a person who had transgressed;
rather, a person who engages in Torah study is given a level of clarity
through the Torah, which does not allow him to fail - even inadvertently.
Spiritual failure emanates from a lack of clarity. If a person truly
appreciated and internalized the reality of sin, one would not fail- just as
one understands the destructive effect of fire and does not put his hand in
it. A person who understands that he is walking through a minefield will be
especially careful with every step not to accidentally step on a mine
(realizing its consequences). Similarly, through the study of Torah, one
achieves a level of clarity to appreciate the wrong at a depth that will not
allow him to transgress. Thus, Rava explains that a person who engages in
Torah study will not be in need of the offering because he will not require
During the period of the First Bais HaMikdash (Temple), the Jewish people
violated the three cardinal sins of adultery/incest, idolatry, and murder.
The introduction to the Midrash Eicha tells us that Hashem had said at the
time of the First Temple, “I wish that they (the Jewish people) would have
abandoned Me but kept My Torah. Because the innate illumination in Torah
would have ultimately led the Jews back to the good.” Even if a person
falls to a level where he transgresses the three cardinal sins, the study of
Torah has the innate ability to give him clarity to appreciate the wrong
that he had perpetrated – thus causing him to repent. What would be
considered proper and sufficient study of Torah to bring this about?
Ramchal explains that the level of Torah study referred to in the Midrash is
when one’s time and mind are completely occupied with Torah study. A person,
who is infused with Torah thoughts continuously, will ultimately be impacted
in a way that despite his behavior, he will be given a level of clarity that
will cause him to do teshuvah (repentance). Torah is inherently enlightening.
The Gemara in Tractate Taanis tells us that if one sees a Talmud Chacham
(Torah Scholar) angered because of a halachic issue (Jewish law), one should
understand his vantage point. Torah is referred to in the verse as “fire.”
The Talmud Chacham, who is a repository of that Torah, contains something
comparable to fire. Rashi explains this statement to mean that because of
the Torah that the Talmud Chacham possesses he has a greater capacity to
sense the wrong of the transgression than the one who did not study Torah.
His reaction is only because he has difficulty tolerating the wrong. It does
not emanate from the negative characteristic of anger.
Torah study causes one to have a greater capacity to be sensitive to
spirituality. It brings about a level of clarity, which protects the person
from doing wrong and gives him a greater appreciation for spiritual
opportunity (mitzvos). This is what Rava means when he says that one who is
engaged in Torah study does not need to bring an offering.
5. The Miracle of Free Choice
The Torah tells us that there had to be a continuous fire on the Altar
(Mizbeiach) and it was forbidden to extinguish it. The Torah repeats the
commandment to not extinguish the fire twice. Rashi cites Chazal who state
that if one were to extinguish the fire one would be in violation of two
Negative Commandments. Why is the Torah so adamant about not extinguishing
the fire on the Mizbeiach?
The Gemara tells us that during the First Temple Period there was a
heavenly fire on the Altar that consumed the offerings. This was in addition
to the human fire that was brought every day. This heavenly fire was the
same fire that consumed the offering that Aaron had brought when he began
officiating. This fire signified the Shechina (the Divine Presence)
entering into the Mishkan.
The Gemara in Tractate Zvachiem tells us that when King Solomon inaugurated
the Temple there were 25,000 offerings that were brought in one day and the
fires on the Altar consumed them all. It is not possible that an earthly
fire could consume that number of offerings in such a short period of time
with that level of intensity. In actuality, what consumed the offerings on
the Altar was a heavenly fire. This was a miracle.
There is a Positive Commandment to add firewood to the Altar a number of
times on a daily basis in order for the fire to burn continuously. It was
possible that the manmade fire that was brought by the Priest could be
extinguished. However, the heavenly fire, because its origin was
supernatural/from G’d, it could not be physically extinguished. Chinuch
explains that the reason the Torah insisted that the fire on the Altar not
be extinguished was to conceal the miracle of the heavenly fire that burned
continuously on the Altar. If one were to witness the heavenly fire (which
was G’d’s Presence) in such an obvious manner one’s power of free choice
would be taken away. Since the purpose of man’s existence is to maintain a
state of free choice to give him the opportunity to grow spiritually, then
revealing G’d’s Presence through extinguishing the man made fire would be
contrary to that objective.
Chinuch points out that we find similar circumstances at the Splitting of
the Sea. The Torah tells us that before G’d split the Sea, there was a
strong Easterly wind that blew throughout the night, which concluded with
the splitting of the Sea at daybreak. Chinuch explains that the prelude of
the Easterly wind that preceded the splitting of the Sea was necessary to
maintain a state of free choice. If one were to choose to deny G’d’s
involvement in the splitting of the Sea, one could attribute this miracle to
the natural phenomenon of the strong wind. If one chooses to be irrational,
G’d provides him with the setting to express that irrationality. This is
for the sake of maintaining free choice.
The Mishna in Perkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) tells us that there were
ten revealed miracles that could be witnessed every day in the First Temple.
For example there was a tree that grew golden fruit. According to
Chinuch’s explanation of why the fire on the Altar was not to be
extinguished, why did these revealed miracles not impact on our free choice?
These miracles were even more revealed than the fire that burned on the
Altar because all of the Jewish people witnessed them; whereas the fire on
the Altar was seen only by the Priest. The non-Priest was not permitted to
enter the sanctuary beyond the point of eleven cubits. Why should witnessing
the fire have a greater impact then any of the other miracles vis-à-vis free
When the Jewish people stood at Sinai and said “Naaseh V’nishma (we shall do
and we shall listen),” regarding the Torah, G’d brought heaven to earth and
the entire Jewish people witnessed His Presence. Why were we privileged to
this level of revelation? The Jewish people were at such a high level of
spirituality because they had said “Naaseh V’nishmah.” This made them worthy
of this unique level of revelation. However, after the Sin of the Golden
Calf, the Jewish people were no longer worthy of being able to witness His
Presence (the fire of Sinai.)
After becoming unworthy as a result of the Sin of the Golden Calf, the
Jewish people were no longer able to witness G’d’s Presence directly. The
Mishkan needed to be erected in order to act as the intermediary between the
Divine Presence and the Jewish people. Thus the heavenly fire in the
Mishkan was concealed not because it would undermine free choice, but rather
because the Jewish people were no longer worthy to witness it directly.
After the destruction of the First Temple, the Jewish people became even
less worthy. G’d’s Presence was no longer there even in concealment.
Because of our current spiritual level, we no longer perceive revealed
miracles nor do we see miracles in nature. We must therefore increase our
Torah study and observance in order to merit perceiving G’d within the state
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Torah.org.
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.