Tzav: G-d Helps Those who Help Themselves

At the beginning of Parshat Tzav, it says (6:6): “A fire continually shall be kept burning upon the altar, it should not go out”. The Ramban comments, “it is a mitzvah for the Cohenim to maintain the fire.” On this simple mitzvah, where the Cohenim are commanded to light the fire themselves on the altar, there is a grand concept to be learned. For on the verse at the beginning of the Book of Vayikra, “And the sons of Aharon the priest shall put fire upon the altar”, Rashi says: “Even though the fire descended from Heaven, it is a mitzvah to bring (fire) from an ordinary (source).”

And the question which arises is: If the fire comes down from the Heavens and is on the altar anyway, why are the Cohenim commanded to put the fire there themselves; and if the Cohenim are commanded to bring the fire by themselves, why does G-d have to make a miracle where fire comes down from Heaven?

Here we hit upon a basic principle which applies to the Temple, and to all other facets of Judaism as well. Actually, the Temple is the most lofty of concepts. After all, it is the place where the Divine Presence rests. Consequently, it might be expected that the Holy Temple is a matter reserved exclusively for G-d to deal with. On the other hand, if this were so, why would there be a need for a tangible House of G-d on the ground in the first place? Clearly, the entire purpose of this special place is so that man will have a place to connect himself to the Almighty, to serve G-d, and atone for his sins. And so it might seem proper that all matters concerning the Temple should be brought about by the actions of man. How do we resolve these conflicting concepts?

The secret is in the above Rashi: “Even though the fire descended from Heaven, it is a mitzvah to bring (fire) from an ordinary (source).” The sages are coming to tell us that it is true that the fire comes from theHeavens, as should be expected from G-d’s abode. But since G-d intended the House to be for the purpose of man – so that man can connect his deeds to his Creator, He demands that we bring the fire by ourselves, despite the fact that He does not need it.

We see this same idea in the construction of the Tabernacle. After the preparation of the boards for the Tabernacle had been completed, G-d gave Moshe the mission of constructing the Tabernacle: “Moshe said before the Almighty: ‘How is it possible to erect it by means of man (because of the huge weight of the boards)?’ He (G-d) said to him: ‘Put your hand to it’. It appeared as though Moshe erected it, but (actually) it stood up and arose itself.” (Rashi, Shmot, 39:32) Not only did the physical weight prevent Moshe from lifting the boards, but so did the fact that it did not seem appropriate for mere flesh and blood to erect G-d’s House. But since the House was intended for us, G-d wants us to actively take part in it’s construction. This is the answer. G-d wants us to make the effort – that is, to pick up the boards – and then, and only then, will He send us Divine assistance. But without the maximal effort from man, there is no way G-d will do the work for us.

In this way we can understand the midrash which speaks of the final Temple “descending from the Heavens”. The intent here is not that the Temple will drop out of the sky and land “fully furnished”. This cannot be, if not for the reason alone that it is a positive commandment to build the Temple (Rambam, Hilchot Beit HaBichera), and G-d would not “steal” such a vital mitzvah from us. But clearly, the intention is that in spite of the fact that the Temple will come about as a result of man’s efforts, the Heavenly assistance will be so clearly seen that it will be as if it descended from the Heavens. Others explain this midrash by saying that the pace of the building will be accelerated in a miraculous fashion, something out of the ordinary. Still other “Achronim” like the “Tiferet Yisrael” and “Aruch Lenare” explain the midrash in a more figurative fashion, saying after we build the Temple as commanded, the Divine Presence will rest upon it, and this so to speak is the “House descending from the Heavens”.

In conclusion, the rule of us helping ourselves so that G-d will help usapplies to all situations. We must do, and not think that He will do our job for us. On the other hand, it is forbidden to be arrogant, and think that it is within our power to do it all. Rather we must always realize that when we do, it is the “Siata DeShmaya” (Heavenly assistance) which enables our actions to succeed.

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