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Tzav: Elevating Ourselves and our Torah Learning

וידבר ה' אל משה לאמר, צו את אהרן ואת בניו לאמר, זאת תורת העולה הוא העולה על מוקדה על המזבח כל הלילה וגו'.

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe and told him: Instruct Aharon and his sons and tell them: This is the Torah of the Oleh Offering; this is the Oleh Offering which is upon the fire of the Altar all night…”(Vayikra 6)

There is an interesting Midrash on this verse: “The disciples of Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma asked, ‘When will Moshiach come?’ Rabbi Yosi responded: ‘This is the Torah of the Oleh Offering…’” What is the meaning of this perplexing Midrash?

Perhaps we can explain this Midrash with the following statement of the holy Zohar: “Torah that is studied without awe and love does not ascend upwards.” It says in Kisvai Ari: Rabbi Chaim Vital zt”l asked his holy Rebbe, the Ari Hakadosh, why Moshiach isn’t coming yet, so the Ari explained that there are no people in our generation who are capable of bringing perfection to the world as is required. “However,” he concludes, “although we do not have such great people, if we have mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) for Hashem, we will overcome this as well.”

The Arvei Nachal writes in his sefer that one year on Rosh Hashanah, Eliyahu Hanavi revealed himself to a certain tzaddik and informed him that Satan was able to build a strong case against the Jewish people and bring about an unfavorable decree. Although much Torah was learned that year, Satan claimed that it was not studied for the sake of heaven, and therefore all the Torah that was learned is worthless. Upon hearing all this, the tzaddik spoke to his congregation and inspired them to do tshuva. Fortunately, the heavenly decree was annulled.

We see from all of this that we must learn Torah, but it must be the type of Torah learning that is an “Oleh” – it ascends to Heaven! The Torah that we learn should not stay here in this world, but should bring about complete perfection, the type of perfection that is required to bring Moshiach.

The verse continues: “Which is upon the fire of the Altar all night until morning.” The Altar symbolizes mesiras nefesh, personal self-sacrifice for the sake of Hashem’s glory. It is difficult for us to learn Torah with such perfection that it should become an Oleh Offering and ascend to Heaven, bringing about the type of perfection to the world that the Ari says would bring Moshiach. But we can achieve the same purpose with mesiras nefesh. In every generation there are people who are prepared to sacrifice for Hashem, and these people elevate all Torah that was learned, helping it ascend to Heaven.

This is what Hashem is telling Moshe: “Instruct Aharon and his sons and tell them: This is the Torah of the Oleh Offering.” It all depends on the Torah being elevated like an “Oleh” and ascending to Heaven. This can be accomplished either by “the fire” – if the Torah is learned with complete purity and intensity for the sake of Hashem, or “upon the Altar” - with self-sacrifice.

This is the meaning of the Midrash mentioned above. Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma’s disciples asked him when Moshiach will come, to which their Rebbe replied, “It all depends on the Torah of the Oleh – on the elevation of our Torah learning.” It is not enough to learn Torah, but the Torah must ascend to Heaven, either through its purity and perfection, or through our mesiras nefesh for Hashem!

May we indeed be worthy to study Torah, and the Torah we learn should ascend to Heaven. This Shabbos is called Shabbos Hagadol – the Great Shabbos, because on this special Shabbos we can elevate all the Torah we learned throughout the year.

Before taking us out of Egypt, Hashem told Moshe to tell the Jewish people: “Pull and take for yourself sheep.” Rashi explains the word “mishchu – pull” to mean “cleanse yourself.” Since the Egyptians worshiped the sheep, Hashem specifically told the Jewish people to take the sheep and offer it for Hashem, thereby cleansing themselves from Egyptian idol worship. Hashem instructed Moshe about this on the first day of the month of Nissan, so why did Hashem tell them to wait until the tenth day of the month before offering the sheep? The purpose of this commandment was to cleanse the Jewish people from idol worship, so why not require of them to do so immediately?

Hashem knew how difficult it will be for the Jewish people to cleanse themselves from Egyptian idol worship. On the Shabbos before the Redemption, Hashem sent a special powerful force of kedusha upon the Jewish people. We know that all blessings of the coming week are brought into effect on the preceding Shabbos, so it is understandable that the Shabbos preceding the Redemption from Egypt came along with very powerful forces of holiness. Because of this great holiness, the Jewish people were able to break free from the shackles of impurity and from spiritual bondage. This is why Hashem waited with the command to cleanse themselves from idol worship until Shabbos.

In every single generation, even in our own days, a great spiritual light descends upon the world on the Shabbos before Pesach. We can all become elevated! Every single Jew, regardless of his spiritual status, can elevate himself, and the Torah he learned all year can be elevated as well.

When Hashem instructed Moshe to show Pharaoh His many wonders, He said, “And this staff you shall take in your hand and perform with it the signs.” The word for staff is mateh – which also means “low.” Pharaoh ridiculed Moshe and told him that the Jewish people are the lowest form of humanity. After all, they were pitifully enslaved for hundreds of years and had lost their own identity. Hashem’s response was: This mateh(staff) – this “low” nation which Pharaoh disdains, “take them in your hand and perform with them the signs!” Once you take them in your embrace, they will perform wondrous sings. Pharaoh will yet see that this people will rise to extreme greatness, beyond anything any nation has ever achieved. They just need to be freed from the grips of Egyptian impurity, and they will ascend very high.

May Hashem help Klal Yisroel, which is now in a situation of “mateh” – we have fallen very low. May Hashem take this mateh in His hand and perform with us the wondrous signs the world is waiting for! May we merit yeshuos and refuos; those in need of salvation should be helped with whatever they need. We should speedily greet Moshiach with great joy and ascend to Jerusalem where we will eat from the sacrifices and the Pesach Offering, Amen.

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