Blog - Torah Insights

Continuous Passion - צו

Continuous Passion 

More than meditation, more than faith, is the critical importance of passion in the spiritual life of a Jew. 

Our portion begins with the commandment that there shall be a fire burning on the Altar in the temple: "And the fire on the altar shall burn on it; it shall not go out." Like everything else within the actual temple, this has a spiritual equivalence in the service of every Jew. The Altar represents the heart, the Torah commands us to ignite a fire on the Altar, to create a passion, a fire, in our heart for the service of G-d. It is insufficient to just do the right thing; we must strive to do it with alacrity, passion, and excitement. 

But is passion for everybody? Are there not intellectuals, who understand and relate intellectually to the Torah and its values, do they, too, need passion in their service of G-d? Is their intellectual mediation insufficient? And, on the other extreme, are there not people who are too materialistic, too engrossed in negativity, that passion in Divine service is beyond their spiritual capacity? Should they instead focus on merely taking the right action? 

The Torah reiterates the commandment to ignite the fire: 

A continuous fire shall burn upon the Altar; it shall not go out. (Leviticus 6:6)

The word "continuous" is redundant, because once the Torah states, "it shall not go out" we know that the fire must be continuous. The Jerusalem Talmud, therefore, explains that "continuous" teaches us a novel law: "continuous, even on Shabbat, continuous, even in a state of impurity." In normal circumstances, the fire, the passion, must always burn. The additional word teaches that even on Shabbat, which represents a state of intellectual awareness, and even when we are in a state of impurity, engrossed in the temptation and distraction of the material world, we are commanded and empowered to kindle the fire of passion. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Tzav vol. 1


The Small Aleph - ויקרא


The Small Aleph 

Glancing at the very first word of the book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah, something unusual stands out. In the Torah scroll, the last letter of the word "Vayikra" (And He {G-d} Called), the letter Aleph, is written in a smaller font than the other letters in the Torah.  

The opening word of the book describes how Hashem called Moses from the tent of meeting: 

And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice. (Leviticus 1:1-2)

But why Moses? Why was it Moses who merited to experience this Divine revelation? The answer is alluded to with the small Aleph, which represents humility. The Torah describes how Moshe resisted becoming the leader of  the Jewish people, and the Torah testifies, "Now this man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth." An arrogant person is closed off from seeing reality and perspective beyond his limited abilities. Humility, by contrast, is the key to wisdom and Divine revelation, for it allows one to be open to the awareness beyond the subjective confines of self. 

The small Aleph was placed in the Torah as a lesson for each of us, for we, too, can experience a degree of Divine revelation when we read and internalize the words of the Torah. To do so, however, we must cultivate the small Aleph, the ability to be humble and recognize that our perspective is small and insignificant, enabling us to open ourselves to the infinite wisdom of the Torah. 

When the Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad movement, explained this teaching to his young grandchild, he contrasted the small Aleph with the first verse of Chronicles, which uses a large Aleph in the name of Adam. The Alter Rebbe explained that Adam was aware of  his special qualities, he was fashioned by G-d himself, and G-d declared to the angels that Adam's wisdom was greater than theirs. However, the awareness of his special qualities caused Adam to sin with the fruit of the tree of knowledge. 

The Rebbe explained that the Alter Rebbe chose to teach his young grandson about the humility of Moses by first evoking Adam's self-awareness because self-awareness is critical in order to understand the meaning of humility. The Alter Rebbe was teaching his grandson that, like Adam, it is important that we should be aware of our unique qualities and our value to G-d. Denying or ignoring one's good qualities and talents is neither desirable nor humble. Humility means recognizing, as Moses did, our unique qualities, yet remembering that they are not a cause for arrogance because they are a gift from G-d. Had G-d granted these gifts to another person, it is possible that they would have achieved even greater heights. 

True humility then lies in appreciating the large Aleph of Adam while experiencing the small Aleph of Moses. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutei Sichos 17 Vayikra 1       

The Grand Finale - ויקהל פקןדי


The Grand Finale 

You finally conclude an extraordinary construction project. It took much time and intense effort, but you finally achieved your goal. You designed your home, it is built, furnished, and ready to settle in to enjoy the peace and tranquility. 

