Friday, March 27, 2015
The Torah commands us to constantly burn a fire on the Outer Mizbei’ach, the altar that stood in the courtyard of the Temple, and to never extinguish it. Moreover, as taught in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 4:6), the Torah’s emphasis on this fire’s constancy comes to teach us that this fire must be continuously maintained, even if the kohanim responsible for it are in a state of ritual impurity.
This detail in the service in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash is equally vital in the spiritual Mishkan that we each must create within ourselves.
The altar represents the heart of man, and the fire on the Outer Mizbei’achrepresents a conscious and heated passion for G-dliness. The Torah’s demand that even when the kohanim are in a state of impurity they must still maintain the fire on the altar addresses the person who feels impure and defiled—distant from anything holy. Notwithstanding his undesirable spiritual state, he must never allow the G-dly fire that burns in his soul to be extinguished. He, too, is commanded to continuously fan the natural flames of excitement toward anything G-dly that burn in his heart - as they do in the heart of every Jew.
By keeping that fire alive, he will ultimately purge himself of impurity as well. As the Maggid of Mezeritch interpreted this verse homiletically: “When the fire on the Altar is constant, everything “not” (i.e., negative) shall be extinguished.”
—Likkutei Sichos vol. 1, p. 217
One of the miracles attributed to Shabbos Hagadol is recorded in the Midrash (cited in Machzor Vitri 259 and elsewhere): “The selection of the lamb for the Pesach sacrifice was on the 10th of Nissan, which was on Shabbos. …When the Egyptians saw this, they wanted to rise up and take revenge, but their intestines became sweltering and torn and they were stricken with horrible pains and afflictions, and could do no harm to Bnei Yisrael.”
The Tur relates a similar account, but with slight variations: “Each took a lamb for the Pesach sacrifice, and tied it to his bedpost. When the Egyptians asked why are you doing this, they replied that it is to be slaughtered as a Pesach sacrifice as commanded to us by G-d. The Egyptians gnashed their teeth, because their gods were being slaughtered but they could say nothing. In recognition of that miracle, we call that day Shabbos Hagadol.”
Notably, the Tur makes no mention of the Egyptian’s desire to harm Bnei Yisrael nor that G-d miraculously saved Bnei Yisrael by afflicting the Egyptians. He states only that the Egyptians were powerless. On the other hand, he documents a full dialogue between Bnei Yisrael and the Egyptians, emphasizing Bnei Yisrael's response, “it is to be slaughtered as a Pesach sacrifice as commanded to us by G-d.”
The Tur’s choice of words indicates that Shabbos Hagadol does not commemorate the salvation from the Egyptians’ revenge, for that is celebrated on Pesach among all the other miracles associated with the exodus. Rather,Shabbos Hagadol commemorates the mere fact that the Egyptians were unable to stop Bnei Yisrael from observing their mitzvah.
The Tur therefore omits the details of the afflictions that held back the Egyptians, and elaborates instead on Bnei Yisrael’scourageous response — they disregarded the risk involved and openly stated that they would slaughter the lamb in observance of G-d’s will. This highlights, that Bnei Yisrael’s determination and courage to fulfill G-d’s command brought about the great miracle of Shabbos Hagadol, in which the Egyptians became entirely powerless to stop Bnei Yisrael from doing G-d’s bidding.
—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 37, pp. 7-8
A number of miraculous events are attributed to the Shabbos that preceded the exodus from Egypt, earning the Shabbos before Pesach the title Shabbos Hagadol, the Great Shabbos. Yet the Alter Rebbe, Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, cites only one of these miracles in his Shulchan Aruch: “When the Jews took the lambs for their Pesach offerings on that Shabbos, the gentile firstborns assembled and inquired why they were doing so. They responded, ‘This is our Pesach offering, for G-d shall slay the Egyptian firstborns.’ The firstborn went to their fathers and to Pharaoh and demanded that they liberate the Jews. They refused, and the firstborn declared war against them and killed many of them.”
It is particularly this miracle that is commemorated by Shabbos Hagadol, according to the Alter Rebbe, because this demand and uprising from within the Egyptian rank and file marked the start of the actual exodus. In the Alter Rebbe’s words in the subsequent paragraph, “because Shabbos Hagadol was the beginning of the redemption.”
This explanation also provides deeper insight into the name Shabbos Hagadol.
Shabbos is both “a remembrance of the creation of the world” (see Shemos), and “a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt” (see Devarim ). The acknowledgement of G-d’s rest on the seventh day of creation emphasizes Shabbos’ contribution to the creation: “to instill in our souls the belief in the world’s deliberate creation” (Sefer Hachinuch). The second aspect of resting on Shabbos, however, pays tribute to G-d’s redemption of the Jewish people from the harsh labor in Egypt, and represents Shabbos of transcendence of creation. It draws attention to Shabbos’s unique relationship with the Jewish people (and not the world as a whole), and to the redemption from Egypt, which utterly defied the rules of nature.
Accordingly, the Shabbos before Pesach is not only “The Shabbos of great miracles,” but “The Great Shabbos.” For this Shabbos marks the launch of the redemption, whose commemoration on Shabbos is the greater aspect of Shabbos. Hence, the war waged by the Egyptians to procure freedom for the Jews is the event that made Shabbos truly great.
—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 37, pp. 9-12
Friday, March 20, 2015
Why is it necessary to atone for transgressions that were committed unknowingly, especially if one is doubtful if he transgressed at all?
Chassidus explains that although the actual transgression was not committed intentionally, yet its very occurrence is indicative of an internal spiritual weakness. For what causes a person to succumb to sin inadvertently is his instinctive draw and desire for such behavior. He is therefore guilty for his choices in the past that caused this attraction to the impermissible, even if only subconsciously, which then manifests itself in an actual transgression. Conversely, the verse in Mishlei () states, “No corruption shall chance upon the righteous.” The righteous person craves only G-dliness, therefore he will not chance upon sin even unintentionally.
This explains why the classic example of doubtful transgression brought in the Talmud is a doubt regarding a piece of animal fat. As quoted in Rashi on the verse cited above, “a piece of prohibited animal fat and a piece of permissible animal fat lay before someone, and, thinking that either was permissible, he ate one. He was later informed that one of those pieces was prohibited fat. As he doesn’t know whether the one that he had eaten was indeed the prohibited one, he brings a ‘pending guilt-offering’.”
In light of the above explanation regarding the cause of unintentional sin, the Talmud’s choice of illustration is precise. Fat represents lusciousness and pleasure. Accordingly, the doubt whether one has indulged in forbidden fat or not is essentially the question that lies behind every possibility of unintentional sin: have you been drawn to lust the prohibited or do you delight exclusively in the holy and permissible?
—Likkutei Sichos vol. 3, pp. 944-946
Thursday, March 19, 2015
The word mincha alone means “a grain-offering,” rendering superfluous the word קרבן, offering, which precedes it in this verse. The Midrash explains that this additional word comes to teach us of another group of offerings that may be donated and offered upon the Altar. Namely, included by the word קרבן are stand-alone offerings of oil, wine, incense or wood, which are normally components of a larger קרבן, but may also be offered individually. (Toras Kohanim)
The Midrash’s inclusion of wood among the components of a sacrifice is somewhat surprising. The wood was placed on the Altar merely as fuel for the fire that consumed the sacrifices. How can it be reckoned as an actual part of the offering? Truthfully, however, the wood that accompanies the sacrifices represents the underlying theme of all the sacrifices, and in a certain sense, even more so than their other components.
According to the Ramban (Vayikra 1:9), the purpose of the sacrifices is to stir within the individual a readiness to offer himself to G-d, and the offering he burns on the Altar substitutes for him only physically. Now, each particular sacrifice “concentrates” on affecting a specific aspect of the person's character, drawing it near to G-d. Behind all the sacrifices, however, lies the general readiness to offer your entire being to G-d.
This common feature of self-sacrifice is symbolized in all the sacrifices by their common component: the wood used to fuel the Altar fire. Indeed, the firewood represents the epitome of selflessness and sacrifice. It does not serve a significant role in arousing “a pleasing fragrance for G-d” (Vayikra 1:9), as do the other components of the sacrifice, yet it is totally consumed in facilitating that Divine favor, though the success of the sacrifice will be attributed to “someone else.”
Thus, the firewood alone truly defines the word קרבן.