The basis for observance of mitzvoth and ritual lies in the word tzav. The Torah does not present us with many options when it comes to observing God’s explicit commandments. Before the performance of a mitzvah, we are to recite a blessing that clearly states asher tzivanu – that we have been commanded and instructed to perform this mitzvah. We naturally retain our free will as to whether we wish to perform the mitzvah or not.
But we are to understand that the ultimate reason for the performance of the mitzvah is not because we deem it to be pleasant or worthy or any other rational human explanation for its performance. We observe and perform the mitzvah ultimately and perhaps solely because God has commanded us to do so and we committed ourselves at Sinai that we will do what we are instructed to do.
Now all of this flies in the face of contemporary wisdom, custom and mores. We live in a time when the right to do what I want to do supersedes all instructions and guidance – parental, school or just plain good old common good sense. This contradiction in values and worldview lies at the heart of much of the divisions that exist within the Jewish world.
Our generation is permanently stuck in the teenage years; it resents anyone telling it what to do. And since this feeling is part of the general package of free will that the Lord has endowed us with, it is difficult in the extreme to understand vtizvanu in the absence of training, habit, intensive Jewish education and historical perspective.
It should be obvious that people would wish to follow good, proven, beneficial instructions. But that certainly is not the case with human nature. Millions of people engage in harmful activities that have been conclusively proven medically to be life shortening.
Over the long run of Jewish history all of the groupings that have rejected the idea of vtizvanu have eventually disappeared from the Jewish scene. History is always unforgiving as to human foibles and grievous errors. Yet just as anti-Jewish hatred resurrects itself in all generations no matter that history records what a terrible toll it always takes on the haters, so too does the tzivanu rejecters constantly reappear amongst us in different guises and with ever more populist names.
The rejecters are “progressive,” “democratic,” “peace and love people.” The only problem is that they are wrong and ultimately harmful to themselves and to the Jewish people as a whole. Again, all of Jewish history and experience shows how truly wrong they are. The Lord does not allow Himself, so to speak, to be second guessed and His commandments to be improved upon. The prophet Malachi states the matter quite succinctly: “I, the Lord, have not changed and you, the children of Israel have not been exterminated.”
Since the Lord has not changed and the Jewish people are still around to serve as His special people, the tzivanu imperative still applies. That is why the very existence of this parsha of Tzav is of such vital importance.
Rabbi Berle Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com