פרשת צו - Parshat Tzav
So no Man may Say: My Father is Greater than Yours
Rabbi Sharon Shalom
In the past, the world was often viewed through the chain of being, meaning that the world is built in a certain hierarchy whereby G-d is at the topmost level and hell is at the bottom. The Renaissance philosophers placed man at the center of the chain of being, making man special for being the center of creation. This philosophic perspective places man in a place of honor. Against the backdrop of perceptions of man commonly found in the ancient East, this theoretical viewpoint is commendable. In the ancient East, man is portrayed as an instrument, a tool, as means by which to attain goals such as economics or politics. Moreover, as ancient Eastern scriptures reveal, the need for security or possessions superseded the value of life, to the point that stealing property was a capital crime. In other words, possessions and man were interchangeable and that is condemnable. In addition, the Renaissance philosophers began to speak about dignity – the respect attributed to man for his high position, merely by virtue of being human. In other words, there is no hierarchy among men. These perceptions later formed basis for humanist views. And yet, it seems this innovative view was first held by the Bible. Torah declares that man was created in G-d's image, and as such is His reflection. The Bible names man the crown or pinnacle of creation, and treats him accordingly. The earth, sky and heavenly hosts were all created for him. His role is to govern the universe and all its inhabitants, to conquer it, to serve as G-d's housekeeper. And that is the reason no hierarchy to speak of exists between men.
Ever since I made Aliyah from Ethiopia, I had the privilege of meeting many wonderful people that the Jews living in Zion and all over the world can be very proud of, and most Jews do fall into that category. However, on various occasions I also come across certain groups who feel superior to others, claiming to be more Zionist, more religious, more clever or more wealthy. It amazes me time and again, how humans, and especially Jews, who are familiar with the Mishna in Sanhedrin that reads:
לְפִיכָךְ נִבְרָא אָדָם יְחִידִי... מִפְּנֵי ֹשְלוֹם הַבְּרִיּוֹת, ֹשַלֹּא יּאמַר אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ אָבָּא גָּדוֹל מֵאֲבִיךָ וְֹשֶלֹּא יְהוּ מִינִין אוֹמְרִים, הַרְבֵּה רָֹשוּיוֹת בַֹּשָמַיִם
Therefore man was created single… for fear of peace between fellow-men, so no man may say: My father is greater than yours, and so the gentiles will not say: There are many authorities in the Heavens
is still capable of patronizing others.
Although this year Parshat Tzav is read on Shabbat HaGadol, and therefore the special Haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol is read as well, I would like to talk about the Haftarah that is read after Parshat Tzav when it falls on a regular Shabbat. Because this Haftarah can, in part, answer the question I have just raised. The Prophet Jeremiah says:
עֹלוֹתֵיכֶם סְפוּ עַל זִבְחֵיכֶם וְאִכְלוּ בָשָׂר כִּי לֹא דִבַּרְתִּי אֶת אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם וְלֹא צִוִּיתִים בְּיוֹם הוציא (הוֹצִיאִי) אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם עַל דִּבְרֵי עוֹלָה וָזָבַח כִּי אִם אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה צִוִּיתִי אוֹתָם לֵאמֹר שִׁמְעוּ בְקוֹלִי... (ז', כ"א-כ"ג)
Put your burnt offerings onto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spoke not to your fathers, nor commanded them on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice… (7:21–23).
The prophet belittles sacrifices, reprimanding the People of Israel for being so strict when it comes to bringing offerings while engaging in immorality, horrendous social injustices, theft, murder and adultery. Jeremiah mentions the exodus, saying that during that historical event, G-d did not command them to bring sacrifices. It seems Jeremiah was as aware of this fact as we are, so why did he mention it? Leibowitz answers this puzzle, saying that in Egypt the Children of Israel were indeed not told about the rules of sacrificing, however, according to Jeremiah, it was then that G-d commanded them to do something else.
כֹּה אָמַר ה' אֱלֹקֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָנֹכִי כָּרַתִּי בְרִית אֶת אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הוֹצִאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים לֵאמֹר מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים תְּשַׁלְּחוּ אִישׁ אֶת אָחִיו הָעִבְרִי אֲשֶׁר יִמָּכֵר לְךָ וַעֲבָדְךָ שֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים
So said Hashem, the God of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers on the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen, saying: at the end of seven years every man shall let go of his brother the Hebrew, who has been sold to you and has served you six years.
That is to say that in Egypt G-d commanded them to free slaves on the seventh year. The idea behind this commandment is social equality. It seems that the second answer to this question is given by Israel Knohl in his book The Sanctuary of Silence. He distinguishes between the time of creation and our fathers and the era that followed. During the time of creation and the fathers, there are no religious rituals and sacrifices; morality is the focus of the relationship between G-d and man. Later on, rituals and sacrifices take over, and morality is no longer the center of worship. Consequently, a social hierarchy is established, leading to a deep social and religious crisis. Against the backdrop of these events, the prophets, each in his or her own time, object to the great social gap, condemning the rich for neglecting their duty to ensure social justice and pursuing empty rituals. The extreme solution presented by the classic prophets for this phenomenon was to reject all form of ritualistic worship and introducing purity of morals as the top demand G-d has of man. Maimonides speaks of the root of this mistake, claiming that G-d's initial intent was indeed for the Bnei Israel to worship Him and no other, but the Bnei Israel overlooked that intention and all they saw was the Temple, making sacrifices that did not align with G-d's initial intent. And so we learn that feeling superior to anyone for any reason, or thinking solely of oneself while preaching sectorial thinking or claiming to be an individualist, are none other than forms of overlooking the true purpose and misinterpreting G-d's initial intent. The purpose is to be moral, and the ritual, whatever it may be, is simply the means to that end.
Rabbi Sharon Shalom heads the Kdoshey Yisrael congregation in Kiryat Gat and teaches at the Orot College in Elkana.