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Parshat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

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In his commentary on Bamidbar, the Netziv states that the Korban Tamid of the morning was offered as a prayer that Bnei Yisael excel in their study of the Written Torah, as the daytime hours are best suitable for such study. The evening Korban Tamid was offered as a prayer for Bnei Yisrael’s success in learning the Oral Torah.Understanding the Korban Tamid

If one learns the last two chapters of this week’s parsha, one finds a long and detailed account of the korbanot (animal sacrifices) for every holiday. This is not the first place in the Torah that the holidays are listed. One finds them recorded in Parshat Emor, and further descriptions are in Parshat Re’eh. The Korban Tamid, which is not an official holiday korban, has even been listed before, in Parshat Ki Tisa. If the Torah does not write unnecessary information that will be needed for all future generations, as taught by our sages, why must the korbanot be listed again?

One could argue that the holiday Korbanot needed to be written again, because the Bnei Yisrael would be going to enter Eretz Yisrael in the near future.  One of the three essential mitzvot that the Bnei Yisrael had to perform once they entered Eretz Yisrael was to build the Beit Hamikdash.  Although they could give their holiday korbanot in the desert, the true execution of korbanot could only be performed in the Beit Hamikdash, with the entire nation present. Once the Beit Hamikdash was built, private altars, or bamot, were prohibited.  Therefore, the korbanot needed to be recorded again to tell us that soon they can be done in their ideal setting, with the Beit Hamikdash standing and the nation gathered together.  Until then, the theoretical details of Parshat Emor would be enough.

But what is so significant about the Korban Tamid? Although the Maharal quotes an unnamed Midrash that states that Shimon ben Pazzi believed that the Ki Tisa citation was the most important passuk in the Torah, several questions remain. First, why would Shimon ben Pazzi claim that this is the most important passuk in the Torah? Second, if it is, then why does it have to be repeated twice?  Third, why was it so bad if a Korban Tamid was skipped that the cessation thereof is considered one of the principal tragedies of the 17th of Tammuz, which we commemorated with a fast this last weekend?

The Sefer Hachinuch, in his explanation of the reason for the Korban Tamid, explains that its purpose is to give every Jew a constant reminder to be aware of Hashem in their daily lives, both in thought and in action. In his explanations of previous mitzvot, such as why one should not break bones when eating the Korban Pesach, the anonymous author states a famous principle. He believes that people are passive by nature, and if left to their own devices, they may not be as consistently engrossed in the service of G-d.  Therefore, due to the psychological principle of cognitive dissonance, Hashem chose to give us certain mitzvot which require attention to detail. In order that we do not think of those mitzvot as mind-numbing every time we perform them, we must think about the One who gave them to us, therefore reawakening our connection to Hashem. The twice-daily Korban Tamid would fuel that awareness of Hashem during the daytime and nighttime hours.

 Rabbi Frand extends this idea about consistency to be referring to our daily avodat Hashem. Sometimes, when we get up and do certain mitzvot every day, they seem repetitive and somewhat tedious. However, the importance of this passuk is to teach us that these steady, consistent mitzvot are the building blocks of Avodat Hashem, as opposed to the larger, flashier mitzvot, which we may not do as frequently. The seemingly smaller and more “plodding” mitzvot are what continuously reconnect Hashem to our daily lives.

On a similar note, this overlooking of smaller, day-to-day actions, in cited in the Bamidbar Rabba as being a source of shock for the Israelites. In his sefer Imrei Baruch, Rav Baruch Simon quotes the Chida who vividly describes their shock. All of Bnei Yisrael knew Yehoshua. He was known as Moshe Rabbeinu’s faithful  student, who never left his tent. Every morning, he could be found organizing the seats in Moshe’s “beit midrash.” People who knew him growing up assumed that the reason he served Moshe this way was because he wasn’t worthy enough spiritually to achieve any greater heights. They erroneously assumed that Yehoshua was consoling himself by working for Moshe in his capacity. Therefore, when Moshe announced Yehoshua as his successor, all of these people were astonished. They didn’t appreciate that the little daily things that Yehoshua did for Moshe were what made him so great. They realized they had let potential chances for greatness slip away, as any of them could have organized the benches in the beit midrash too.

The Netziv offers a similar idea on the double significance of the Korban Tamid as well. In his commentary on Bamidbar, he states that the Korban Tamid of the morning was offered as a prayer that Bnei Yisael excel in their study of the Written Torah, as the daytime hours are best suitable for such study. The evening Korban Tamid was offered as a prayer for Bnei Yisrael’s success in learning the Oral Torah. The Rambam states that most of one’s acquisition of Torah She’ba’al Peh knowledge occurs at night, so therefore this would be a proper time to offer that particular korban. Later one, once the Beit Hamikdash was completed, these korbanot took on the significance of being offered as prayers for the Jewish people’s economic success.

The tragedy of the cessation of the Korban Tamid on the 17th of Tammuz can be reflected on all of these levels. On one level, it represents disconnection in our recurring daily acts of refreshing our awareness of Hashem at all levels. When one no longer offer the Korban Tamid, one is less likely to think about Hashem during the day as well as at night. The absence of the Korban Tamid also represented a sudden disconnect from aspects of the Written and Oral Torah. It therefore, would only be fitting that on Sheva Asar B’tammuz, a Sefer Torah would be burned as well. Economically, the upcoming churban, destruction, would impoverish some families to the degree that they would be forced to search through manure for grains to eat.

 In conclusion, the lessons of the Korban Tamid are numerous. It teaches us the importance of making awareness of Hashem an integral part of our avodat Hashem, 24 hours a day, and seven days a week.  It teaches us that one can achieve spiritual heights not only through larger and flashier mitzvot, but through smaller, more day-to-day ones as well. Finally, it teaches us the importance of praying for success economically and for one’s success in Torah study. 

May the day soon come that we will be restored to the Beit Hamikdash and will be able to offer the Korban Tamid as we did in days of old.

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