Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 30ff;
Vol. VIII, p. 232ff; Vol. XXXII, p. 1ff

To Leap a Chasm

From the earliest ages, men have been aware of a reality beyond the material a reality which transcends man’s senses and intellect. And yet, that very awareness is confounding, for this spiritual reality is on a higher plane than we can comprehend.

Some kinds of religious practice attempt to resolve this difficulty by attempting to reach beyond our limited world. There are, however, two fundamental difficulties with these approaches:

a) Since spiritual reality is by definition above our conception, how is it possible for man to relate to it?

b) Moreover, otherworldliness runs contrary to G‑d’s intent. G‑d brought our world into being for a reason, and a fixation on going beyond that purpose implies a rejection of it.

Invitation From Above

Judaism offers a different alternative. A bond can indeed be established between the material and the spiritual, but the initiative must be G‑d’s.1 G‑d has “reached down” into our world to give us a means whereby we can relate to Him and, by so doing, elevate our environment. This is the purpose of the mitzvos.

What difference does it make to the Holy One, blessed be He, whether one slaughters an animal from the front or the back? The mitzvos were given solely to refine the created beings.”2

Most of the mitzvos involve material things.3 In and of themselves, these entities are of little importance to G‑d. Nevertheless, in order to give mankind a means by which to relate to Him, He attaches importance to these entities. Moreover, the bond established with G‑d through the fulfillment of His mitzvos permeates our environment, and the entities used in this observance are subsumed in this spiritual connection.

To explain by way of analogy:4 An intellectual lives in the realm of thought; his life centers on ideas and concepts. A simple water carrier will not attract his attention. It’s not that he looks down on him, or views him negatively. The two simply seem to have nothing in common. There seems to be no way that the water carrier can relate to the intellectual; he does not have the capacity. Nor does what preoccupies the water carrier hold any interest for the thinker.

If, however, the intellectual asks the water carrier for a drink and the water carrier obliges, their connection is made clear.

The gap between the Creator and the created is far greater than that separating the water carrier and the intellectual, and yet G‑d asks us a favor: “Perform My mitzvos.” The very word mitzvah (מצוה) hints at this relationship, for it shares a root with the word tzavsa (צותא), which means “bond.”

Three Approaches

There is a deeper dimension to the above concept. It is G‑d’s command not man’s fulfillment of it which establishes a connection between the two. Man has the choice to obey or disobey, but by giving him a command, G‑d has already entered his world. If man chooses to fulfill the command, he affirms the connection, and if he refuses, he denies it. But regardless of man’s decision, G‑d has already established a relationship. Man’s option lies in the extent of his willingness to recognize and develop that bond.

Herein lies a connection with the weekly Torah reading, Parshas Tzav. The name Tzav means “command,” and is taken from the opening verse:5 “And G‑d spoke to Moshe: ‘Command Aharon….’ ”

Throughout the Torah, three terms are used to introduce a commandment: emor “tell,” dabber “speak to,” and tzav “command.” All three terms communicate G‑d’s will, but the term tzav is most closely related conceptually as well as etymologically to the concept of mitzvah explained above.

The terms “tell” or “speak to” appear to leave the option in the hands of the listener. Yes, he has been given a directive, but the tone used implies that he has a choice. He has been told what he should do, but the decision whether to do it or not remains his.

When, by contrast, the word “command” is used, the implication is that the matter is imperative.6 In these instances, the initiative which G‑d has taken is so encompassing that it propels man toward fulfillment of the charge.

Strength in the Center

This concept can be amplified by combining teachings from Midrashic and Kabbalistic sources. Emor, translated as “tell,” is associated with gentle speech,7 while dabber, translated as “speak to,” is associated with harsh tones.8 In the Kabbalistic arrangement of the Sefiros the ten spiritual realms which connect G‑dliness with worldliness there are three pathways, or vectors. The right vector is associated with kindness, and the left vector with harshness. Tzav is associated with the middle vector a balanced approach which combines these two extremes.

For example, mercy (one of the attributes of the middle vector) represents a fusion of kindness (from the right vector) and judgment (from the left vector). Kindness implies a willingness to give without consideration of whether the recipient is worthy. Judgment, by contrast, involves a scrutiny of the recipient to evaluate his worthiness.

Mercy takes the nature of the recipient into consideration, yet may grant him assistance although he is not worthy. Acting out of mercy, one gives because one has established an inner connection to the recipient and provides for his benefit.

How is it possible for two opposite tendencies to be combined in a single attribute? The middle vector implies the action of G‑dliness on opposite thrusts.9 It is able to bring about a synthesis between different approaches. In doing so, it conveys unbounded influence to even the lowest levels.10

The mitzvos associated with the word tzav reflect this synthesis. They relate to the transcendent dimension of G‑d, and penetrate to the inner dimension of man, binding the two in comprehensive unity.

Service for His Sake

The above concepts are reflected in the subject of this week’s Torah reading: the sacrifices offered in the Sanctuary, and later in the Beis HaMikdash.

The implications of sacrificial worship are above our understanding. Human intellect cannot appreciate why G‑d would desire the slaughter of an animal or the burning of flour on an altar. By way of explanation, our Sages tell us11 that G‑d says: “It is pleasurable before Me that I gave a directive and My will was done.”

There are mitzvos which bring benefits that are readily appreciated, and others whose benefits we cannot comprehend.12 The sacrifices, however, are not for man’s sake at all, not even to train him in obedience. They are for G‑d’s sake. Thus the Torah refers to them13 as Lachmi, “My sustenance,” implying that G‑d needs this spiritual service, as it were.

Why does G‑d “need” sacrifices? Only to provide man with a means of connecting to Him in a complete way.14 When a person brings a sacrifice, the emphasis is not on his commitment to G‑d’s will, but that “My will was done.” A person sees himself as no more than a medium by which G‑d’s will can be carried out.

The complete performance of all the mitzvos, and particularly the sacrifices, will take place only in the Era of the Redemption. As we say in our prayers:15 “Bring us with joy to Zion Your city, and with everlasting joy to Jerusalem Your sanctuary. There we will offer to You our obligatory sacrifices… in accordance with the command of Your will.”