Parashat Tzav

Service As Its Own Reward

Zealousness in regard to the elevation offering reminds us to be careful in our service of God and others, even when the service does not result in immediate benefit to us.

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R. Twerski reminds us that the priest's livelihood and sustenance was based on receiving a portion of other kinds of sacrifices that were brought on a regular basis. According to R. Twerski, the priests had more than enough to eat from all the sacrifices brought to the Temple; only the burnt offerings were totally consumed in the fire. In other words, the burnt offerings represented a "loss" to the priests in the sense that no part of them was available to the priests as food. Theoretically, that shouldn't have been a problem, or even a consideration, given that they had so much else from which to sustain themselves.

R. Twerski goes on to propose that the reason the Torah uses the language of "commanding" zealous attention in our verse [according to Rashi's reading] is precisely that the priests could derive no personal benefit from the olah offerings.

It's not difficult to imagine that the priests paid more attention to the sacrifices that were partially "theirs" than the sacrifices that were a "loss" to them; maybe they even resented having to perform certain rituals purely for others and for God, when so much of their service resulted in immediate material gain for themselves. R. Twerski calls this the trait of "miserliness," which he defines as an irrational desire for endless material gain--and resentment at the perception of "loss"--even if one's needs are more than satisfied.

Rashi, as explained above, sees the special "command" of zealous attention as applying not only for the future but for right now. Twerski understands this to mean that even Aaron, the High Priest, who was there with Moses at the Burning Bush and all the way through the Exodus, even Aaron needed this special urging:

He [Aaron] had to be urged and cautioned not be derelict in a service that was of no tangible benefit to him.

Is this even thinkable? Is the High Priest Aaron… one who shared Divine communication with Moses, to be suspect that he would be lax in the Divine service because he would not get a piece of meat from it? Is this not the height of absurdity?

Apparently not. The Torah knows human nature better than we do. In spite of being the greatest scholar and leader, one who is in every other way totally devoted to God, a person may retain a streak of miserliness within himself. The Torah teaches us that no one is immune. Miserliness or stinginess is a character defect which can affect the great and mighty as well as the average person… Regardless of who or what we are, we are vulnerable humans and subject to the most irrational traits. (Abraham Twerski, Living Each Day, essay on Tzav)

Contained within R. Twerski's interpretation of our verse is a challenge, a challenge to become more "zealously" generous and truly altruistic. I don't think this means that we should expect emotional perfection from ourselves; our ability to act in a selfless and giving manner varies from time to time.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.