The Quiet before the Storm
Rabbi Yitzhak Fried is the Rabbi of OTS’s Derech Avot High School for Boys
The portion of Tzav starts off with an elaboration of the different korbanot, the sacrifices, already mentioned in the previous portion of Vayikra. The second part of our parsha focuses on the dedication of the mishkan, and the anointment of the kohanim before they begin their sacred service.
The final verses of the parsha are very unique, in that they relate God’s commandment to the kohanim to stay inside the mishkan for seven full days (!) without emerging at all. These seven days are called yemei milu’im – Days of Consecration.
“And you shall not go out from the door of the tent of meeting seven days, until the days of your consecration be fulfilled; for He shall consecrate you seven days. As has been done this day, so the Lord has commanded to do, to make atonement for you. And at the door of the tent of meeting shall you abide day and night seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, that you die not; for so I am commanded. And Aharon and his sons did all the things which the Lord commanded by the hand of Moshe.” (Vayikra 8, 33-36)
What lies at the core of this unique commandment, and what are the kohanim‘s obligations during these days when they must “keep the charge of the Lord”?
From the literal meaning of the text, it appears that during these seven days the kohanim were instructed to engage in the sacred work of the mishkan in preparation for their new role as kohanim henceforth. From these verses the midrash in Torat Kohanim learns that it is prohibited for kohanim to leave the mikdash before they have fully completed their sacred obligations.
To put it more simply, during these Seven Days of Consecration Aharon and his sons were required to offer the different types of sacrifices that were elaborated upon earlier in the portion, in order to practice the sacred work of the mishkan and prepare themselves for the mishkan‘s inauguration, the sacred work and the start of their daily duties.
The climax of these events takes place on the eighth day, when Aharon is called to enter the kodesh, the inner sanctuary, and offer the first sacrifice in his capacity as a serving kohen, as instructed by God. However, if we delve a little deeper, we might discover that these “days of waiting” are significant in themselves, and do not only serve a technical purpose, as explained above.
There is another instance in the Torah, where a similar preparatory process is described, one which also incorporates a certain waiting period and a rising expectation before entering the sanctuary and encountering the Divine Presence.
“And Moshe went up into the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. And the glory of the Lord abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and the seventh day He called unto Moshe out of the midst of the cloud. And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moshe entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up into the mountain; and Moshe was in the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (Shemot 24, 15-18)
The verses above describe Moshe’s ascent to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. As can be seen, the encounter begins with six days of waiting, and only once these are completed, there is a Divine call from within the midst on the seventh day. In our portion, there are seven full days of waiting, and a call to enter the inner sanctuary on the eighth day. As is written: “And it came to pass on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel.” (Vayikra 9, 1)
Rashi explains the verses in Shemot, in keeping with what is said in the tractate of Yoma in the Talmud: “We learn from this that any one entering the camp of the Shechinah must separate himself from all impurity six days prior to his entering.”
It seems that the transition between the sacred and the mundane requires some sort of separation, or a transition period of sorts, during which time one gradually submerges oneself in sanctity and prepares for the encounter with the Divine Presence.
Similarly, although this is not explicitly written in the verses, during the inauguration of Shlomo’s temple, we also find a process of separation, a distancing from the sanctuary, followed by a re-entry after a few days:
“And it came to pass, when the kohanim came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the kohanim could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” (Melachim I 8, 10-11)
“So Shlomo held the feast at that time, and all Israel with him, a great congregation, from the entrance of Hamath unto the Brook of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days and seven days – fourteen days. On the eighth day he sent the people away, and they blessed the king, and went unto their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had shown unto David His servant, and to Israel His people.” (ibid. 65-66)
From these verses recounting the inauguration of the Temple built by Shlomo, we see that after the holy vessels were brought in, the kohanim emerge; however, the text does not explicitly say that the kohanim commenced their holy service right away.
The common denominator to all we have discussed is that entering sanctity necessitates a transition stage, an in-between phase, one that is neither mundane nor completely holy. This is the only possible way to enter the inner sanctuary and penetrate the sanctity. The sanctuary cannot be entered without preparation; it requires a gap; it demands an interval period between the two worlds – the outer one and the inner one.
There exists a void between our mundane world and the world of sanctity. It is within this space that we remove our everyday clothing, put on the holy garments and await to be allowed entrance into the innermost place where it is possible to encounter the Divine Presence.
