OzTorah: Torah reading – Tzav

Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple.



The sidra focuses on Aaron. Like his famous brother, Moses, he played a crucial role in shaping the Children of Israel. Each one had his special skills. In Aaron’s case it was the capacity to relate to human beings. With amazing patience and perseverance, he moved around the camp, restoring harmony between people who had quarrelled and radiating a spirit of co-operation and peace.

One of the truly great remarks of the rabbinic commentators is that the atmosphere in the camp was kept calm and wholesome because anyone who had a thought of sinning or having a row with anyone would say to him- or herself,

“But how shall I be able to face Aaron?”

Every generation could well emulate this approach. Anyone who contemplates doing the wrong thing has to imagine having Aaron as a neighbour and to say,

“But how shall I be able to face Aaron?”


The title of the Torah portion, “Tzav”, means literally “Command!” Moses is told to convey a command to Aaron and his sons. Rashi seems to soften the imperative. Instead of the stark order, “Command!” he says,

“Tzav means encouragement, now and for future generations”.

Rashi adds the remark of Rabbi Shimon,

“Encouragement is especially necessary when a monetary loss is involved”. We understand Rabbi Shimon, but do we understand Rashi?

Rabbi Shimon is saying,

“A person must hesitate to obey God if he is going to suffer a loss thereby, so he needs encouragement.”

What is Rashi saying?

The explanation arises out of a passage in the Talmud (Kidd. 29a), which reads,

“The School of Rabbi Ishmael taught, ‘Whenever ‘command’ is stated, its purpose is to denote exhortation for then and all time’”.

There is no contrast between “command” and “encourage”. With a positive attitude to God’s will, a person knows that what God wants is doable. They do not stiffen their resistance to the command but feel overjoyed and encouraged that God has such faith in them.

Now comes the relevance of Rabbi Shimon’s comment. A person is always tempted to put personal interests first and say,

“That’s all very well if you are comfortably off. Doing the mitzvah doesn’t cost you in that case and you don’t feel it. But me, I’m struggling and I can’t afford what it’s going to cost!”

It reminds me of a certain bridegroom with whom, many years ago, I was discussing coming to the Synagogue on Shabbat for a pre-wedding call-up to the Torah. His answer was,

“Look, I have a stall at the market and Saturday is my best day. If the Chief Rabbi will make up my losses I’ll come to shule!”

It should have been Rabbi Shimon talking to him, not me, and I don’t remember whether he came to the service or not.

But the Shabbat question comes into an exposition of Rashi and Rabbi Shimon by the Kotzker Rebbe, who says,

“If you should keep the command even if you suffer monetary loss, how does this apply on Shabbat when you shouldn’t be concerned with money at all?”

On weekdays there are many ways to do a good deed that costs money, for instance by means of giving charity – but what about Shabbat?

The Kotzker answered his own question by saying,

“So let a person find ways of sharing the joy of Shabbat with others, especially by means of hospitality!”


It was hard work to be a kohen. The detail the kohanim had to master was stupendous. The responsibility of carrying out their duties properly was awesome. Maybe that is why the priestly office was hereditary, because otherwise hardly anyone might volunteer for it.

The onus on the kohanim was not only mechanical, limited to performing routine functions. It was also spiritual. The point is made by a Chassidic comment on a verse in the sidra, “v’esh hamizbe’ach tukkad bo” -­ “the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it” (Lev. 6:2). The commentator says that in Hebrew grammar “bo” can mean “on it”; it can also mean “in him”, in the kohen. Kohanim had be fired with enthusiasm for their task and never treat it in perfunctory fashion.

Teaching sermon technique to rabbinical students, the late Rabbi SM Lehrman used to say,


If you can’t put fire in your sermon, put your sermon in the fire.”

Every religious role requires “hitlahavut”, burning fervour. Rabbi and chazan must be aflame with love of God, love of Torah, love of human beings. It cannot be approached with the proverbial public service mentality. You never clock on or clock off. It occupies all your waking hours, and the night too (your dreams and nightmares both generally have a synagogal focus). You have to believe in what you are doing.

It becomes hard when the community does not always share your passion for God and Judaism, when you are trying to arouse them to great thoughts and noble ideals and they doggedly insist on being hard-headed and unimaginative. The result is that some rabbis and chazanim burn out and some drop out. But most echo the words of Moses to the Levites when he inducted them into sanctuary service,

“Ashreichem shez’chitem lih’yot shammashim laMakom” ­- “Fortunate are you to have the privilege of being ministers to the Almighty”.

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple Blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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