Tzav 5778

The undisturbed student[1]

צו את-אהרן ואת-בניו לאמר זאת תורת העלה היא העלה על מוקדה על-המזבח כל-הלילה עד-הבקר ואש המזבח תוקד בו: ולבש הכהן מדו בד ומכנסי-בד ילבש על-בשרו והרים את-הדשן אשר תאכל האש את-העלה על-המזבח ושמו אצל המזבח
Command Aharon and his children, saying: “This is the law of the elevation offering. It is the elevation offering that remains[2] on the altar pyre[3] the entire night, until morning. The fire of the inner altar should be ignited from the outer one[4]. The Kohen will don his linen tunic and linen pants against his body. He will then raise up the ashes from the fire that consumed the elevation offering on the altar and place them next to the altar”[5]

This week’s parsha begins with a command to Aharon and his sons, the Kohanim. It is interesting to note that in the entire previous parsha, Aharon isn’t mentioned once[6]. Every command so far regarding the Temple offerings mentions only Aharon’s sons. For example, with regards to the elevation offering (which is the subject of our verse), the previous parsha said: “…the sons of Aharon, the Kohanim, will offer…”[7]. It later says: “The sons of Aharon will place a fire on the altar”[8]. Or with the flour offering, it says: “He will bring it to the sons of Aharon, the Kohanim…”[9]. Why is here where Aharon is specifically mentioned and not earlier?

The answer is based on a principle of precedence when it comes to Torah and mitzvos. What’s greater, learning Torah or fulfilling a different mitzvah? The answer is it depends. If the other mitzvah can’t be fulfilled by anyone else, that mitzvah is greater[10], and has precedence to learning. However, if the other mitzvah can be fulfilled by someone else, then learning is greater[11]. Now, Aharon and his sons were entrusted with the mitzvos related to the Temple offerings. Therefore, their mitzvos couldn’t be fulfilled by anyone else. A non-Kohen is forbidden from performing most of the Temple services[12]. Consequently, the Kohanim are required to cease their Torah studies and focus on the Temple mitzvos. However, since the Torah learning of Aharon is on a such high level, it is much dearer to Hashem[13]. As a result, the Temple service was mostly[14] entrusted to his sons. For him, it is considered that the competing Temple mitzvos can be fulfilled by others. Consequently, his Torah study takes precedence. This is unlike his sons, as their Torah learning wasn’t on as high a level. It could be sacrificed[15] in order to fulfill the competing Temple mitzvos.

This approach can be similarly applied to an unrelated question[16]. The gemarra explains[17] that the end[18] of Megillas Esther indicates that because of Mordechai’s association with Achashverosh, his peers lowered his stature. Because of his new role in the government, he could no longer be as studious as he once was. Based on this, the gemarra concludes that Torah study is greater than saving lives. However, this can’t be understood literally[19]. Of course, a person must stop their learning to save someone whose life is in danger[20]. What then does the gemarra mean?

There is no doubt that Mordechai was obligated to decrease his Torah learning in order to save the Jewish people. However, it is not by chance that Mordechai was put in this situation. Hashem could have made someone else eligible to be a positive influence for the Jews in Achashverosh’s government. However, Hashem desired the Torah learning of Mordechai’s peers more than his own. He therefore didn’t burden them with this opportunity. Since Mordechai was available for the task, their Torah study was deemed greater than saving lives. Once his peers realized this, his academic stature was lowered in their eyes. They realized that his Torah learning could be sacrificed for the greater good: to save the Jewish people[21].

Continuing with the verse we started with, it continues to discuss the mitzvah of removing the altar ashes. This Temple service’s purpose was primarily to teach us about humility[22]; that there is no room for haughtiness in front of Hashem[23]. This is also alluded to earlier in the verse, which says הוא העלה על מוקדה, literally: the elevation offering that remains on the altar pyre. However, homiletically the verse can be read as the one that goes up (i.e. becomes haughty), will be on (i.e. judged with) fire[24]. While this is a very important lesson, why is it put here, of all places?

In fact, it fits very well with what was explained earlier. Aharon, due to his great stature, wasn’t involved in most of the Temple services. This allowed him to focus on his Torah studies. However, he shouldn’t be mistaken to think that this gives him license to be arrogant. There is no room for arrogance in front of Hashem. He must retain his humility, despite his stature[25]. This is why the parsha about removing the ashes starts off specifically addressing Aharon.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Chasam Sofer al HaTorah Vayikra to Leviticus 6:2-3 (from the year 5583)

[2] Targum Yonasan ad. loc.

[3] Literally: the place on the altar that it is burned

[4] Chizkuni ad. loc.

[5] Leviticus loc. cit.

[6] Vayikra Rabbah 7:1 points this out

[7] ibid 1:5

[8] ibid verse 7

[9] ibid 2:2

[10] In this context it would seem greater just means that it takes precedence, as תלמוד תורה כנגד כולם (Peah 1:1) and תלמוד גדול שמביא לידי מעשה (Kiddushin 40b)

[11] Magen Avraham § 444 s.k. 10, citing Moed Katan 9b and Yerushalmi Pesachim 3:7

[12] Sefer HaMitzvos Lo Sa’aseh § 74, from Numbers 18:4

[13] The Chasam Sofer in his Derashos (see note 16) explains that Aharon achieved this level of dearness to Hashem because he tried so desperately to save the Jews from the Sin of the Golden Calf (see Exodus Chapter 32). Even though his actions seemed inappropriate, all of his intentions were for the good

[14] My addition to the Chasam Sofer’s words, who implied all of the Temple service was in their care. The Kohen Gadol still had a daily flour offering of his own. See Leviticus 6:13 with Rashi

[15] Pun intended

[16] The Chasam Sofer alludes that this is something he addressed elsewhere. Sha’ar Yosef suggest that this is referring to what he wrote in Derashos Chasam Sofer page 293a. The following is from there

[17] Megillah 16b

[18] Esther 10:3

[19] However, the Maharshal, brought by the Taz Yoreh Deah § 251 s.k. 6 seems to take it literally

[20] Taz loc. cit.

[21] This is the Chasam Sofer’s explanation of the Taz’s answer to the question

[22] Chovos HaLevavos Sha’ar Hachna’ah Chapter 6

[23] See Sotah 4b, 5a

[24] Vayikra Rabbah 7:6

[25] The Chasam Sofer ends off with a play off the gemarra in Megillah 31a: Any place that you find greatness, you will expect to (or must) find humility

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