This is the feeling we expect to get as we reach the end of the book of Exodus, at the conclusion of five portions which discuss the commandment to build the temple and its furnishing, and the actual building of the project. Indeed, the verses toward the end of the book of Exodus seem to be describing this sense of peaceful settling in at the conclusion of the construction:


He {Moses} set up the courtyard all around the Mishkan and the altar, and he put up the screen at the entrance to the courtyard; and Moses completed the work. And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. (40:33-34)

Surprisingly, instead of the book concluding at this point, focusing on the outstanding achievement of the completion of the construction, the Torah adds three verses that seem entirely out of context: 

When the cloud rose up from over the Mishkan, the children of Israel set out in all their journeys. But if the cloud did not rise up, they did not set out until the day that it rose. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and there was fire within it at night, before the eyes of the entire house of Israel in all their journeys. (40:36-38)

These verses describing the journey through the desert are stated toward the beginning of the book of Numbers when the Jewish people began the journey from Sinai toward the land of Israel. Why are the verses describing the journey repeated here, when we are focusing on  the Divine presence resting within the temple? 

We each have a" temple" within our own lives; the moments we dedicate to prayer, Torah study, performing a mitzvah; the moments we dedicate to constructing our own personal "temple", the creation of a home for G-d within our consciousness and our lives. Yet, the goal of these moments is, not that they remain isolated experiences, but rather that they "travel" and influence all areas of our life. The purpose of the holy moments in our day is, ultimately, to sanctify and bring meaning and purpose to all of our mundane activities. We are not seeking to escape the ordinary in order to experience a holy moment; but rather we are seeking to engage in holiness in order to sanctify the mundane. 

This is the finale of the book of Exodus: we build a home for G-d, yet the purpose of the home is, as the final words of the book declare, "in all their journeys," to spread the holiness to every corner of the world, transforming all of the earth into a home for the Divine.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 16 Pekudei 3 

Merely a Half - כי תשא

Merely a Half 

It is a straightforward commandment: every Jew should give half a shekel coin for a census and atonement. Yet, the Torah gets very detailed in describing the coin: 

This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel according to the holy shekel. Twenty gerahs equal one shekel; half of [such] a shekel shall be an offering to the Lord. (Exodus 30:13)

Instead of saying that a half coin is the equivalent weight of ten Gerah, why does the Torah have to spell out the math for us: “Twenty gerahs equal one shekel; half of [such] a shekel”?

The Half Shekel is the opening commandment of an eventful and dramatic portion, including how the Jews created and served the golden calf, Moses shattering the tablets, G-d’s forgiveness, and giving the second tablets. The Half Shekel at the beginning of the portion is the antidote and the correction for the sin, and therefore, although, in general, we are commanded to offer to G-d only from what is complete and unblemished, in this case, the emphasis is that we offer specifically a half. 

The essence of the sin of idolatry is not the denial of G-d but rather the belief that there is duality. The mistaken notion that while G-d is the creator, he is too sublime to be within the creation; creation itself is therfore controlled by the various forces of nature. The essence of idolatry is the belief that there is a space, an energy, a force that is independent of G-d. 

The half Shekel reminds the Jew that he is not an independent person. His personality, the Sefirot {attributes} of his soul alluded to by the ten Gerah, are merely half of a greater whole of twenty Gerah. The ten Sefirot of the soul reflect the ten Divine Sefirot, and are only complete when connected to their Divine source. 

By giving the half Shekel the Jew declares not only that he is prepared to give his ten attributes to G-d but that he recognizes that his entire being is dependent on, connected to, and a reflection of, his Divine source. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 3, Ki Tisa 

The Missing Name of Moses - תצוה


The Missing Name of Moses

There is one portion of the Torah where Moses' name is absent. From his birth until Deuteronomy (which is written in Moses' voice), every Parsha mentions his name except for this one.

When Moses insisted that G-d forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf, Moses stated: ״And now, if You forgive their sin.  But if not, erase me now from Your book, which You have written." The Baal Haturim explains that the words of the righteous have an effect, therefore Moses' "erase me now from your book" are fulfilled within this week's portion. 

But why was Moses' name removed specifically from this portion?

The portion of Tzevah focuses on the priests. The portion begins with the unique eight garments of the high priest and four garments of the other priests and concludes with a detailed description of the seven-day inauguration of the priests. Yet, while the focus is on the priests, Aaron and his children, the portion emphasizes in multiple places the role of Moses in preparing Aaron for his task ("And you bring near to yourself your brother Aaron", "You shall make holy garments for your brother", "And this is the thing that you shall do for them to sanctify them to serve Me", are but a few of the references).  

The priests were dedicated to spirituality and divine service in the temple. The danger, however, was that the priest might forget that his task was to inspire and influence all Jewish people, including, and perhaps especially, those who seem distant, insensitive, and apathetic to holiness and spirituality. The Torah, therefore, emphasizes that specifically Moses, who was prepared to sacrifice his spiritual state, having his name erased from the Torah, due to his unwavering love, commitment, and dedication to the Jewish people, could inaugurate the priests to their position. For they could serve in the temple only once they internalized the example of Moses and appreciated that the goal of their holiness was not for their own spiritual advance but rather to affect each and every Jew.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 21 Tezaveh 1

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