By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week we read the parsha of Tzav (command). "Tzav es Aharon v'es
banav laimore zos toras ha'olah (command Aharon and his sons, telling
them the instructions for the `oleh' sacrifice) [6:2]." Hashem usually
instructed Moshe to tell others the law. Why, in this instance, was
Moshe instructed to command them?
Rashi quotes the opinion of Rav Shimon that the Torah needs to urge us
when the command involves a loss of money. The 'oleh' sacrifice was
kalil (totally consumed by the flames of the altar). Unlike other
sacrifices where the owners and/or the kohanim would receive a portion
for their own personal consumption, the `oleh' was kalil. No edible
portions were distributed. The Torah, therefore, needed to bolster
this mitzvah with "tzav" - Moshe commanded.
At first glance this would seem to be unnecessary. The oleh was
brought voluntarily by a person wanting to draw close to Hashem. He
would go to the Temple, the place where Hashem's presence tangibly
rested, and offer this sacrifice. The kohanim were people who
spiritually represented the rest of the nation. They served at this
spiritual center of the world. True, neither the owners nor the
Kohanim received a portion of meat, but could it be that such people
would need this extra urging simply because they wouldn't walk away
with a few hamburgers?!
The Divrei Yisroel brings the Medrash to explain this difficulty. The
yetzer harah (evil inclination) challenges a person when he's about to
donate to charity: "Why are you spending your money on strangers and
not on your own children?" We need the extra urging to counterbalance
that claim. While we might be willing to spend money on many different
things, when it comes to mitzvah matters, we're not quite so willing.
We know that the mitzvos are our only ticket to eternity, we know that
we can't take our money `with us', yet we still have a hard time
translating those realizations into actions.
Even if we do spend a fair amount of money on mitzvos, we have to
honestly assess if we are truly acting in accordance with our beliefs.
Rav Sholom Schwadron zt"l would tell the following story about Rav
Levi Yitzchak, the Berditchiver Rav. (Found in "Around the Maggid's
Table".) It offers a sharp insight into the way that our actions are
One Yom Kippur night, the crowd in the Berditchiv shul (synagogue)
waited for the chazzan (prayer leader) to begin the holy Kil Nidre
prayers. The Rav motioned to the chazzan, requesting that he wait. All
quietly awaited the Rav's signal to begin but he was immersed deeply
in thought. The minutes passed by with people wondering why the Rav
was waiting. He was clearly not yet ready to begin.
Soon he turned to his shamash (attendant) and asked if Muttel from the
town of Zhitomer was there. All of those within earshot wondered what
the Rav might want from Muttel. Scanning the large crowd, the
attendant found Muttel, the plain, poor, simple Jew from Zhitomer,
sitting off to the side.
"Yes", the attendant responded, "Muttel is here". The Rav asked that
Muttel be summoned. As soon as Muttel was brought, the Rav began to
question him. "Tell me, don't you live on the land owned by Vladik (a
gentile landowner)?" "Yes", answered the surprised Muttel. "Does
Vladik own a dog?", continued the Rav. "Yes", answered Muttel again,
wondering what this information had to do with the Yom Kippur prayers.
"Do you know the amount of money that he spent on the dog?", persisted
the Rav. "I do", said Muttel. "He always brags that he spent four
hundred rubles to acquire that rare dog." The Rav was thrilled. "Four
hundred rubles? That's fantastic!" To the astonishment of all those
assembled, the Rav, having been supplied with this information about
Vladik's dog, was now ready to begin Kol Nidre. He motioned to the
chazzan to begin.
After the t'filos (prayers) were completed, a group approached the Rav
inquiring about his discussion with Muttel. The Berditchiver smiled
and explained. "This year, an incident occurred which troubled me. A
poor teacher came to Berditchev from a distant town. Being in debt, he
was planning to tutor children, save the money and then return home to
pay his creditors. He was here for almost a year, earned the money he
needed and began his return trip. One fateful night, as he slept at an
inn, the bag with his hard-earned money was stolen. In the morning,
when he realized what had happened, he broke down in tears. A whole
years worth of effort had been stolen. Staying at the same inn was
Vladik. Hearing the heart-wrenching cries of the teacher he inquired
as to what had happened. Upon hearing the story, he approached the
teacher, asking him how much money had been stolen. Hearing the sum of
four hundred rubles, he immediately removed that amount from his
wallet and handed it to the amazed and thankful teacher.
"As we were about to start Kol Nidre, that incident worried me. How
could we hope that Hashem would view us favorably? Who amongst us had
performed an act as generous and kind as that of Vladik?
"Then I remembered the dog. I had heard that he had spent a large sum
on a pet but I didn't know how much. When Muttel told me that it had
been four hundred rubles, I was at ease. That amount clearly didn't
mean all that much to him. His helping the teacher was an act of
kindness but not an act of sacrifice. I felt we could start Kol
Rav Sholom then continued. "We're proud when we spend $50 on an esrog,
or we give $250 to tzedakah, or we spend $500 on t'filin. Beautiful!
But how much was the stereo? How much was the computer? Perhaps the
money spent on the mitzvah wasn't really the sacrifice that we
believed it was. If we spend freely on our material objects then we
must also spend freely on our spiritual objects."
In this week's (Shabbos Hagdol) haftorah, the possuk (verse) (Malachi
3:10) states: "Bring your ma'aser (tithe given to the tribe of Levi)
to the storehouse and let there be sustenance in `my' house. Please
test Me on this, says Hashem, to see if your doing this won't cause me
to open the windows of heaven and shower you with an abundance of
Why did the prophet connect receiving this blessing of abundance with
our giving ma'aser. We are obligated to fulfill all of the Torah's
mitzvahs regardless of our receiving any earthly reward!
Rav Chaim Solveichik zt"l explains based on the Talmud [Brachos 35A].
"Come and see the difference between the earlier and the later
generations. The earlier generations would bring the fruits into their
houses in a way that obligated them in ma'aser. The later generations
did it in a way that exempted them."
What was the claim against the later generations if halachically
(according to Torah law) they were exempted?
He explains that they were making a very serious error. They were
willing to fulfill mitzvos... as long as it wouldn't cost them.
Otherwise, they searched for loopholes to exempt themselves. They
didn't realize that one doesn't lose a thing by fulfilling mitzvos,
even when money must be spent. On the contrary, one only gains - both
in this world and in the next. This point was understood by the
earlier generations but missed by the later ones.
With this we understand the first possuk. Ma'aser of the fruits on
which they were obligated they certainly gave. Hashem, through the
prophet, was addressing the ma'aser which they could feasibly exempt
themselves from. The very act of obligating yourselves in the expenses
of a mitzvah will bring wealth - test me.
On the first morning of Succos Rabbi Elimelech of Lisensk was
intrigued by a scent in the shul's air. After the t'filoh, he began to
investigate the esrogim of the congregants. He wasn't at ease until he
had smelled the small, simple esrog of a stranger sitting in the
corner. "Where did you acquire this esrog? It has the scent of Gan
Eden (the Garden if Eden)!
The guest hesitantly told the following story. " I don't make a lot of
money but every year I save enough to buy an expensive esrog. This
year, I took the fifty gulden I had saved and traveled to Lemberg in
search of a beautiful esrog. At one of my lodgings, I heard a
commotion downstairs. A burly man was begging the innkeeper to help
him. He was a wagon-driver and his horse had broken his leg. The
innkeeper had a horse for sale for fifty gulden which was far beyond
the means of the wagon-driver. I approached the innkeeper and offered
to pay him forty five gulden for the horse. He agreed and I handed the
reins over to the wagon-driver. With the remaining five gulden, I
could only afford this small, simple esrog."
Rabbi Elimelech now understood why the scent of Gan Eden was emanating
from this esrog. He requested to hold such an esrog for a few moments.
Such clarity. A poor man focusing his limited resources on a mitzvah.
Then, after months of saving for one particular mitzvah, being able to
prioritize and redirect those funds toward another more pressing
mitzvah. The scent of Gan Eden... Heaven on earth... The opportunities
are all around us. Let's invest.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).