Friday, March 26, 2010

Parshat Tzav - פרשת צו

"אש תמיד תוקד על המזבח לא תכבה - A fire, continually, shall remain aflame on the Altar; you shall not extinguish it."
(ויקרא ו:ו)

This week's Parsha is also Shabbat HaGadol; the Shabbat immediately before Pesach. In my D'var Torah this week, I'd like to see how the Haftarah and the Parsha itself connect. In the verse above, we read of the Ner Tamid, the lamp in the Bet Hamikdash that was continually alight. The Yalkut Lekach Tov explains that Rav Yaakov Neiman writes in book, "Darchei Mussar", that while it is often said that back in days gone by Hashem would perform more open and obvious miracles, this is a problematic statement because miracles continue to occur every single day. The reason why we don't recognise and acknowledge the miraculous is because we have become accustomed to seeing things as "natural", when they need not be so at all.

The reason for this state of affairs can be found in Parshat Ki Tisa, where it says:  "וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא תוּכַל לִרְאֹת אֶת-פָּנָי:  כִּי לֹא-יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם, וָחָי. - He said, and you shall not be able to see My face, for no human can see My face and live." Because God is so awesome, we are never exposed to anything more than a what might be termed an "abstract" miracle; one that at least partially hides God's essence. As such, all miracles are partially covered up in the appearance of the "natural". In the Shmonah Esrei prayer, we read the words "על נסין שבכל יום עמנו ועל נפלאותך שבכל עת - For your miracles that are with us every day and for your wonders; of all times." But while we acknowledge these miracles, we don't genuinely see them. We only see nature.

But the truth is that the miracles we believe Hashem performs for us are never far from the surface. In the haftarah we read: "כי הנה היום בא בער כתנור והיו כל זדים וכל עשה רשעה קש ולהט אתם היום הבא אמר יהוה צבאות אשר לא יעזב להם שרש וענף - For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven; all the wanton ones and all the evildoers will be stubble and the coming days will set them ablaze says Hashem, Master of Legions, it will leave them not root or branch." A while later, the Haftarah continues: "וזרחה לכם יראי שמי שמש צדקה ומרפא בכנפיה ויצאתם ופשתם כעגלי מרבק - But for you that rever My Name, a sun of righteousness will shine forth, with healing on its wings; and you shall go forth and prosper like fattened calves."

Now, while the scene depicted above may be described as stereotypically "Biblical";  fire and brimstone for the sinners and a nice "carrot and stick"  for those who follow God, beyond the simple narrative, there's another aspect to what is written. The Yalkut Lekach Tov explains that the lesson being taught here is quite unconventional, saying that we learn from this passage that there is no such thing as heaven and hell in Judaism. But that leaves us with a question; what is the Jewish belief in afterlife, then? The answer is surprising; they are one and the same. What does this all mean?

The Lekach Tov explains how the two are reconciled. The "sun" that is mentioned here is blinding light, and it is essentially nothing other than truth. Heaven, for those who have spent their earthy lives effectively, performing Mitzvot, learning Torah and perfecting their character traits, is seeing themselves in the light of truth and realising that their lives were well lived. Hell, on the other hand, is when people who haven't utilised the gift of life to the maximum realise exactly what they have wasted. The truth is revealed to them, and all their lies and foolery are shown up for what they really are. The Lekach Tov makes a specfic example of newspapers and the like (why yes, I have worked as a journalist in the past!) decrying the practises of men who spend their days "pursuing justice" and "doing good deeds." (I can only be reminded of the fools marching and protesting to "Stop the War.") These people live their lives making believe that they are doing something important and fighting for a vital cause, but the real truth is that they are fighting a disingenuous and false fight. Once they are shown the truth, those who spend their energies on such stupidity will surely suffer from the knowledge that they wasted their time.

In this way, we can understand how the sun's light, the light of truth, acts to heal those who are deserving of Hashem's mercy, and simultaneously 'burns' all those who are not. Although this would at first seem a simple enough episode, we can understand now how the treatment meted out was no less miraculous than the miracle of the Ner Tamid, the light in the Bet Hamikdash that was permanenly aflame, which in turn was no more and no less miraculous than the myriad different acts of God that occur each and every day that we normally ascribe to 'nature' but are in actual fact directly sourced to God.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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