Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Tzav.

Making the Connection

Tzav means “Command.” It expresses a command from G‑d about the donation of offerings in the Sanctuary, relating to the general concept of giving charity. But Tzav has also another meaning: “Connect.” It expresses the idea that G‑d’s laws establish a connection between the individual and G‑d.

This connection cannot be taken for granted. G‑d is Infinite, beyond all definitions and categories. In comparison with G‑d the entire cosmos is smaller than a speck of dust; it is like nothing. And if the vast cosmos is itself like nothing in relation to G‑d, what is the significance of a tiny, frail human man or woman?

Yet G‑d gives Torah laws to frail human beings. The very fact that G‑d has issued a command to the person imparts a sense of significance to that person’s life. He or she is now related to G‑d, bonded with Him by a Divine instruction.

This connection is there even if the person does not actually fulfill the instruction. As the Sages put it, “even though he sinned, he is a Jew.” The fact that the 613 commands in the Torah are addressed to the individual gives that person a significant role and purpose. Of course, this role is properly fulfilled by observance of the commands. Yet the person who does not yet observe them has not lost his role in the system: he has a connection, albeit a negative one.

The next step, of course, is to transform the negative into positive. Our Sages tell us that this is the force of the word “Tzav” at the beginning of the Torah portion: to give us encouragement through the generations. The knowledge that through the commandments of the Torah, we are truly connected with G‑d.
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Inside Out

The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was a human-like structure: its chambers and furnishings corresponded to the various organs and faculties which make up the human being. While the Holy Temple was the focal point of man's service of his Creator and the place which most expressed G‑d's presence in our world, the objective of the Temple service was that man apply the awareness and experience of the divine which pervaded the Holy Temple to all aspects of his daily life.

The services performed in the Temple fall under two general categories: the "inner services" in the Temple proper, and the "outer services" in the Temple courtyard. On the individual level, this translates into the two basic domains of human endeavor: (a) a person's inner spiritual development, and (b), the more external areas of his life - his efforts to refine his material self and his involvements with his fellows and the world about him.

A person's instinctive feeling may be that he ought to work his way from the inside out. First, deal with the internal needs; then, turn his attention to "outside" matters.

But in the Temple, things are done the other way around. The day begins by lighting the fire on the mizbeiach hachitzon, the "external altar" which stands in the Temple courtyard. In fact, the "internal altar" and the menorah (candelabra) which stand in the Temple's inner chamber, are to be lighted from the fires of the external mizbeiach.

The menorah's seven oil lamps represent the Divine wisdom of Torah; the "internal altar" corresponds to man's refinement and perfection of his higher, spiritual faculties. But spiritual gluttony is no less selfish than the physical sort, and one who focuses solely on self-realization and self-fulfillment, is turning his Holy Temple inside out.

True, the more one himself possesses, the more he has to give to others. It is also true that as long as a person is himself lacking in a certain area, it is extremely difficult for him to rectify such a failing in his fellow. Yet certainly the needs of others cannot be ignored until such time as one has attained perfection.
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Simple Ashes

This week’s Torah reading begins with the command to remove the ashes from the altar. At night, the limbs of the sacrifices would be offered on the altar and in the morning, the priests would take the ashes from the altar and bring them to a special place outside Jerusalem.

There were priests chosen to offer animal sacrifices and others chosen to bring the incense offering. And there were still others who were given the task of cleaning the ashes from the altar.

Our Sages emphasize that this was a lesser service, so much so that it could not be performed while wearing the ordinary priestly garments, but instead required special, less dignified robes. Nevertheless, those priests also performed their jobs eagerly. They were serving G‑d in the Temple. It did not matter how they were serving Him. As long as they were serving Him, they were happy.

Outside of the Temple, G‑d’s presence is not overtly revealed. Thus we do not have the same inspiration to carry out His service. But that is only because we are unaware. From His perspective, our service is cherished whether we are aware of the powerful spiritual effects it produces or not.

R. Sholom Dovber (the Rebbe Rashab) would say: “Even if G‑d had commanded us to chop wood — i.e., an activity that appears to have no spiritual content — we would do so happily.”
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Continuous Fire

Parshat Tzav contains the verse: “A continuous fire shall burn on the altar. It shall not be extinguished.” Every element of the Sanctuary and the Temple is not merely part of our people’s spiritual history, but is instead an ongoing dimension of our spiritual lives.

The altar refers to our hearts, the element of our being involved in the spiritual service of sacrifices which is interpreted as referring to our efforts to draw close to G‑d. Within our hearts, a flame must continually burn. Our service of G‑d must not be cold and cerebral. Instead, it should be ablaze with fire and energy. Our religious life should continuously vibrate with vitality and vigor.

The above concepts relate to one of the lessons of the recently celebrated Purim holiday. Haman came from the nation of Amalek, the arch-enemy of the Jewish people. The decree of Amalek’s descendant, Haman, was directed at annihilating the Jewish people physically, but there was also a spiritual element to it. Had a Jew been willing to reject his Judaism, Haman would have left him alone. If one could coldly forgo all connection to his Jewish heritage, Haman didn’t consider him an enemy.

How did Mordechai respond to threat of annihilation? He aroused the Jews and awakened their spiritual vitality. Our Sages relate that at that time, the Jewish people renewed the commitment they made at the Giving of the Torah. At Sinai, our people acted rashly, promising “We will do” before “We will listen.” And at the time of Purim, they reaffirmed that commitment, showing a dedication to their heritage unfettered by the limits of logic.
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A Higher Form of Giving

When the Jewish people returned from their exile in Babylon, there was a shortage of wood for the altar in the Holy Temple. To remedy this crisis, certain families would donate wood to be used by those who had none of their own. They would simply bring the wood to the Temple, and when one had no wood for his offering, he would use that wood without knowing who had donated it: