Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Tzav
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

Judaism does not view service of God or of other humans as being a purely voluntary exercise. In fact Judaism follows a regimen of obligations and commands. Any system that requires discipline and continued commitment is built on the giving and acceptance of commands. Every efficient army or commercial enterprise in the world is based upon a command structure. Thus it is axiomatic that the Torah uses the word "tzav" - command - when describing Moshe’s instructions to Aharon in assuming his now new role as the High Priest of Israel. Though Judaism allows great latitude for individual talents and creativity to be expressed there is always a basic framework of commands and laws within which this talent and creativity is to be channeled. The blessings that Jews pronounce before the performance of a mitzvah all state that the Lord has commanded us - "v’tizvanu" - to perform this holy act. We bow to God’s will and to the discipline of Torah in our performance of the rituals of Judaism. We currently live in a society that exalts the idea of being able to do things "my way." Again, though individuality is to be admired and encouraged especially in the young, the basic framework has to be maintained. And that framework consists of the grids of commandments and obligations that bind us to Torah and tradition. Jewish experience teaches us that Judaism cannot be made meaningful by employing fads and gimmicks, no matter how popular they may initially seem to be. The spirit of Shabat is never enhanced and made meaningful through the condoning of the violation of its commandments. Lowering the standards of Shabat observance to make it more popular has only led to its complete demise among the descendants of those who tinkered with its commandments.

This Shabat is the one that precedes the holiday of Pesach. It is called "Shabat Hagadol" - the great Shabat. In reality every Shabat is the great Shabat. There is no other concept in Judaism that carries with it so many commandments and obligations, so many do’s and don’ts, as does the Shabat. All attempts to "improve" the Shabat have proven to be self-defeating and eventually are unable to stand the rigors of time and circumstance. Shabat is great because it is the embodiment of Jewish commandments and discipline. Those who abide by its strictures and obligations taste the delight of that day, a foretaste of paradise itself. All of its prohibitions somehow lead to a true state of contentment and freedom. The greatness of Shabat is therefore inextricably bound with the concept of freedom. Shabat and Pesach march together in tandem throughout Jewish life. Shabat is therefore the great gateway to Pesach for by understanding and accepting the concept of "v’tizvanu" - of obeying commandments and fulfilling obligations we can achieve the freedom of soul that we all so desperately strive for. It is therefore no mere coincidence that the Torah reading of "Tzav" usually falls on the Shabat that precedes Pesach - Shabat Hagadol. Freedom comes with a purpose and a price. Being commanded is both the price and reward of achieving freedom.
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