Tzav Es B’Nei Yisrael (#1)

An adaptation of the Maamar found in Likutei Torah





ONE OF the central activities in the Holy Temple was the offering of the various sacrifices appropriate to the particular day of the year. Unlike most other mitzvos of the Torah, this could only be done in the Holy Temple; once the Temple was destroyed (may it be rebuilt immediately) the sacrificial service stopped. In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we are instructed to offer these sacrifices, beginning with the verses (Numbers 28:1-3), “And G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘Command the Children of Israel and say to them, “My sacrifice – my ‘bread’ – for My fiery offerings, a satisfying fragrance for Me, you should observe to offer to me in its proper time.” And you should say to them, “This is the fiery offering that you should bring to G-d: two yearling lambs [etc.]”’”

There are many things about this that require explanation, both with respect to the concept itself – why does G-d want sacrifices at all? – and with respect to the wording of the text. For example, a careful reading of the above shows that after telling Moshe, “[Command the Jews and] say to them,” G-d told Moshe a second time, “And you should say to them.” Why this apparent redundancy?

This particular point may be understood by realizing that the soul has three basic forms of expression – thought, speech, and action – and every mitzvah of the Torah should be fulfilled on all three levels. We fulfill the mitzvah of sacrifice through our prayers, as the Talmud teaches (B’rachos 26b), “Prayers were established [by the Sages] to correspond to the daily sacrifices.” (That is, meditation on our prayers allows us to draw close to G-d, to dedicate and offer up our innermost selves to Him, thus paralleling the symbolism of actual sacrifices.) The mitzvah of sacrifice is expressed in speech by verbally studying and discussing the Torah’s teachings about sacrifices, as we are taught (M’nachos 110a), “Anyone who engages in Torah study of the burnt-offering is as though they had [actually] brought a burnt-offering.” And of course, the physical offering of the sacrifices expresses this mitzvah in deed.

The latter statement in our verse, “And you should say to them, ‘This is the fiery offering that you should bring to G-d: two yearling lambs [etc.],’” refers to actual offering of physical sacrifices; the former, “[Command the Children of Israel] and say to them,” to the expressions of this mitzvah in thought and speech.

Yet this, too, leaves much to be explained.  As noted above, the mitzvah of bringing sacrifices could only be performed in the Holy Temple. Why should this be so, especially since the Torah’s other mitzvos – and even the expression of the mitzvah of sacrifice itself in thought and speech, that is, through prayer and Torah study – can be performed anywhere, and during periods when the Holy Temple is not standing?

Furthermore, G-d refers to the sacrifices as “a satisfying fragrance” for Him. This seems bizarre, since G-d has no bodily form and does not literally “smell” things. Our sages interpret the Hebrew words “satisfying fragrance,” re-ach nicho-ach, in light of the fact that the word re-ach, “fragrance,” is similar etymologically and conceptually to the word ru-ach, “spirit.” The phrase re-ach nicho-ach is thus virtually identical to the more common expression, nachas ru-ach, “satisfaction,” literally “satisfaction of spirit.” They explain (Sifri on Numbers 28:8; see there also on 15:7) that it is as though G-d were saying of the sacrifices –  which have no logical reason other than the fulfillment of G-d’s will – “It produces nachas ru-ach, satisfaction, before Me that I spoke and My will was done.” Yet the same could be said of all the mitzvos, so, again, we are left with the question, why are sacrifices in particular called “a satisfying fragrance” to G-d?

All of these things will become clear after examining a fundamental difference between this world and the world to come. On the verse (Deuteronomy 7:11), “You should observe the mitzvos … which I command you today, to do them,” the Talmud comments, (Eruvin 22a), “‘Today’ [i.e., in this life, is the time] ‘to do them,’ and not tomorrow [in the hereafter, when one cannot] do them.”

In this life, we have the freedom to choose to study Torah and live by its mitzvos. When we reach the hereafter, although we are able to perceive the spirituality that our lifetime of mitzvos accomplished (or, G-d forbid, the harm caused by transgression thereof) – something we cannot openly perceive in this life – we no longer have the opportunity to perform additional mitzvos. Whatever spiritual achievements we have to our credit as we enter the next life, we have; what we have failed to accomplish, we do not have; we were good to the extent we were good and (G-d forbid) bad to the extent we were bad, and this cannot be changed. A unique feature of this world, though, is that we can always change our spiritual standing: not only can we perform additional mitzvos, but even if we have, G-d forbid, transgressed, we can repent and thereby change from bad to good.

