Parshas Tzav - Shabbos HaGadol

From the Haftarah

וְעָרְבָה לַה' מִנְחַת יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלָ‍ִם כִּימֵי עוֹלָם וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמֹנִיּוֹת

The minchah-offering of Yehudah and Yerushalayim will be pleasing to Hashem as in the days of old and in previous years (Malachi 3:4)

This pasuk which opens the Haftarah of Shabbos HaGadol, and which is well known to us from the conclusion of the Shemoneh Esrei, describes how, in the future, the korbanos of Am Yisrael will once again be pleasing to Hashem as in days of old.

Some Questions

There are a number of basic questions regarding this pasuk which are worthwhile considering:

  1. What is the specific connotation of the word “וערבה” as opposed to other similar terms?
  2. Why does the pasuk specify the minchah offering? Will not all offerings be pleasing to Hashem in the future?
  3. Are the phrases “days of old” and “early years” referring to any specific time when korbanos were pleasing to Hashem?

With regards to the third question, the Midrash[1] identifies the time to which the pasuk is referring as the time of Kayin and Hevel, which was a time when avodah zarah did not yet exist in the world. The Meshech Chochmah discusses how this identification may help us answer the first two questions as well.

Matok and Arev

The term “arev – pleasant” is often used synonymously with the term “matok – sweet”. However, there is a significant difference in connotation between them.

  • Matok” refers to a single entity which is sweet.
  • Arev” relates to the term “eiruv,” a mixture or combination. It refers to something whose pleasant effect is specifically the result of combining different components, each of which contributes to – and brings out the best from – the other ingredients.

A classic example of the concept of “arev” is the Ketores, which consists of eleven different spices. In fact, as Chazal point out,[2] one of these spices, the chelbenah, actually has a foul odor. Nevertheless, when combined with the other spices, not only is the smell of the chelbenah itself tempered, it further serves to enhance the smell of the other ten spices! The composite effect of this “eiruv” of different spices is called “arev”.

“When a soul brings a Mincha-offering”

The Halachah states that most of the korbanos which are offered by an individual can also be jointly offered by two people. A notable exception is the minchah, which can only be offered by a single individual.[3] The source for this rule is the pasuk which introduces the korban minchah:[4]

וְנֶפֶשׁ כִּי תַקְרִיב קָרְבַּן מִנְחָה לַה'

When a person offers a minchah offering to Hashem

The term used by the pasuk to describe the person bringing the minchah is “נפש,” from which the Gemara derives that a minchah must be brought specifically by a single soul and not by two or more people.

Having said this, we do encounter minchah offerings which are brought by the entire Jewish People! For example, the Omer offering on Pesach and the Shtei Halechem on Shavuos are both communal minchah offerings. How does this fit in with the stipulation that a minchah cannot be brought by more than one person?

Nefesh and Nefashos

The answer to this question lies in a comment of Chazal,[5] regarding the way the Torah describes the families of Yaakov and Esav:

Concerning Esav, the Torah only mentions six members of his family, yet still refers to them as “souls” in the plural, as it says[6]וַיִּקַּח עֵשָׂו אֶת נָשָׁיו וְאֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת בְּנֹתָיו וְאֶת כָּל נַפְשׁוֹת בֵּיתוֹ – Esav took his wives, sons and daughters and all the souls of his household.” With regards to Yaakov, however, the pasuk mentions seventy people and yet still refers to them as “one soul,” as it says[7]וַיְהִי כָּל נֶפֶשׁ יֹצְאֵי יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב שִׁבְעִים נָפֶשׁ – All the souls (lit. soul) who emerged from Yaakov were seventy souls (lit. soul)!” Rather, since Esav’s family worshiped many deities, the Torah refers to them as “many souls.” Yaakov’s family, however, worships One God, therefore, it is referred to as “one soul.”

We see that the entire Jewish people are themselves considered “one soul” and, as such, are able to bring a korban minchah. Moreover, such a minchah is especially “arev – pleasing” to Hashem, since it is the product of the composite “soul” that is comprised of the unification and integration (“eiruv”) of the Jewish People!

However, it is important to take note of this statement of the Midrash, as well as its implications; for the Midrash states that the reason Yaakov’s family are referred to as “a soul”, while Esav’s family are called “souls” is specifically because Yaakov’s family worships the One God while Esav’s family serve multiple deities.

We may tend to consider the concept of “Jewish unity” purely in terms of the Jewish People’s relationship with each other, and perhaps as not so connected to the question of their relationship with Hashem. The Midrash is informing us that the ultimate unity of the Jewish People to each other is based on the fact that they serve One God. Should the unity of their connection with Hashem ever be compromised, then their unified status as “one soul” would likewise be diminished. Among the many expressions of such a decline, this would express itself in the korban minchah. If Bnei Yisrael should cease being a single “nefesh,” they could no longer bring a minchah; as soon as they are no longer a unified and integrated entity (“eiruv”) their minchah would no longer be pleasing (“arev”) before Hashem.

