Thursday, April 02, 2009

Shabbat Ha-Gadol - The Small Letter Mem in Parshat Tzav


Parshat Tzav Sefer Va-Yiqra/Leviticus 6:2 reads:

צַו אֶת-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת-בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר, זֹאת תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה: הִוא הָעֹלָה עַל מוֹקְדָה עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ כָּל-הַלַּיְלָה, עַד-הַבֹּקֶר, וְאֵשׁ הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, תּוּקַד בּוֹ.

Tzav et-Aharon v’et-banav leymod zot Torah ha’olah hi ha’olah al moqdah al-hamizbey’ach kal-halailah ad-haboqer v’eysh hamizbey’ach tuqad bo:

“Command Aharon and his sons, saying: This is the instruction for the offering-up - that is what rises up on the firewood on the altar all night, until daybreak, while the fire of the altar is kept blazing on it:”

In this pasuq/verse, the Torah tells us the sacrifice should remain on the altar all night. The word for firewood (or furnace), moqdah (מוֹקְדָה), is written in the Torah beginning with a small letter Mem.

This Mem teaches us that the fervor we must cultivate is not the open, flaming kind, but the white heat of the centre of the brand. The centre of the Earth.

Chasidut begs the question: “When does a person’s Torah study rise (olah- עֹלָה - to ascend or be offered up), to Heaven?
Answer: When it “burns upon the fire” - when the Torah is studied with a fiery enthusiasm.

However, the Mem of the word moqdah, is written smaller than the other letters. This teaches that the main part of the “flame” should remain within, and not draw attention to itself. ((Otzar Chayim))

Some people like to show off – they make sure they act very pious in front of others, to get attention, respect…whatever they are seeking from the public. This is false zeal, which isn’t about G@d, it’s about the ego – which means there is no service at all, these acts being completely hollow.

The Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859), said,

“Do mitzvot in private & aveyras (sins) in public. Why? It‘s easy for a person to exhibit religious observance in public. Most people hide when sinning, because of shame. Solution? Sin in front of friends - it will reduce the number of sins. Serve G@d sincerely, and to insure sincerity, just to do it between yourself and G-d.”

He also said that emulating the small Mem teaches us to behave with intensely religious enthusiasm while fulfilling a Divine command. The kohanim (priests) ensuring the fire on the altar remained burning all night teaches us that concerted, firey focus on the One will see us through the darkest of times. and concealing it within us modestly so that the full extent of our love for the Creator is known only to us and the Holy One.

Just as a married couple does not display their whole relationship for all to see, so the most genuinely passionate firey service of Ha-Shem must be a focused effort. The Mem is small because it has been concentrated, like a diamond. Like the heart.

There also may be a hint that this Mem is written small because it burned upon the small, gold altar in the Temple. That altar represents the human heart.
Don’t forget that under the charcoal and under the ash there is always a coal - and that coal burns hotter but more quietly that a bonfire. Sometimes it’s appropriate to serve G@d like a bonfire, but most often like a coal. This small Mem is the coal.

Another interpretation of this small Mem is a warning to Ba’alei Teshuvah: Jews who return to Judaism often do so to an extreme, embracing the most stringent practices and limited views of Torah extrapolation. If you do your Jewishness like the small, constant coal rather than like a consuming, blazing fury, your personal altar will never be left bare, your offerings to G@d having been quickly burned up. Spent. Done.

The Kotzker Rebbe also teaches us that the midah (מִדָּה - character trait) of temimut (תְּמִימוּת - serving G@d in honest simplicity) must be total. At the same time, the midah of hisla’havut (שַׁלְהֶבֶות - zealotry to which the burning fire hints) must be contained. You may spiritually burn only inside, keeping it between you and G@d.

Further to this, the Gemara in Shabbat 30b, which tells us how Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Rebbe Elazar, after emerging from the cave where they had hidden themselves from the Roman occupiers for twelve years, instantly incinerated everything they laid eyes on, judging the people too harshly. The Gemara goes on to say how G@d instructed them to go back to their cave until they had learned how to restrain their hisla’havut and keep it to themselves.

Oznayim la-Torah by Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin says this letter Mem is written small because the greater one is, the more one must humble oneself. ((Rashi’s Berachot 34b sv “Kohen Gadol”))

As my true friend Michal Mivasair says, “The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.”
Shabbat Ha-Gadol Shalom :)

Photo to follow...
Further reading:
R’ Chayim David HaLevy, Asei Lecha Rav (responsa)
R’ Yitzchak Ginsburg...anything
RaMaK, Sefer Pardes Rimonim

Based on article originally published April 2006 as "Better Late Than Never?" at HREF="">Radical Torah
Cross-posted on HREF="
Copyright A. Barclay

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