Tezaveh: Consistently Excited

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

For many, when the Torah reading reaches the parshiot of Terumah and Tezaveh interest in the parsha wanes just a bit (or maybe more). It is hard to compare the technical details of these parshiot with the excitement of, say, the Yosef story. Add to that the inapplicability of these parshiot for the past 2,000 years and we can understand the diminished attention paid to them.

And yet buried within these parshiot is tremendous symbolism and many beautiful messages both ethical and religious. We can begin with the names of the parshiot themselves.

Terumah means to lift up, to give a gift. The Jewish people are defined by our devotion to chesed, by our giving to others. And it is by giving to others that we elevate ourselves. The terumah is to be given by “every person whose heart motivates him.” How we do something can be as important as what we do. We help others not just with our hands but with our heart, showing concern, care and compassion. Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai taught that the best of traits is that of a good heart—“included in it are all other” traits (Pirkei Avot 2:9). And it is the heart that G-d desires, "rachamana liba bayi, the Merciful One desires our heart.

Yet the heart is not enough. We often mean well and have our heart in the right place, but that does not always translate into action. Parshat Tezaveh begins “And you shall command.” Judaism is about mitzvoth, commands that we are obligated to follow. “Greater is the one who is commanded and does, more than one who is not commanded and does” (Kiddushin 31a). While it may be counter-intuitive, the one who is obligated to act is greater than the volunteer. The latter can come and go as they please and feels little guilt if they don’t volunteer 50 or 60 hours a week. The one obligated to show up to work has no such option. It is the daily obligation to mitzvoth, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that motivates us to get things done. No successful organization functions on volunteers alone.

The importance of the daily performance of mitzvot is highlighted by the Ein Yaakov who quotes a tradition that the most important verse in the Torah is one found later in the parsha “the one sheep should be offered in the morning and the one sheep in the afternoon” (Shemot 29:39). It is the daily routine of mitzvoth, never missing a beat, that reflects the essence of Judaism even more than “loving your neighbour as yourself.” It is consistency not excitement that is the mark of greatness[1]. And it is consistency that has the potential to bring excitement.

“And you shall place on the table lechem panim lefanai tamid the showbread before Me always” (Shemot 25:30). “You shall command the children of Israel to take pure pressed oil for illumination, lhaalot ner tamid, to keep the lamp constantly burning” (Shemot 27:20).

We must tamid, always, be concerned with both our physical needs, represented by the bread on the table, and our spiritual needs, represented by the light of the menorah.

But there is a basic difference between the two. The lechem hapanim was changed once a week whereas the menorah was lit anew every night. The light must burn constantly and the bread must continually be on the table, but we must take stock of our spiritual growth each and every day, whereas we can examine our material growth on a weekly basis. 

It is through the daily, weekly, even yearly, routine that we are able to experience moments of great excitement, moments that are extra special precisely because they are part of our regular routine. While it was the Jewish people who ultimately were commanded to give a terumah it is G-d who gave us the great gift of mitzvoth, commandments, to give our lives both consistency and excitement.  

[1] This is why to my mind two of the greatest achievements in sports are Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak set back in 1941 and the iron-man streak first set by Lou Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive games played, and bested by Cal Ripken Jr. who went 2,632 games, or 17 years, without missing a day of work.