The reason for this difference is that in the next world, the revelation of G-dliness is of the level known as memaleh kol almin, a manifestation of G-d as He “fills all realms.” That is, G-d manifests Himself to each being in a manner appropriate for that specific being – and in fact, it is the degree of G-dly manifestation to each that distinguishes the beings from one another. This is similar to the soul’s manifestation within the human body. The soul itself is indivisible, and includes within itself the life-force enabling all of the body’s diverse functions. Yet each organ of the body only receives from the soul the life force appropriate to that organ: the eye the power to see, the nose to smell, etc. No part of the body receives the function of a different part, which is why the eye cannot smell and the nose cannot see. Likewise, in the next world, those angels whose function is to serve G-d with love have love for G-d; those whose are to serve Him with fear have fear of G-d; the particular manifestation of G-dliness within each determines what they are and cannot change. A person’s soul, as well, comes into the next world with a certain level of spirituality, acquired during their sojourn on earth, and, once there, their level is fixed and unchanging. Just as a foot cannot change into a head, so can a soul on one level in the hereafter assume a different level.

In this life, however, a soul can indeed change, even from actual bad to good. This is because the G-dliness one draws into this world comes through the Torah and its mitzvos, which are expressions of the will of G-d Himself – a level of G-dly manifestation known as sovev kol almin, or G-d as He “transcends all realms.” This level is beyond comprehension, so we cannot openly perceive its effect in this world (as we can in the next), but by the same token it is not fixed and unchangeable. To return to the analogy of the soul’s manifestation within the body, this is comparable to an embryo in the womb. The statement that a foot cannot change into a head applies to a person who has already been formed and born, but at the very beginning of the embryo’s existence, all the body’s limbs and functions exist in potential in the selfsame cells. A given stem cell may end up developing into either a foot or a head, for example – as the Talmud (B’rachos 60a) and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 230) rule, that during the first forty days of an embryo’s formation, prayer that the child be a male is still efficacious. The holiness of sovev kol almin that a person taps into by performing mitzvos in this life is so potent that it can indeed transform that person from one spiritual standing to another.

This is what t’shuva – usually translated “repentance” but literally meaning “return” – is all about. For the level of memaleh kol almin, which is responsible for the varying degrees of G-dly manifestation throughout creation, from the highest spiritual levels all the way down to our physical world, is identified with G-d’s attribute of malchus, or “sovereignty.” This is alluded to by the verses (Psalms 145:13), “Your sovereignty [O G-d] is a sovereignty over all realms,” and (Psalms 103:18), “and His sovereignty rules over all.” In other words, all degrees of spirituality, from the highest to the lowest, are what they are as a function of G-d’s sovereignty. The higher the degree of G-dly life force revealed on a given plane of existence, the greater will be the degree of bitul, or utter deference to G-d, of the beings on that plane. In the spiritual realm of Atzilus, the highest of the four broad categories of spiritual existence, G-dliness is quite open, and as a result, the spiritual beings of Atzilus are absolutely as naught in deference to G-d. By the time we get down to this lowest of all realms, so little of our G-dly life force is perceptible to us that the inhabitants of earth believe themselves to exist separate and apart from G-d (as though such a thing were possible). Jewish mysticism explains that at the very bottom of the hierarchy, the G-dly life force is totally hidden, and can even be drawn further down to allow for the existence of evil (G-d forbid). By the power of t’shuva – “repentance/return” – which is a ray of the superior level of sovev kol almin – the life force returns even from the depths of evil, to its spiritual source at the very top and beginning of all, where, like in the all-encompassing embryonic state, one can even be transformed from sinner to saint. This is in accordance with the Kabbalistic principle that “the end is wedged in the beginning” (Sefer Yetzirah ^^^).

In order for this to succeed, one must first break the hold of wordly desires and lusts. Even things that the body legitimately needs to survive, like eating, should not be engaged in for the pleasure they entail, but purely for the sake of serving G-d. One should not do them with any passion or fervor, but as though one is being forced to perform these necessary tasks. When one achieves this level, then what natural capacity to desire things, which remains within one, will be transformed and directed towards G-d exclusively. This is the mystical interpretation of the verse (Genesis ^^^), “And your desire shall be for your Husband [in this context, G-d].”

This is also the inner meaning of the verse (Genesis ^^^), “This will be called isha (woman), for this was taken from ish (man).” The Hebrew word isha is spelled aleph, shin, hei, which can be read “aish hei,” or “the fire of hei.” Similarly, the word ish is spelled aleph, yud, shin, which letters can also spell “aish yud,” or “the fire of yud.” The letter hei is a frequent symbol in mystical literature for G-d’s attribute of malchus, associated with the level of memaleh kol almin; the letter yud symbolizes sovev kol almin and the will of G-d that is embodied within mitzvos and transcends memaleh. Thus, “the fire of hei” is an allusion to the passion, the fiery yearning and desire for things, that is part of our life in this world. But it is derived from “the fire of yud,” the pure and holy passion and yearning for G-d alone that is the spiritual ideal of fiery yearning. Ultimately, our task in life is to transform, through t’shuva and its quality of sovev kol almin, our desire from one directed at worldly things to one directed only to G-d.

And this is the significance of the well-known Mishna (Avos 4:17), “[Even] one moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is superior to the entire life of the World to Come.” The world to come is, as we have explained, characterized by revelation on the order of memaleh kol almin, derived from G-d’s attribute of malchus. T’shuva and good deeds, by contrast – which can only be performed in this world – are associated with sovev kol almin, a much more sublime level of G-dly light.

