SALT - Friday, 20 Tammuz 5777 - July 14, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Parashat Pinchas presents the obligation to offer the korban tamid, the daily sacrifice in the Beit Ha-mikdash, commanding, “Et ha-keves echad ta’aseh va-boker ve-eit ha-keves ha-sheini ta’aseh bein ha-arbayim” – “You shall perform one sheep [as a sacrifice] in the morning, and you shall perform the second sheep in the afternoon” (28:4). 

            Keli Yakar finds it significant that the Torah refers to the morning tamid with the phrase “ha-keves echad” (“one sheep”), as opposed to “ha-keves ha-rishon” (“the first sheep”).  To explain this nuance, Keli Yakar references the comment of the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 21:21) regarding the atonement achieved by the tamid sacrifice.  The Midrash teaches that the morning tamid brought atonement for any sins that may have been committed over the course of the previous night, whereas the afternoon tamid brought atonement for violations that occurred over the course of that day.  Keli Yakar notes that generally speaking, different kinds of sins are committed at night and during the day.  During the night, at least in ancient times when illumination was limited, people did not engage in much activity.  As such, nighttime sins were, for the most part, sins of the mind, scheming and planning to act inappropriately.  This type of misdeed, of course, is far different from sins committed in the daytime hours, when people were busy at work and going about their affairs.

            It turns out, then, that the two tamid sacrifices brought atonement for two very different types of wrongdoing.  And for this reason, Keli Yakar suggests, the Torah uses in this context the term “echad,” which alludes to a degree of sameness.  Keli Yakar cites the famous verse describing the conclusion of the first day of creation, “Va-yehi erev va-yehi voker yom echad” – “It was evening and it was morning, one day.”  He explains that whereas certain pagan nations believed that the daytime and nighttime were governed by different deities, as they were incapable of conceiving of a single Deity controlling such disparate natural phenomena, the Torah affirms that both day and night were “echad” – part of the same system governed by the same Supreme Being.  Keli Yakar applies this same interpretation of “echad” to the tamid sacrifice.  The phrase “keves echad” emphasizes that although the two offerings atoned for very different kinds of misdeeds, both are offered to the same God.  In order to dispel the pagan notion that there exist different gods who issue different commands and are angered by different forms of misconduct, the Torah employs the word “echad” in this context to emphasize that all forms of misdeeds violate the will of the one, true God, from whom we must seek expiation.

            Underlying Keli Yakar’s discussion is a warning to avoid the tendency people sometimes have to classify our religious responsibilities in narrow, simplistic terms.  Just as the ancient pagans could not imagine a single God producing both pleasant, tranquil weather and fierce storms, similarly, there are those who have trouble believing that a single God can impose upon us very different kinds of obligations.  It is sometimes difficult to accept that God wants us to scrupulously observe the detailed minutiae of Halakha, but also to focus on broader moral and spiritual ideals; that we are to study Torah with intellectual rigor, on a high level of sophistication, but also to develop an emotional bond with God; that we are to live our lives in the faithful service of God, but also to be sensitive, kind, generous and caring to other people; that we are to develop our own, personal connection to our Creator, while also devoting ourselves to the needs of the community.  Keli Yakar is teaching us that just as the natural world consists of very different phenomena perfectly balanced and harmonized with one another, our religious experience, too, must be characterized by this quality of “echad,” the seamless synthesis of many different obligations and responsibilities that blend together to form a complete, integrated life of religious devotion.