Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 23 March 2019 / 16 Adar II 5779

Parshat Tzav

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Life of Night

Chapter six opens with the supplemental laws of the offerings, addressed specifically to the kohanim, beginning with the laws applicable to the night. During the night the Sanctuary is entrusted exclusively to the kohanim, and is closed to the rest of the nation.

It is significant that the daily service, including all offerings, is to be accomplished by day. Judaism considers two overlapping cycles of time — one corresponding to the body, the other to the soul. The yearly cycle is a double one: the “world year” which begins with Tishrei (the seventh month by Torah reckoning), and the Jewish year which begins with Nissan, the month commemorating the birth of the Jewish nation. Thus, we have a year that begins in the fall, and though it also has a spring and a summer, it ends again in the fall; and we have a year that begins in the spring, and although it also has a fall and a winter, it ends again in the spring.

So too, we have a day that begins in the evening, and though it rises to morning and to noon, it ends again in the evening; and we have a day that begins in the morning, and though it sinks into evening and night it ends again in the morning. Outside the Sanctuary the day begins and ends with night, but inside the Sanctuary the day begins and ends with morning.

It is during the day, with a clear mind and full awareness, that a person should bring his offering to G-d. With clear thought, out of free choice, and with full creative capacity he should dedicate himself to fulfilling the Torah. This is why in the Sanctuary, the night and its stillness follows the day and its vitality.

There is only one form of service reserved for the night: the parts of an olah offering remain on the altar and are burned the entire night until daybreak. Similarly, the mincha offerings may be burned just before sunset and gradually consumed by the fire throughout the night. Atonement has already been achieved by the offerings. All that remains is to draw the proper conclusions from them. When by day the independent man has found G-d and sought His nearness, then he can also serve G-d by night. When he has waged his struggle during the day, his aims and aspirations, symbolized by the animal parts on the altar, can fuel G-d’s fire within him at night. The sun never sets for the earthly man who remains close to G-d in the deep of the night. The day’s sphere of influence — the active service of the offering — extends to the night.

Day to day utters speech, and night to night speaks knowledge(Psalms 19:3). Every day’s life carries on the work which was begun on the previous day and interrupted by the night. The scepter of daytime is characterized by speech, action and accomplishment — and all those cease at night. But even at night, knowledge never slumbers or sleeps. It watches over all things and lets them reawaken from sleep to the renewed independence of life.

Thus, the daily cycle and the monthly cycle reveal a dual nature: The world year and the non-Sanctuary day begin in the autumn and in the evening, respectively. This teaches that everything earthly is born out of the night and winter, and though it rises to the brightness of midday blooming and fruitful, it will sink again to the blossomless night. The Jewish year and the Sanctuary day begin in the spring and in the morning, respectively. Everything holy and Jewish has its origin in light and life — in spring and in morning — and though when it has run its course and must contend with the night and with earth, it will emerge from this struggle into renewed light and life. When the night follows the day, the night is the necessary supplement, providing the contemplation represented by the slow-burning embers on the altar to rejuvenate the next day.

§ Sources: Commentary, Vayikra 6:2, Shemot 12:1-2, Psalms 19:3

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