Torah Fax

Friday, April 7, 2006 - 9 Nissan, 5766

Torah Reading: Tzav (Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36)
Candle Lighting Time:  7:08 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:10 PM
Perish The Thought
This week's parsha begins with: "This is the law of the Olah-offering: It is the ascent offering on the flame, on the Altar, all night ..."
This "ascent-offering" (also referred to as a "burnt offering") was to burn on the altar during the night until it turned into ashes.
The Midrash, citing the explanation of the Talmudic Sage and author of the mystical work, the Zohar, tells us that the objective of this offering was to help a person atone for improper thoughts.
One of the features of the "ascent offering" was that it was totally consumed on the altar. Most other sacrifices were given to the priests. In many offerings, even the non-priest was entitled to partake of the meat of the sacrifice.
Two questions come to mind: First, what connection is there between an offering of a sacrifice on the altar and improper thoughts?
Second, why was this offering specifically totally consumed on the altar? It seems that the very nature of this offering (that it was completely consumed) will provide us with a clue as to how it atones for improper thoughts.
A better understanding of this sacrifice requires an analysis of the very word that the Torah uses to describe it. The word is olah, which means to arise, ascend, elevate. Again, a question arises (no pun intended): Why was this sacrifice designated as an olah-ascending one, more so than all the others? After all, parts of all sacrifices were burnt on the altar. The difference between this offering (where all of it was consumed on the altar) and the others is only a quantitative one. Why, therefore, was the name olah-ascent employed for this offering exclusively?
One answer based on the Tanya by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liady (the primary text of Chabad Chassidic literature) lies in a better understanding of the role of thought in our lives:
We express ourselves in three general ways: either through thought, speech or action. It is our responsibility to express ourselves in a proper manner. Our actions must be legal and ethical; our words must be refined and sensitive, and even our thoughts must be pure. But here is where one is entitled to raise a very simple question:
How can we control what enters our mind? Surely, we can exercise self-control on what we do and even what we say. But thought is an entirely different story. Thoughts enter our minds without us consciously asking for them to enter. How can we be faulted for these thoughts and how do we control them?
The Tanya explains that, in fact, we cannot be held responsible for the thoughts that "ascend" into the conscious mind. We do, however, have control over how long those thoughts stay in our minds. We have control as to whether we should dismiss these thoughts or allow them to ruminate in our minds.
Thus, the very word for the ascent-offering (olah) is the same word used for the process of the thought that ascends from its sub-conscious point of origin to the conscious mind.
When a Jew would bring this ascent offering, or when we pray, which takes the place of all of the offerings that were brought in the Holy Temple, his focus was on the process of how thoughts ascend from the subconscious part of our being to the conscious mind. The one who brought the offering realized, as should we, that our struggle is to be vigilant from the moment this process begins.
Moreover, since we do not have the power to control what enters ("ascends") into our minds, we must always be on guard. In dealing with improper behavior and speech, we have a much better chance of avoiding doing or saying the wrong thing. But when it comes to thoughts, we are most often kept off guard. Hence, the "ascent-offering" was totally consumed on the altar as a way of underscoring that there was a much more dramatic effort needed to deal with controlling one's thoughts.   
On a deeper level, the "ascent-offering" was a means of revealing the pure, self-sacrificing devotion to G‑d that is embedded in the recesses of one's heart and soul; a devotion that is all consuming. When this occurs, the source of the improper thoughts that ascend to the conscious mind can be affected. And while we cannot single-handedly change the way we think-only the way we allow those thoughts to stay in our conscious minds-G‑d provided us with a physical exercise (the offering of the ascent-offering) that had the capacity to refine even that subconscious part of our personality, that would ultimately affect and alter even the way thoughts would ascend into the conscious mind.
As long as we are in exile, the emphasis of our efforts is on the refinement of our actions and speech. Even as we try to cope with the avalanche of thoughts that enter our minds, the focus is on controlling what stays in our mind. But in the Messianic Age, we will be able to deal with our thoughts at their root and bring refinement to them, so that only proper and holy thoughts will "ascend" and enter our minds.
Moshiach Matters
Through telling stories about great tzadikim, we bring the light of Moshiach into this world and push away much darkness and troubles. (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)
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