Tzav-What’s in a commandment?

By: Rabbi Dovid Markel


This week’s Parsha commences with the following verse,[1] “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Command (tzav) Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt-offering: It is the burnt-offering which burns on the flame on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar should be kept aflame on it.” In this verse the Torah tells us of the commandment of the Korban Olah—the offering that was completely burnt atop the Altar.

In general, there are three terms that the Torah uses when expressing the various mitzvos. There is the “emor-say,” “daber-speak,” and “tzav-command.” Emor-say connotes a soft spoken language, daber-speak expresses a tone that is more harsh and tzav-command, means that it was said in a commanding tone.  Our Torah portion chooses the last one, and uses the word tzav.

While the word “tzav” literally means command, and the word “mitzvah” literally means commandment, Chassidus explains a deeper meaning in the words, which expresses a more profound purpose of the various mitzvos. The etymology of the words “tzav” or “mitzvah” are related to the word “tzavatza,” which means a connection, or a knot. The meaning of the word mitzvah is essentially to bind something together.

A mitzvah is not only a good deed that a person does, or a commandment issued by the Almighty. A mitzvah is a knot that unifies man and G-d, and ties them together. In fact, this connection is the ultimate goal and intent of each mitzvah; to create a unity between the finite man and an infinite and unlimited G-d.

Often times, a person thinks to himself that he wants to connect with G-d, but on his own terms. He wants to pray when he is in the mood, or perhaps not pray at all. He wants to do the mitzvos that he enjoys and feels a connection to, or he does not want to do any mitzvos at all, but rather perform only the personal rituals and meditations that speak to him.

In truth though, this is impossible. G-d is infinite, man is finite and there is a quantum leap and an unbridgeable chasm between the two. Through our own efforts it is impossible to bridge this gap, but when G-d decides to create the connection, and creates a mitzvah, then it is possible.

To illustrate this idea, Chassidus[2] brings an allegory of a simple man and a brilliant intellectual. The intellectual lives in one reality, the simpleton in another, and never the twain shall meet. However, if the intellectual makes a request from the simpleton, the simpleton all of the sudden begins to occupy space in the intellectual’s world.

The simpleton does not attain space in the world of the intellectual only at the point when he fulfills the request, but already when the request is made he holds some significance in the realm of the intellectual’s conscience. So too with man and G-d, the connection between man and his Creator begins when the command is given.

Though it is important that a person do a mitzvah from his own will, a true connection ensues when a person does a mitzvah for the sole reason that it is a command from G-d. Only at that point is the individual purely connecting with G-d, without mitigating that intent with other personal goals. In these mitzvos which are given with the word “tzav,” this unadulterated intent in doing the mitvah is highlighted and stressed. When we do mitzvos from the depth of our souls, with the pure intent of being one with G-d we receive the ultimate reward of complete unity with the Almighty!



[1] Vayikra 6:1-2

[2] HaTamim 1 p. 25ff

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