An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man kisses the Western Wall.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Parashat Tzav, the Torah portion which we read this week, deals mainly in halachot (Jewish laws) pertaining to sacrifices. The detailed instructions express how seriously the Torah looks at the work in the Temple. We will examine one of the halachot that appears in the parsha which conveys an important message for every generation in every period.
The halacha is called “pigul” and says as follows: Every sacrifice that is meant to be eaten is limited in two ways – in the time of eating and in the place of eating. There are sacrifices that can be eaten in one day and others that can be eaten in two days. There are sacrifices that can only be eaten in the Temple complex, and others that can be eaten anywhere in the city of Jerusalem. The mitzva of pigul says that if during the time of sacrificing the sacrifice, the kohen (the priest) thought of eating the sacrifice past the time permitted or outside of the permitted space – the sacrifice is disqualified, not permitted. It is important to note that the halacha teaches us that even if ultimately the sacrifice was eaten according to halacha, in the permitted time and place, it is still disqualified due to the initial thought – “the pigul thought.”
This is an unusual halacha among the mitzvot of the Torah. Usually, Judaism does not place such importance on thought, but rather it focuses on correct and incorrect deeds. For example, a person who gives charity, even if he intends to gain notoriety as a philanthropist or to attain social status, gets credit for the mitzva. Likewise, a person who eats matza on Passover, even if he eats it because he likes the taste, as long as he knows that he is fulfilling the mitzva – the mitzva is fulfilled.
Regarding the halachot of sacrifices, however, thought becomes critical. An incorrect or inexact thought can nullify the sacrifice. And of course, we must ask – why is this so? What is so special about sacrifices that they require such accurate thought? History has taught us the reason for the importance of thought in the work in the Temple. Several times we find the prophets of Israel in the Bible warning of wrong attitudes toward the Temple and sacrifices, an attitude that made the ritual act the more important one and ignored the significance and messages that G-d wanted us to internalize through the mitzvot.
Here, for example, was the warning given by the Prophet Micha: “With what shall I come before the Lord... Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil?... He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your G-d.” (Micha 6:6-8) Here, and in many other places, the prophets look at the work in the Temple and see that it became external and ritualistic in ways that do not suitably reflect the values of Judaism. Do justice, love loving- kindness, walk discreetly – these are the values in which Judaism believes. When the work in the Temple is done correctly, it expresses these values and even advances them. However, veering away from the exact process of work in the Temple easily turns it into ritual lacking in content which ultimately leads to man seeing G-d, heaven forbid, as some kind of hungry idol figure...
Since this danger exists, we find many halachot in the Torah relating to sacrifices, and the serious attitude toward even the slightest deviation, even one done merely in thought.
Even we, who have not had a Temple or sacrifices for thousands of years, are not immune to this danger.
We must be careful not to fulfill mitzvot externally, and be able to distinguish between the important and the unimportant. Internalization of the values of justice, charity and discretion – this is really what G-d asks of us.The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.