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20 Adar II 5784 - March 30, 2024

Parshat Parah - Parshat Tzav

Rabbi's Reflections

-Command and Encourage-

Parshat Tzav begins on a strange note. "The Lord spoke to Moshe saying, 'Command Aharon and his sons...'" (Vayikra 6:2). At first glance, the opening words of our parsha seem linguistically and stylistically consistent with the way many parshiyot in the Torah begin: God speaks to Moshe and a commandment is issued. However, what is so unique about the opening line of our parsha is that the word, "Tzav," or "Command," is used for the first time. 


Why doesn't the Torah say, "Speak to Aharon and his sons?" Moreover, why is Aharon mentioned first, when all past instructions concerning the rituals and rites of the priestly duties always mentioned his sons first?


To help answer these questions, I would like to turn to the words of Rashi on Vayirka 6:2, who says as follows: "Command can only be meant to express urging on (or encouragement) for the immediate moment, and for future generations" (also see B. Talmud Kiddushin 29a). But if this is so, then we must ask, "Why do Aharon and his sons require extra encouragement concerning their priestly obligations?" If we look at the gemara in Kiddushin 31a, the answer may become clearer. According to the gemara, "One who is commanded and fulfills the command is greater than one who fulfills it, though is not commanded." 

Now, initially, we might think the opposite is true! Surely, one who takes on an obligation freely, without ever having been asked, is on a higher level than one who is expected, obligated, commanded to do something. But the truth is it is much easier to do something out of our own volition than when we are commanded. Think about it. When a parent tells his or her child to clean their room or do the dishes, those instructions suddenly become that much more difficult to fulfill.  


It seems that there exists a sense of burden associated with having been told to do something, whereas when we choose to perform a task, take on a project or complete an assignment out of our own desire to do so, the matter seems easy in our eyes. We say to ourselves, "I've chosen to do something – I don't need encouragement or urging on, because I've decided to do this project, this assignment, this task, myself." This is not so, however, when we are told what to do.


Therefore, based on the words of Rashi read in conjunction with the gemara, when God says "Command Aharon," God is really saying, "I know all of the duties of the priesthood, the laws, the rituals and standards are difficult, and I also know that you may find it all too burdensome to fulfill, so I will give you extra encouragement so that you should have the strength and the will to perform all that I have commanded."  


This takes us to our second question, why God addresses Aharon first, rather than his sons as the Torah has done in the past? Perhaps, the answer is because Aharon needs extra encouragement, God must directly command him, God must single Aharon out, making him aware that the extra encouragement he is receiving comes straight from God, and by feeling that direct link between God and himself, Aharon will be able to feel a sense of urgency and eagerness in his service, and set a good example for his sons who will follow in his ways, fulfilling all that God has commanded. 


May this Shabbat be a time for us to consider our obligations and responsibilities and to realize that doing that which we are obligated in shows our greatest devotion to God and each other. Sometimes we, like Aharon, need a little extra encouragement. So, this Shabbat, let’s find that extra encouragement by knowing that just as Aharon elevated the entire Jewish people through the Avodah he was commanded in, so too do we elevate one another by the holy work we do each and every day, uplifting our community to higher heights and greater things. 

Shabbat Shalom!

- Rabbi Dan

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