Tezaveh: Constant Excitement

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 lesser 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 Yoachanan ben Zakai taught that the best of traits is that of a good heart - “included in it is 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 first and foremost 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 must 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 in his introduction to his commentary on the non-legal aspects of the Talmud quotes a tradition that the most important verse in the Torah is that found later in the parsha “the one sheep should be offered in the morning and the one sheep in the afternoon.” (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 lech panim lefanai tamid the showbread before Me always.” (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.” (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 them. 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 and 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. Shabbat Shalom

[1] This is why in 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.