April 4, 2009
10 Nisan 5769
Parshat Tzav – Shabbat Hagadol
Abraham Joshua Heschel noted that the prophets of Israel shied away from open descriptions of God. In contrast to the mythological religious works of their neighbors which focused on the fulfillment of the selfish concerns of the deities, the prophets focused on God\’s interactions and relations with His creatures. God\’s own essence is not disclosed. Instead, the prophets make us aware of God\’s acts on our behalf: His creative acts, His acts of revelation and His acts of redemption. God is ultimately concerned with the welfare of His creatures; their care and His love for them are constantly evident. (Man Is Not Alone, pp. 143-4)
God seeks human awareness of His concern: \”Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and let there be food in My House, and thus put Me to the test (u\’vhanuni) – said the Lord of Hosts. I will surely open the floodgates of the sky for you and pour down blessings on you without end (ad bli dai). And I will banish the locust from you, so that they will not banish the yield of your soil; and your vines in the field will no longer miscarry – said the Lord of Hosts. And all the nations shall account you happy, for you shall be the most desired of lands – said the Lord of Hosts.\” (Verse 10-12)
God is so adamant to have His concern for His subjects tested that He willingly allows them to test Him despite the Divine proscription against \”testing\” God. The Talmud takes up this issue: \”Rabbi Yohanan met the young son of Reish Lakish and said to him: \’Recite for me the Torah verse [you have learned today]. The boy replied: \’You shall surely tithe\’ (Deut. 14:22) At the same time, the boy inquired: \’What is the meaning of the verse? Rabbi Yohanan answered: \’Give tithes so that you may become wealthy.\’ The boy then asked: \’How do you know that this is what the verse means?\’ Rabbi Yohanan said to him: \’Go test it for yourself.\’ The boy answered: \’Is it permissible to test the Holy One Blessed Be He, seeing that it is written: \’You shall not try the Lord\’? (Deut. 6:16) Rabbi Yohanan replied: \’Thus said Rabbi Oshaia: \’The case of tithe giving is exempted from this ruling, as it said: \’ Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and let there be food in My House, and thus put Me to the test (u\’vhanuni) – said the Lord of Hosts. I will surely open the floodgates of the sky for you and pour down blessings on you without end.\’ [What is the meaning of \’without end\’? Rabbi Rami bar Hama said in the name of Rav: \’Until your lips became weary of saying \’It is enough (ad bli dai)\’. The boy retorted: \’If I had reached this point in my studies, I would not have needed you or you teacher.\’ (adapted from Taanit 9a)
Professor Yochanan Muffs takes this to mean that God sorely wants Israel to test His goodness and seems profoundly hurt when Israel runs after other gods rather than test Him. Our awareness of His redemptive power is important to Him. (The Personhood of God, pp. 69-71) This is the nature of the love relationship between God and the people of Israel which resonates as we enter the season of Pesah – the season of our redemption from Egypt. It is God\’s power that redeemed us in the past and which constantly gives us the strength to renew ourselves in this season and in every season. Nothing pleases God more than when we tap this strength.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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