(Torah Portion Tetzaveh) Leave it On!
In the Temple that the Jews constructed in the desert there were two Altars, a large Altar constructed of wood plated with copper, and a smaller Altar of wood plated with gold.
The large Altar was situated at the entrance to the Temple and animal, bird and flour offerings were offered on it. The smaller Altar was positioned within the Temple and incense was offered on it twice daily.
For an offering on the Altar to be valid, many things had to be checked out and it had to be done and performed in a prescribed manner. If the Kohain (Priest) or the owner had wrong intentions while bringing the offering it became invalid. For example, if the Kohain while performing the service had in mind that it should atone for someone other than the owner, the owner would not fulfill his obligation. Or, if during the service one had in mind to eat the sacrifice longer than the prescribed time to eat it the sacrifice becomes invalid.
There are things that can make a sacrifice invalid from the get go, such as if the animal had one of certain specific blemishes, or if it was the wrong type of animal or gender for that particular sacrifice.
If a sacrifice was correct and valid when it was presented to the Temple but later something cropped up that made it invalid and it was then mistakenly placed upon the Altar, the Torah tells us not to remove it. Rather it is to be left on the Altar and be consumed by the Altar’s holy fire. This is because since it started off with a holy designation, the holiness of the Altar energizes its holiness and it is to remain on the Altar.
However, if a sacrifice that was invalid from the beginning should somehow mistakenly make it onto the Altar, as soon as it is discovered it is immediately removed from the Altar. This is because it was already unfit for the intended sacrifice as soon as it arrived at the Temple’s gates and never assumed any holiness therefore it is promptly removed from the Altar.
The Ben Ish Chai, the great Rabbi of Baghdad in the early 1900’s, broadens this concept in a profound way and presents a relevant application.
The Ben Ish Chai brilliantly demonstrates that there are two Mitzvos that share similarities to the unique holiness of the Altar. They are the weekly Shabbos and the study of the Torah.
The Shabbos and Torah share a unique relationship with the Jew. Only a Jew is allowed to fully observe the Shabbos, and only a Jew may study and delve into the Torah.
We received this special status of holiness, responsibility and relationship with G-d when we, the Jewish nation, as a unit received and accepted the Torah from G-d at Mount Sinai. Since then, every Jew is endowed with a selectiveness and holiness at birth.
Just as the Torah tells us that a sacrifice that had once been holy and then became unfit, if it was placed on the Altar, it becomes holy, so too, since all Jews became sanctified to study the Torah and observe the Shabbos, even if a Jew had not paid good attention to their observances, when he wishes to reconnect and embrace them, his connection with these laws reawakens and reignites the original holiness he was endowed with!
Commentators point out that one can never underestimate his or someone else’s ability to connect with the holiness of Torah and its Mitzvos. There is no way to assess or appraise the impact and impression of the holiness that rides upon a Mitzvah. The performance of a Mitzvah fills and engulfs the Jew since he has already been invested with holiness and sanctity!
Have a most enjoyable, restful and peaceful Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks