The Week & Parsha
Friday March 23rd: Shabbat begins 6:07pm
Saturday March 24th: Shabbat ends 7:16pm
This weeks Sidrah: Tzav
Without going into the whole question of sacrifices, one difficult phrase that appears in this week’s reading, and throughout the early chapters of Vayikra (Leviticus), is reiach nichoach la-Hashem—“a satisfying aroma to G‑d.” Why the repeated emphasis on satisfying G‑d?
Some have suggested that with all the pageantry associated with the Temple rites and rituals, people might come to place undue importance on the kohanim and their ceremonials. The ritual directors might become so prominent in people’s eyes that they would forget about the Almighty. It was therefore necessary to remind worshippers to Whom they ought to be directing their offerings, thoughts and prayers.
As a rabbi, I am often asked to pray for people. This one is in need of a blessing for improved health, the other wants to earn a better living, and so it goes. Of course, there are set times for such prayers in the synagogue service, and I am happy to oblige. But I also suggest to people that they themselves should be in shul for the prayer too. Furthermore, there is no more sincere prayer than that of the person in need. Surely their sincerity will be unmatched, even by the most pious of rabbis.
The story is told of a saintly rabbi of yesteryear who was approached by a woman in need of a blessing for her child. The rabbi demanded a large amount for charity in return for his prayer. The woman was apologetic, and said she didn’t have that amount of money. Could the rabbi reduce the price? But he was adamant. After all her haggling got her nowhere, the woman stormed out in a huff. “I don’t need you to talk to the Almighty for me,” she said angrily. “I’ll pray for myself.”
“Aha,” said the rabbi. “That is exactly what I was hoping to hear. Your prayer will, in fact, be better and more effective than anyone else’s on your behalf.” The saintly man understood that this woman was placing too much credence in him, and forgetting about G‑d.
There used to be an unhealthy—and, thankfully, now largely discredited—attitude among many that one could hire a rabbi to perform all religious duties on his or her behalf. Let the rabbi keep kosher, and let him observe Shabbat and the festivals. Let him study the Torah, to keep it alive (barely) to pass on to the next generation . . . of rabbis! Meanwhile, I will live the easy life, and pay for the services of a rabbinical professional when I need them. Until then, don’t bother me, I’m busy.
I once encouraged someone to try putting on tefillin in the mornings. His response: “Rabbi, you do it for me.” I asked him if I could also eat for him and sleep for him.
Rabbis are not meant to be intermediaries between Jews and G‑d. Every Jew has a personal and direct relationship with G‑d. There are not 612 commandments for ordinary Jews and 614 for rabbis. We all have the same 613 obligations, no more, no less. Rabbis are only teachers, to advise and to guide. The rabbi will be happy to help and do whatever he can; but remember that, ultimately, we have to help ourselves, and each of us can turn to the single most important address in the universe—and that is G‑d.
Rabbis may be very reliable, but don’t rely on the rabbis. Kohanim, Levites, rabbis and teachers all have their important roles to play. But never confuse the messenger with the One who sent him. Long ago, our sages taught (and it has even become a popular Israeli bumper sticker): “We have no one to turn to but our Father in Heaven.”
Rabbi Yossi Goldman