The Importance of Fervor in the Service of G-d

Concerning the verse that states, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying: ‘This is the law of the burnt offering’ ” (Leviticus 6:2), Rashi says in the name of the Sages that tzav (“command”) is a word that is used to encourage the one being addressed, a word that is particularly necessary when there exists the possibility of loss (Torat Kohanim 6:1).

This demands an explanation. How is it conceivable that the Kohen, in sacrificing a burnt offering that will be entirely consumed in honor of the Eternal, can demonstrate such negligence that the Torah is justified in encouraging him? Also, let us not forget that he knows perfectly well that he will receive the portions reserved for the Kohen (Bava Kama 110b). What’s more is that the verse concerns Aaron, G-d’s chosen one (Bamidbar Rabba 3:2)! It is conceivable that of all people, Aaron would demonstrate some slack in his service in general, and in his sacrifice of the burnt offering in particular? It is unthinkable that a fear of loss is attributed to him.

We will attempt to clarify this point to our complete satisfaction. The evil inclination is accustomed to weakening the fervor of man, especially if he risks a financial loss. The Zohar (III:273b) makes it clear that this test is the most difficult of all, for a man has the status of a close relative in that which concerns him – him and his instincts (Sanhedrin 10a) – particularly when it comes to money, for money is what gives a man grounding in this world (Pesachim 119a). For example, when the hour draws near for Mincha and the store is filled with clients, a battle with the evil inclination begins, for the storekeeper risks losing money and will be tempted to ignore prayer and let the opportunity slip by.

As for a poor person who asks him for charity, he will not be too pleased either, for this implies a loss for him. It can also happen that after having gone to pray, he nevertheless looks at his watch every minute to see when it will end so that he can go and reopen his store and begin to make money again. The question being that of a financial loss, he has the greatest difficulty remembering that at such a moment he is standing before G-d and offering sacrifices to Him, since prayer takes the place of sacrifice (Berachot 26b). Furthermore it is Him, the Eternal, Who grants him money and sustenance.

This is what the Torah itself tells us: “This is the torat [law] of the burnt offering. It is the burnt offering” (Leviticus 6:2). The Torah itself is the burnt offering (olah), a word that indicates the way to elevate oneself (aley) in the service of G-d. In order for a man to elevate himself, he must go “up to the fire that is found on the altar.” He must serve G-d with fire, particularly in the study of Torah, which evokes the fire on the altar. In fact the Torah is compared to fire, given by fire and written with letters of fire – black fire on white fire (Tanhuma Yitro 12). In everything that concerns the study of Torah, which is a burnt offering, a man should literally resemble fire and burn with enthusiasm for the Eternal from morning to night, without paying attention to the loss that this may entail. In fact the evil inclination is extremely powerful in that which concerns the Torah, but we can conquer it by acting like a burnt offering destined to be entirely consumed, for the Zohar affirms that the forces of evil have no power on the sacrifice of the burnt offering and draws no benefit from it (Zohar II:181b).

How then can a man reach this maximum closeness, this enthusiasm without limit in the service of G-d? It is by the fervor that he invests in it. A man is comparable to Aaron. He must show himself eager in thought and in deed at all times that the temptation to neglect Torah presents itself, and he should realize that he is similar to one who offers a sacrifice to G-d. He will therefore gather together his strength, as if it consisted of an arrow which attacks the evil inclination. This idea is alluded to in the word tzav (“command”), for in counting the two letters that make up the word, along with the word’s numerical value, we come up with the same numerical value as the word cheitz (“arrow”). Consequently, in the same way that the evil inclination rushes to make a man neglect Torah, a man should for his part counter the evil inclination with study, for study protects and saves him (Sotah 21a). The Torah is also called the “remedy against the evil inclination” (Sukkah 52b), especially when it consists of an eventual loss. When the archer launches his arrow, all will depend on his intensity and the energy that he puts into making the arrow fly even faster, even more powerfully. Similarly, everyone should put all their energy into aiming at the target in order to conquer the evil inclination.

This is the sense of the verse that states, “Command Aaron and his sons” (Leviticus 6:2), which designates all the generations that will come after him, and to which the Torah wishes to teach the way of elevating oneself. This consists of the burnt offering (meaning fervor), for here there is a risk of loss, hence a lack. This risk is present when dealing with the written and oral Torah, for without eagerness and diligence, there will be a lack in one’s knowledge of Torah. In fact, the Torah probed deeply into the motivations of the Kohen. It knows that if he is not encouraged in his service, there is reason to fear that he will not carry it out with all the necessary fervor. Even though it consists of a burnt offering entirely consumed for G-d, the Kohen needs encouragement because he is preoccupied with the financial loss implied by the offering. Now it is by means of the burnt offering that abundance descends into the world. In this it is similar to the Torah, for it is also through the Torah that abundance and dew come into the world, as it is written in the Midrash concerning Jacob (Bereshith Rabba 66:1). This is why the Kohen should purify his thoughts and perform his service with the greatest diligence.

In the same line of reasoning, the Kohen Gadol does not have the right to marry a widow (Yebamot 59a), as the verse says: “A widow, a divorcee, a desecrated woman, a harlot – he shall not marry these” (Leviticus 21:14). The commentators have explained the reason for this commandment. It is to prevent a situation in which he comes to covet another woman and then, finding himself in the Tent of Meeting, he prays to G-d that her husband die in order to marry her. Yet this is unconceivable, for how could such thoughts come to the Kohen Gadol when he is offering a sacrifice to G-d?

However the Torah understands men even in their most hidden recesses. Here it demonstrates the power of the evil inclination by asserting that even the Kohen Gadol can have the thought of cursing a man in order to marry his widow! This forbidden thought may even follow him into the Holy of Holies, so powerful is the evil inclination. This is why we must fight it with the greatest of diligence, as if we were arrows, and at that moment we will get ahead and conquer it.

This idea is alluded to in the verse that states, “The Kohen shall don his fitted linen tunic” (Leviticus 6:3). The word “shall don” evokes thoughts of holiness, that a man should don and envelope his entire body in order to serve the Eternal, for when he knows before Whom he stands (Berachot 28b), he will perform his Divine service with great attentiveness. These sacred thoughts help a man to remain attached to G-d and to elevate himself more and more. In fact, according to the ladder of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair (Avodah Zarah 20b), purity of thought leads to the highest levels and performs wonders for man in this world and the world to come.

It is not by chance that fire is mentioned three times in this passage: “The fire of the Altar should be kept aflame on it” (Leviticus 6:2); “The fire on the Altar shall be kept burning on it” (v.5); and “A permanent fire shall remain aflame on the Altar” (v.6). This repetition comes to teach us that only the purity of a man’s thoughts consumes all the thorns and thistles within him, and creates in him an absolute fervor for the service of the Eternal, to the point that even if he goes to impure places, the fire of the altar will nevertheless continue to burn in him without going out. A man can merit all this due to the enthusiasm that he succeeds in creating within himself.


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Book of Vayikra Index
Fervor and Rebukes Open The Way to Teshuvah


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