Now, sovev kol almin represents such a lofty level of G-dliness that we need to understand how it is even possible for this exalted level to rest upon us mortals at all. This is where the sacrifices come in.

The sacrifices involved offering up animals to G-d, and the Talmud teaches (see Yoma 21b) that when they were being burnt, a heavenly fire would descend to meet the fire rising from the altar, drawing it up to heaven. This was a physical expression of the principle we have discussed at length above: that the fire of worldly desire must be elevated up to its ideal, its source, the fire of yearning for G-d alone. Not only did the sacrifice symbolize this principle, but actually enabled it: the spiritual source of the animal kingdom is the heavenly animals described in the vision of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel chapter 1), which are associated with the element of fire, as it is written (Ezekiel 1:13), “their appearance was like coals of fire, burning like the appearance of torches.” The very existence of fire and what it represents – burning desire for anything – is spiritually derived from what the sacrificial animals represent: the heavenly animals of Ezekiel’s vision. In a very literal sense, the heavenly fire coming down and raising up with it the fire of the animals being consumed on the altar was the elevation of desire itself, and our “animal souls,” into the realm of holiness.

In our prayers, which, as noted, correspond to the sacrificial offerings, we have the same dynamic. The order of our prayers is arranged so as to arouse within us, as we recite them with understanding and concentration, a yearning for G-d alone. The blessing yotzer or, recited in preparation for that ultimate expression of love for G-d, the Shema prayer, contains a description of how the heavenly creatures prostrate themselves in submission to G-d’s sovereignty, a scenario which naturally resonates in our own animal souls – derived from those same heavenly creatures and the source of our capacity to desire worldly things – and arouses us to a corresponding state of bitul. This is the meaning of the word l’ishay, “for my fiery offerings,” in the verse quoted at the very beginning. The word “my fiery offerings” (ishay) is spelled with the same letters as aish yud, the “fire of yud” discussed above: the heavenly ideal of fire and desire for G-d inspires us below to rise up with it.

This in turn depends upon “My bread” (also mentioned in our verse). Bread, or food generally, restores vitality to the body; it enables the power of the soul to spread through all the limbs and organs. Similarly, the verse states lachmi l’ishay, “My bread, for My fiery offerings”: before there can be the elevation of “the fire of yud,” we ourselves must elicit this manifestation of G-dliness, must cause its spread through the world, by our own efforts and worship of G-d. This is symbolized by bread, as in the expression (Zohar III, 7b), “Israel [i.e, the Jews] sustain their Father in heaven” by our worship.

That is what is meant by re-ach nicho-ach, a “satisfying fragrance” in connection with the sacrifices in particular. Re-ach, fragrance, rises up; the word nicho-ach, satisfying, connotes rest and settling down. Through our own efforts in worship, symbolized by the rising up of what was below, we merit the resulting settling upon us of the G-dly manifestation of sovev kol almin.

We can now better appreciate the saying our Sages allegorically attribute to G-d, that the sacrifices produce “nachas ru-ach, satisfaction, before Me that I spoke and My will was done.” The words “My will” allude to the transcendent level of sovev kol almin; the words “was done” allude to the opposite extreme, this physical world of deed. The joining of the two – “My will was done” – refers to the drawing down of G-d’s transcendent will even into this lowest physical world. This is accomplished through that which “I spoke,” that is, the Torah, for it is by observance of Torah and mitzvos that all the above is possible.

We said at the beginning that every mitzvah must be fulfilled in thought, speech and actual deed. For a person to meditate at prayer – thought – and draw inspiration from above, causing his or own animal soul to rise up as an offering to G-d, is possible anywhere. Likewise, Torah teachings on the subject of the sacrifices – speech – can be discussed anywhere. However, the actual physical sacrifices were unique in that, unlike the inspiration of prayer, for example, the heavenly fire was not merely a metaphor. A physical, visible fire actually descended from above and met the fire from the altar. In order for this concept to be so thoroughly realized that it was physically manifest within this world, there had to be a context higher, not only than the physical world, but even than the sublime revelation of sovev kol almin that the heavenly fire itself represented. This context was the Holy Temple, a place so spiritually exalted that it transcended even the transcendence of sovev kol almin, and thus, within its confines, the level of sovev and this physical world could meet in actual reality.

May we merit this again immediately with the revelation of our righteous Messiah.


Ó 2002 Yitzchok D. Wagshul. Please note that the foregoing is an informal adaptation by a private person, and that, therefore, errors are possible. Also, the Hebrew original contains much more than could possibly be presented here, and constitutes a much more direct transmission of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings. Furthermore, the adaptation may contain supplementary or explanatory material not in the original, and not marked as such in any way. Thus, for those with the ability to learn in the original, this adaptation should not be considered a substitute for the maamar. Good Shabbos!