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Torah Sparks

March 23, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Lev. 6:1-8:36; Hertz, p. 429; Etz Hayim, p. 613
Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 6:1- 7:10; Hertz, p. 429; Etz Hayim, p. 613
Haftarah: Malakhi 3:4-24; Hertz, p. 1005; Etz Hayim, p. 1295

Torah Portion Summary

(6:1-16) Instructions concerning the Olah (burnt offering), the perpetual fire on the altar, and the Minhah (meal-offering); the specific meal-offering brought by Aaron and his descendants.

(6:17-7:10) Instructions concerning the Hattat (sin-offering) and Asham (guilt-offering).

(7:11-21) The Sh'lamim sacrifice. There are three kinds: thanksgiving, in fulfillment of a vow, and as a free-will offering.

(7:22-38) The prohibition of eating chelev, the consecrated fat covering the animal's internal organs, and blood. The portions of the sh'lamim that go to the kohanim.

(8:1-5) God commands Moses to take Aaron and his sons and assemble the people for the initiation ceremony into the priesthood.

(8:6-21) The priests perform a ritual purification and Aaron is dressed in his holy garments. The Tabernacle is anointed, and then Aaron. Aaron's sons are garbed. Then come a series of sacrifices as part of the consecration and purification of the Tabernacle.

(8:22-36) The actual ordination ceremonies, lasting seven days.

Theme: Mitzvot - Just Do It!

"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus..." (Lev. 6:1-2)

In the plural, the term "mitzvot" (divine precepts) signifies specific commands contained in the Torah. In talmudic terminology, mitzvot is the general term for the divine commandments, calculated to be 613. They are classified as being either affirmative or negative (prohibiting). The 365 negative precepts correspond to the 365 days of the solar year. The 248 affirmative precepts correspond in number to the parts of the human body (Talm. Makkot 23b). Colloquially, the word mitzvah has come to express any act of human kindness (P. Birnbaum, Book of Jewish Concepts, p. 390).

Some Reflections on Performing Mitzvot

  1. "Greater is one who is commanded to do something and proceeds to do it, than one who is not commanded at all to do something and yet does it." (Talmud, Kiddushin 31a)
  2. Since most people regard doing something voluntarily as being morally superior to an obligatory act, this rabbinic dictum seems puzzling. A major reason the Rabbis so valued people acting from a sense of obligation may well have been their belief that such individuals will behave with greater consistency than those who perform commandments voluntarily. The latter will usually stop doing so when they grow tired of them, whereas those who feel obligated will be deflected neither by tiredness nor by a sense of burden.

    The statement above which the Talmud attributes to Rabbi Hanina makes considerable psychological sense when analyzed in the light of two types of diet. A large percentage of Americans diet, and usually do so for two reasons: to be both more attractive and healthier. As powerful as these motivations are, very few Americans adhere to their diet for three months or more without breaking it at least once.

    Compare this statistic with the experience of individuals who observe the dietary laws known as Kashrut. They can go a lifetime without eating such foods as shellfish or pork, solely because Jewish law forbids them, not because refraining from them leads to greater physical attractiveness and/or health.

    If only the American government mandated putting pork into all chocolate products, I easily could shed twenty pounds! (Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, pp.329-30)
  3. Rav taught that "the mitzvot were given only for the purpose of disciplining and refining people through their observance... For what concern is it to God whether the animal is slaughtered in one fashion or another? Therefore, know that these laws were given solely as disciplining measures with which to refine those who adhere to them." (Beresheet Rabbah 44:1)

Would you agree then that the act of performing so many mitzvot in the Jewish religion ("Oy, it's hard to be a Jew!") is meant to serve the purpose of developing self-discipline so that a person would learn thereby to master his/her ethical behavior also? Or perhaps you have another explanation.

Focusing on A Favorite Mitzvah

  1. (Each Rabbi would practice one mitzvah in particular to perfection.) Rab Judah gave his entire mind to his prayer. Rab Sheshet never went about without his tefillin. Rab Huna bar Joshua never went bare-headed. Rab Nahman prepared carefully for the three Sabbath meals. Abbay never failed to serve wine and make a festive day for scholars when a student had finished studying a tractate (Talmud, Shabbat 118b)
  2. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, (Deut. 6:5)
  3. One expresses love of God by performing His commandments lovingly. There is no com parison between one who serves his master out of love and one who does so out of fear. One who is motivated by fear might rebel if the tasks become too difficult (Rashi), but one who serves out of love is ready to make great sacrifices for the object of his affection. (The Chumash, ArtScroll, p. 973)

A Little Bar Mitzvah Humor

It was a proud day for Kevin's parents who sat right up in the first row of the synagogue sanctuary at his Bar Mitzvah. When Kevin completed the Haftarah, the Rabbi addressed him and then presented him with gifts from the various organizational arms of the synagogue. The Rabbi then presented Kevin with his own personal gift. It was an umbrella.

After the singing of "Adon Olam" at the conclusion of the service and before the Kiddush, Kevin's parents approached the Rabbi totally puzzled and somewhat upset. "Why did you present Kevin with an umbrella and not a Bible?" they asked. The Rabbi answered: "Because an umbrella I know he will open."

Shabbat ha-Gadol

This Shabbat before Passover is known as the "Great Sabbath" because of the reading of a special haftarah from Malakhi, the concluding chapter of the "Prophets" section of the Hebrew Bible. He prophesies about the arrival of a "yom gadol"- a great day, of the coming of Elijah, the Prophet and the turning of "the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents".

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