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 motivation?
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 physical.
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 understand this?
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 was not.
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 spiritual rehabilitation.
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 choice?
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 of concealment. 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.