Korban minchah and the Sword of Gideon

Indeed, the Jewish People experienced just such an un-unified state in the days of Gideon, when they were subject to oppression from Midian. The pasuk relates:[8]

וַיִּדַּל יִשְׂרָאֵל מְאֹד מִפְּנֵי מִדְיָן

Yisrael became exceedingly impoverished before Midian

Commenting on these words, the Midrash[9] states that “they were so impoverished they did not even have the means with which to offer a korban minchah.” On a simple level the Midrash is describing the dire poverty which the Jewish people endured as a result of the oppression from Midian. However, the Meshech Chochmah explains that, on a deeper level, this Midrash is expressing the “poverty” which made them susceptible to that oppression!

As the pesukim in Sefer Shoftim there describe, the Jewish People at that time were involved in different forms of avodah zarah, including Ba’al and Asheirahs. In this state, having lost their unified connection with Hashem, they were no longer fully connected to each other and lost their status as “one soul”. This fragmented state is what the Midrash is referring to when it says they were so poor that, as a people, they could no longer bring a korban minchah!

This understanding of the Jewish People’s “impoverished” state will shed new light on Gideon’s first step in the war against Midian, destroying the statue of Ba’al and cutting down an Asheirah tree. This represented the beginning of the recovery of the People, not only in terms of their connection with Hashem, but also their unification with each other.

Indeed, this will give us a completely new insight into a part of that chapter where Hashem instructs Gideon to descend towards the Midianite camp on the eve of battle, telling him that he will hear something which will be the source of much encouragement regarding the battle to come. The pasuk relates that when Gideon approached the camp, he overheard one of the Midianite soldiers telling his fellow about a dream that he had had the preceding night:[10]

וְהִנֵּה צְלִיל לֶחֶם שְׂעֹרִים מִתְהַפֵּךְ בְּמַחֲנֵה מִדְיָן וַיָּבֹא עַד הָאֹהֶל וַיַּכֵּהוּ וַיִּפֹּל... וַיַּעַן רֵעֵהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר אֵין זֹאת בִּלְתִּי אִם חֶרֶב גִּדְעוֹן

Behold, a roasted barley bread was rolling in the Midianite camp. It came to the tent and struck it and it fell… His fellow answered and said, “This is none other than the sword of Gideon”

What was the significance of this “roasted barley bread” rolling into the Midianite camp?

The Midrash[11] informs us that this was a reference to the korban omer, which is an offering of barley. Indeed, the night Gideon attacked the Midianite camp was the sixteenth of Nisan, the date on which the omer is offered. Based on our discussion, we can appreciate the significance of this allusion in an entirely new light. Once Bnei Yisrael had abandoned the avodah zarah which had disconnected them from Hashem, they were once again able to connect with each other, which thereby enabled them to offer – as “one soul” – the communal minchah offering of the omer. In this reunited state, their victory was ensured!

Future Times

Coming back to our Haftarah, the Navi prophesizes concerning a time when all barriers between us and Hashem – and hence with each other – will be removed. The result of this unified and integrated state will be that our minchah, which can only be offered by “one soul,” will once again be “arev” before Hashem. The paradigm for this absolute connection, referred to in the pasuk as “the early years,” is the time of Hevel, whose minchah was offered at a time when there was no avodah zarah in the world that could disrupt his connection with Hashem. In the future, with Bnei Yisrael in a full state of “eiruv,” our mincha will likewise be “arev.”[12]

May it happen speedily in our days!

[1] Eichah Rabasi 5:21.

[2] Kerisos 6b.

[3] See Menachos 104b.

[4] Vayikra 2:1.

[5] Vayikra Rabbah 4:6.

[6] Bereishis 36:6.

[7] Shemos 1:5.

[8] Shoftim 6:6.

[9] Yalkut Shimoni Shoftim sec. 60.

[10] Shoftim 7:13-14.

[11] Vayikra Rabbah 28:6.

[12] Perhaps this idea can give us further insight as to the connection between this Haftarah and the festival of Pesach which it ushers in. Moshe’s introductory words to Bnei Yisrael regarding the korban Pesach were (Shemos 12:21) “מִשְׁכוּ וּקְחוּ לָכֶם – Draw and take for yourselves.” Chazal (Midrash Rabbah ibid.) interpret the word “משכו” as saying “withdraw your hands from avodah zarah.” Pesach is the time when we became a nation. As such, Moshe is informing the people that withdrawing from avodah zarah is critical not only in order to connect them to Hashem, but also to fully connect them with each other and leave Mitzrayim as a unified nation.