In our physical world, we transition rapidly between things and situations, and these transitions are extreme and sharp because we deal with too many things and leave too little time for gaps and intervals.
The world of sanctity is an exception to the rule. Entering it requires us to linger, to pause and to create separations between zones that are inherently different.
In keeping with this notion, we can explain the following passage from the Talmud in the tractate of Berachot:
“Men of piety would wait one hour [before starting to pray]. From where is this learned? Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi learns this from the verse ‘Ashrei yoshvei veitecha‘ [‘Fortunate are the dwellers of Your home’]. Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi says – one who comes to pray should also wait one hour following his prayer, as is written: ‘Ach tzaddikim yodu lishmecha, yeshvu yesharim et panecha’ [‘Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto Thy name; the upright shall dwell in Thy presence’].
“The Baraita (external Mishnah) says something similar: The one praying should wait an hour before praying and an hour after praying. How do we know he should wait before praying? As is written – ‘Fortunate are the dwellers of Your home.’ How do we know he should also wait after praying? As is written – ‘Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto Thy name; the upright shall dwell in Thy presence’.” (Berachot 32:2)
Entering prayer mode requires some lingering; pausing for a moment in expectation of receiving ol malchut shamayim, the kingship of Heaven – which is only possible if we take the time to prepare for it in advance. Achieving sanctity and engaging in prayer cannot be achieved without it.
To clarify just how important this interval is, and the necessity for a gap-time before prayer, let’s refer to the words of the disciple of the Rebbe of Piaseczno HY”D, in his book Derech HaMelech on the notion of hashkata, “quietening”, as he termed it:
“Our Rebbe of blessed memory opened with the words of our Sages (Berachot 57): ‘A dream is one sixtieth of prophecy.’ As is our Rebbe’s manner in all of his writings, he taught us that the very essence of man is, in fact, the greatest inhibitor of Divine inspiration. In other words, when man’s thoughts and mind are in a wakeful state, it is difficult for him to receive and attain Divine inspiration. However, when a person is asleep, and his thoughts and mind are quieted, and he is no longer in charge of his mental capacity – it is then that Divine inspiration may dwell upon him…
“Naturally, the optimal situation is to be wakeful and yet in a state of mind that has been quieted of all the thoughts and wills that flow through one incessantly. For such is the state of man – his thoughts are so tightly intertwined that it is difficult to set them aside… However, there are practical ways how to quieten one’s thoughts….
“And he [the Rebbe of Piaseczno] taught us how one should examine one’s thoughts for a about an hour, until one feels that his head is slowly emptying out and that his thoughts have stilled and ceased their regular flow. And then one should say one verse, such as Hashem Elokim emet [the God our Lord is truth], in order to connect his head – which is now void of all other thoughts – to this one sacred idea. Only then, can he go on to pray for his own needs, and work on the qualities in himself which need to be strengthened, be they faith, love or awe.
“…after the quietening of the thoughts, which lead to Divine inspiration, he instructed us to say the verse – horeini Hashem derachecha [God, show me Thy ways] – with the special melody of the Rebbe. How sweet and how awe-inspiring was this scene I was fortunate to witness, and all in the merit of my dear friend. And during that encounter, the Rebbe expanded upon this issue and assured us of its benefits. He talked of Faith and how it can be attained after weeks of quietening. He also taught us to say the verse – ze Eli v’anvehu [This is my Lord and I shall glorify Him] – in the manner of one pointing his finger at something, as mentioned in the Midrash.” [Derech HaMelech, pp. 450 – 451]
The Rebbe of Piaseczno is, in fact, clarifying that it is we, with our own doing, that hinder the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, from entering us. For this reason, we need the space of time during which we “emerge from our own selves”, and get rid of our individual essence to make room for something else to enter us – sanctity and Shechinah.
Working on the “quietening” (making one’s thoughts quiet) is that middle ground, the interval, perhaps even the entrance into the world of sanctity and the ticket to Divine inspiration.
In today’s reality, working on quietening one’s thoughts is even more crucial due to our ever-increasing indulgence in ourselves and our daily business, which ultimately decreases the chances of our encountering the Divine inspiration.
Through profound introspection we might make some room to receive the Shechinah. If we desire it enough, we might succeed in cleansing ourselves of ourselves and quietening our thoughts in order to make room for the Shechinah and for God to enter our lives and our very being.