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"A Great Principle of the Torah"

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Summarized by Ramon Widmonte


"And this is what you shall offer on the altar - two yearling sheep, two a day, forever." [Shemot 29:38]

This verse introduces us to a commandment which we mention in our daily prayers - that of the korban tamid, the 'continual' offering. It also is mentioned by the Maharal in a surprising context, one which clues us in to its deeper significance.

The Sifra comments on the famous verse, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am God" (Vayikra 19:18):

"Rabbi Akiva says: This [i.e, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'] is a fundamental principle of the Torah.

Ben Azzai says: [The verse,] 'This is the book of the generations of humanity on the day that God created man, in the image of God He created him' (Bereishit 5:1) is an even greater principle."

The Maharal mentions a textual variant of this Sifra where a third verse is mentioned as being even greater than the previous two. Shockingly, that verse is none other than the one we quoted at the beginning of our shiur regarding the korban tamid!

A question immediately leaps at us. It is clear that Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azzai present two different philosophies of morality, the former based on the practical rule of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and the latter based on the more fundamental assertion of the inner value of each person. However, what significance has our verse compared with these? Firstly, why would any particular commandment gain a place amongst a set of general, all-embracing concepts? Secondly, why would this particular sacrifice, or any sacrifice at all, ever be considered as a more critical guiding principle for human behavior?

There is another question which I believe is related to this one. We are used to reading about the sacrifices in specific places in the Torah - the places where the sacrificial system, as a whole, is discussed. The beginning of Sefer Vayikra is the first main block and Parashat Pinchas (Bamidbar 28) is the second. In Pinchas, the Torah begins with a discussion of the korban tamid and then moves onto the additional sacrifices, the musafim. The question we must then ask is: Why is the korban tamid alone mentioned here?

It seems to me that the answer to both of our questions lies in understanding that there are two facets to the korban tamid.

Firstly, the fact that the tamid is mentioned in our parasha, within the group of parshiot dealing exclusively with the building of the Tabernacle, suggests that the tamid is not just part of the regular functioning of the Tabernacle, but rather is an integral part of the building of the Tabernacle itself. Like all the other details of the construction, the tamid is mentioned here because it is as much a part of the Tabernacle's structure as the beams of wood and the roof. Here, it is not the Tabernacle which enables us to bring the tamid sacrifice; rather, it is the tamid which enables us to construct a Tabernacle.

Let us examine this further. There is one word which seems to strike at the very heart of this sacrifice, that is the word which gives it its name - tamid, forever. There are three other vessels in the Tabernacle which also bear this description - the table (Shemot 25:30), the eternal flame (Shemot 27:20) and the incense offering (Shemot 30:8). In our parasha, the korban tamid is flanked on both sides by one of the "tamid" vessels - the eternal flame beforehand and the incense afterwards. I would suggest that all four of these "tamid" items are far more than items used to fulfill specific mitzvot; they are inseparable parts of the Tabernacle's structure itself.

The second aspect of the korban tamid is the one with which we are more familiar - the normative one. It is a commandment by dint of itself, with other functions which have nothing to do with constructing the Tabernacle or the Temple. For example, Rashi (Yoma 33b s.v. Af al gav dehacha trei) cites the gemara (Yoma 36a) which says that the tamid atoned for a person who had omitted performing various types of positive commandments. Thus we see that indeed the tamid functioned in area entirely divorced from the construction of the Tabernacle.

It seems to me that using this dual portrayal of the tamid, we can understand a puzzling mishna in Menachot (49a, discussed in the gemara on 50a). According to view of the Rabbis, if the altar had not been consecrated, and the incense or the korban tamid was omitted in the morning, then it is forbidden to offer the incense or the tamid in the afternoon. However, if the altar had already been consecrated, then even if one of the two - the incense or the tamid - were omitted in the morning, they can still be brought in the afternoon.

If we understand that the four "tamid" vessels are indeed part of the very fabric of the Tabernacle, then it is clear that even if the altar had not been consecrated and the Tabernacle was thus not ready for use, we could consecrate the altar and thus complete the construction of the Tabernacle simply by using the "tamid" vessels - in this case by bringing the korban tamid. However, if the tamid was not brought in the morning, and the altar had not been consecrated, the entire Tabernacle would be considered as if it were still a heap of unerected timbers and fabrics - since the tamid is partly a building block of the Tabernacle. If the tamid had not been brought in the morning, there would be no Tabernacle to speak of and thus no other offering could be brought in the afternoon!

We can now understand why the tamid, of all the sacrifices, is mentioned in our parasha. However, we still cannot understand why the Sifra would attach to it such importance as to describe it as a greater guiding principle than "Love your neighbour as yourself."

I believe that the answer to this question is a most profound one. Other religions and belief systems focus almost entirely on spiritual peaks - on those exceptional bursts of upliftment, enlightenment and elevation, on the once-a-year celebration. We too have our celebrations, our pinnacles and peaks, but these are not the essence of our spiritual growth. Judaism focuses particularly on the everyday, the common, regular, mundane activities which comprise the bulk of our lives. We attempt to imbue these with meaning, requiring our growth to take place every day in small increments.

The idea is simple: From the very beginning of the Tabernacle's function and every day thereafter, a new foundation is laid - a foundation consisting of the most regular, the most plain, daily sacrifice. In order to build any building, to create any framework, one needs to focus not on the one-time opening ceremony, but rather on the daily routine, the ordinary, gray unnoticed things which form the framework's basis. It is these things which define the context and matrix in which all actions, all thoughts and all other development take place.

We learn this idea from the Tabernacle on a halakhic level, as we saw in the mishna in Menachot - without the regular, daily sacrifice, the Tabernacle could not exist. However, this concept applies with greater strength to a greater and more difficult construction - that of human personalities.

It is all too easy, especially for a yeshiva student, to grow accustomed to the daily regimen and to lose focus of the opportunity for growth it offers us. One may focus instead on the high points of the year. Later, when one leaves yeshiva, one realizes the crucial importance of daily life, not just "peak experiences." One's focus must be on daily, step-by-step growth and development. Every regular time we set for learning Torah, every regular mitzva, every "Modeh Ani," every blessing, every opportunity to give charity, every one of life's seemingly irrelevant moments can be used as a mile-stone, as a way on our journeytowards becoming better human beings and holier Jews.

This is why this humble verse, this mundane, regular, inconspicuous sacrifice is elevated to such great heights as to be THE guiding principle for a Jew's personal development. The secret to religious growth is contained in the small word "tamid" - every day, forever.

(Originally delivered on Leil Shabbat, Parashat Tetzaveh 5757 [1997].)




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