Parashas Tzav

The readings for the first three aliyos in week’s parashah present various laws concerning offerings. One section concerns the laws of the korban shelamim (peace-offering). In connection with this section, the Midrash expounds as follows (Tanchuma, Tzav 4):
It is written (Tehillim 85:9): “I indeed shall hear what the Almighty, Hashem, will speak – for He speaks peace to His people and to His devout ones.” Said the nations of the world to Bilaam: “Why did God tell the Jewish People to bring offerings and not say anything about this to us?” Bilaam replied: “The offerings are only to make peace. Those who accepted the Torah need to bring offerings. But you who originally declined the Torah, now you seek to bring offerings?” Those who accepted the Torah bring offerings, as it is written (Tehillim 29:11): “Hashem gives might to His people [with the term “might” alluding to Torah]; Hashem blesses His people with peace.” Hence it is written: “I indeed shall hear ….”
The Maggid explains this Midrash with a parable. A rich merchant had a poor brother to whom he would send a certain sum of money every year. Eventually, though, he stopped sending the money, and his poor brother fell into dire straits and heavy debt. After some years, the merchant traveled to a fair held in the city where his poor brother lived. He went to his brother’s home and told him: “Figure up how much money you need, and I will give it to you.” The poor brother figured up how much money he needed to cover his debts and marry off his daughter, and the merchant gave him the entire sum. He then said to him: “I came to take care of you now, before starting in with my business here. Tomorrow the fair will begin, and I will be occupied with my business. I ask you please to leave me alone during the fair, and not disturb me with more requests for money.” The poor brother’s heart melted like wax before a flame, for he knew that soon he would be strapped for funds again.
The next day the merchant set up his trading booth, where he sold various types of silk patches for mending expensive silk clothes. The poor brother’s wife saw how well her brother-in-law was doing, and she cajoled her husband to ask his brother for more help. The poor brother demurred, saying: “I promised my brother I would not bother him during the fair.” His wife told him to take an indirect approach – he should go to his brother’s booth and look over the merchandise along with the customers there, and while discussing the merchandise with his brother he should mention that he needs some more money. Feeling he had no choice, the poor brother did as his wife said. The merchant caught on to the ruse, and he said to his brother: “Why are you rummaging through these patches? You have no silk clothes to mend, so you have no need for patches like these.”
The parallel is along the lines of a teaching in Bamidbar Rabbah 12:12. The world stands on three legs: charitable kindness, Torah, and service to Hashem through offerings (with prayer substituting for offerings when the Beis HaMikdash is not standing). Initially, man had only a limited set of duties – the seven Noachide laws – and the world operated through charitable kindness. People extended charitable kindness to each other, and Hashem extended charitable kindness to the whole of mankind. After 26 generations, the Jewish People accepted the Torah, taking upon themselves the obligation of fulfilling the 613 mitzvos. At this point, the world was in a shaky state, like a table standing on only two legs. Afterward, the Mishkan was built and the Jewish People began to bring offerings according to a designated system, and then the world became firmly settled.
Why was the world in a shaky state when the Jewish People accepted the Torah? The Maggid explains that the acceptance of the Torah as a set of obligations created the possibility that a Jew could lapse in fulfilling his obligations. The Jews were thus in a precarious position. Offerings provided the remedy, enabling a Jew to atone for a lapse. Hashem gave us the system of offerings as a means of solidifying our relationship with Him, repairing rifts in this relationship when they occur.
The nations that consulted Bilaam thought that offerings served some other function. They therefore asked him why Hashem told the Jewish People to bring offerings but did not tell them to do so. Bilaam explained that the offerings are only to make peace – to compensate for a lapse in carrying out one’s duties. The nations that declined the Torah had no lapses to compensate for, no holes to mend. Hence they had no need to bring offerings. It is for those who accepted the Torah that the system of offerings was designed.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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