Devotion, Fervor, and Humility in The Torah and Mitzvot

On the verse, “Command Aaron…. This is the law of the burnt-offering” (Leviticus 6:2), Rashi explains in the name of our Sages (Torat Kohanim ibid.) that the word tzav (“command”) always implies urging, at present and for future generations. Rashi also cites Rabbi Shimon as saying, “Scripture found it especially necessary to urge in cases where fulfillment of a mitzvah involves monetary loss” (see also Kiddushin 29a).

In his book Divrei Yoel, the Rebbe of Satmar Zatzal raised objections to the views of the first Tanna (whom Rashi cited for the meaning of the word tzav) and Rabbi Shimon. The Rebbe asked why Scripture has to use encouragement, both now and for all the generations, in connection with the mitzvah of the burnt-offering, since a monetary loss is involved in many mitzvot, as for example with the etrog (see Sukkah 41b, Bava Kama 9b, Tosaphot on the passage beginning with ailima). Since the word tzav, which indicates urging, is not used in connection with these other mitzvot, why was urging required precisely for the mitzvah of the burnt-offering? (See also Ohr HaChaim on this verse.)

In my humble opinion, there is another difficulty here. The monetary loss in question was actually incurred by the Children of Israel, since it was they who gave money for purchasing the offerings. Since this loss did not apply to the priests, why was Aaron being encouraged by means of the word tzav? The verse should instead have stated, “Command [tzav] the Children of Israel.”

To best answer these questions, we begin by noting the importance of self-annulment, the potential of which is made real by a person demonstrating that he has mastered his evil inclination. Now each mitzvah comprises a certain element of self-annulment, since the evil inclination tries to disturb a person so as to prevent him from fulfilling the mitzvot (see Berachot 60b), or at least to make him seek honor by drawing a personal benefit from performing them (rather than performing them for the sake of Heaven). We already find an allusion to this idea in the verse, “Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long” (Psalms 44:23), which means that personal devotion in fulfilling mitzvot recalls the fact that we kill ourselves each day for Hashem.

We are familiar with the teaching of the Sages which states, “The evil inclination of a man grows in strength from day to day and seeks to kill him, as it is said: ‘The wicked one watches for the righteous and seeks to kill him’ [Psalms 37:32]. Were it not for the fact that the Holy One, blessed be He, was his help, he would not be able to withstand it, as it is said: ‘Yet the L-RD will not forsake him to his hand’ [v.33]” (Sukkah 52b, Kiddushin 30b). Thus in order to prevent a person from performing mitzvot, the evil inclination tries with every ounce of its strength to make him transgress. However one must courageously gather his own strength, and in this way he will merit Heavenly assistance. How can we attain such courage? It is through the attribute of fervor, as the Tur teaches: “Yehudah ben Tema said, ‘Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven’ [Perkei Avoth 5:20, Avoth D’Rabbi Nathan 41:10]. A man must control himself like a lion and rise early to serve his Creator, and even if his evil inclination incites him in winter by saying, ‘How can you get up on such a cold morning?’ he must conquer it and get up to awaken the dawn without delay, as King David said: ‘Awake, my soul, awake. Awake, O lyre and harp, I shall awaken the dawn’ [Psalms 57:9] – I shall awaken the dawn; the dawn shall not awaken me [Yerushalmi Berachot 1:1, Eichah Rabba 2:19§22]” (Tur on Orach Chaim, par. 1).

From all this we see that in order to perform mitzvot, we need the attribute of fervor. If laziness is present, then enthusiasm is lacking, and this will be lacking when mitzvot are performed. A person should realize that he is obligated to perform mitzvot in any case. Therefore if he at least does so with energy and enthusiasm, with nothing lacking, he will be offering himself for the service of G-d.

Yet to arrive at this level of enthusiasm, a person must put an effort into Torah study. Without that, it will be impossible to perform mitzvot with fervor, as it is written: “If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them” (Leviticus 26:3). This means that we must put an effort into studying Torah (Torat Kohanim ibid.), and that it is only when we have devoted ourselves to its study that we can correctly observe and fulfill mitzvot. Torah study also leads to fervor, and where there is fervor there is the opportunity of conquering the evil inclination and observing mitzvot to perfection. This is because the essential aspect of the offerings is enthusiasm – which applies to all the mitzvot – the main thing being to fulfill them with enthusiasm.


Fervor and Rebukes Open The Way to Teshuvah
Book of Vayikra Index
The Sin of Nadav and Avihu and their Infinite Greatness


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