Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Tzav
To dedicate this lesson

Tzav – An Officer's Command

The verb that is used is one of strength. Just as in a well-disciplined army, an officer's commands are fulfilled to be able to execute grand strategies, so, too, in Jewish life. The only way that the great strategy of connection with the Creator, living a holy life and being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation can be fulfilled is by obeying and observing commandments.

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Rabbi Berel Wein

Nissan 9 5781
The Torah begins this week's reading with the verbal commandment –Tzav – ordering Moshe to command and demand from his brother Aaron certain fulfillments of ritual and service in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The verb that is used is one of strength. Just as in a well-disciplined army, an officer's commands are fulfilled to be able to execute grand strategies, so, too, in Jewish life. The only way that the great strategy of connection with the Creator, living a holy life and being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation can be fulfilled is by obeying and observing commandments.

This is true even if the lowly private does not understand or is not even aware of the grand strategy of the general staff supervising the army. So, too, there are many times in Jewish life when we as individuals may question the validity and necessity of following an order, just as the soldier in the army. But just as simply by joining the Army and becoming a part of it forfeits that soldier's right to disobey orders.

The Jewish people at Sinai agreed that they would fulfill God's orders, irrespective of their deeper understanding of those orders themselves. This may sound too authoritarian, even dictatorial, to modern ears and sensitivities. Nevertheless, it was and is the basis for Jewish life throughout the millennia of our existence. There are many things in life that we do simply because we are commanded to do so. If we have belief in the One that commands them despite human questions and doubts, we will always attempt to fulfill our duty and obey the commandment.

The text of all blessings, before performing any of the Torah commandments, explicitly states that God has sanctified us by giving us these commandments, and that He commands that we fulfill them to the utmost extent that we can. Over the centuries, there have been many scholarly explanations and reasons given for certain Torah commandments. Times change though, as do societal mores, customs, and social viewpoints.

What may have been a perfectly logical and satisfactory explanation for the necessity of a commandment a few centuries ago, may today have no relevance, and be viewed as only hollow words and ideas. But the Torah, which is eternal and given for all times and situations, chose to avoid giving easy explanations as to the reasons for its commandments and demands of the Jewish people.

Instead, it relies upon the fact of the binding covenant that the Jewish people entered at Mount Sinai, that has obligated this special people to the Almighty for now and well over three millennia. We certainly wish to understand everything that we can about the competence, direction, and strategy of the Torah. However, we admit that after all is said and done, our ability to understand everything is limited and often fallacious. The bedrock of Jewish life is that we have been commanded and that we are willing to fulfill these decrees fully.
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