Love In The Air
I would like you to imagine the following situation play itself out. You walk into the door (or out of your office at home) after a long day at work. It’s dark when you left this morning and it’s dark now as you walk in. All you want to do when you get in is change into something comfy and plop down on the couch. Instead, you walk into the kitchen and your partner, after a somewhat cordial greeting, begins asking why didn’t you do “fill-in-the-blank” like I asked you to?
You can tell something is amiss because they’re really going for the jugular. You always do this, that, and the other thing they say. Now, pause in your imagination of this moment.
Are you feeling that feeling you always get when you’re on edge, ready to jump into the fray and toss a little bit of the heat back at your partner?
Instead of doing that, you should imagine another hypothetical in this situation; imagine your partner as a three year old in a high chair having a tantrum and throwing broccoli all over the floor. If this were the case, you would feel a much greater sense of empathy, compassion, and patience, as hopefully you have/do when your child has done this. It may at first seem infantilizing but after awhile, this little trick can allow you to understand your partner a lot better in these heated moments.
Because we all sometimes have days when we just feel like a child. The more you can recognize this, the more room you’ll have to grow together as you also embody the three year old tantrum thrower.
This tip is one of many in Alain De Botton’s book, “On The Course Of Love” where he weaves the fictional “love” story of a couple with his own musings and narrative. His goal is to share how we can reclaim love from its overly romanticized and saccharine tropes on a daily basis in ways both large and small.
I find myself thinking a lot about love lately. The ways in which the emotion of love can manifest in so many different arenas: certainly our love lives but also politics, race, environmental issues, and so much more. And especially this past month as we marked Valentines Day.
Love though, would not be the first theme we’d think of when discussing our parshah this week. Tetzaveh is not known for being a romantic parshah where we get to see two characters build their life together. In fact, there are very few named people involved at all. Yet, using a particular manifestation of the relationship we create with God vis a vis an aspect of the sacrificial system, we can glean immense application to our own relationships of love.
Tetzaveh and its preceding Parsha, Terumah, partner together to form a unit that is known as Melekhet Ha’mishkan, the work of the Tabernacle. After getting into the nitty gritty ikea-like instructions of the Mishkan last week, this week, we hear about priestly garments, the inauguration of the priests, and ultimately the sanctification of the Tabernacle itself.
Where Terumah began last week with the commandment that we need to build a space in which God can reside, we end this week with God’s reassurance of “if you build it, I will come” forming a beautiful literary pericope.
Interestingly enough though, just prior to the concluding lines of the Mishkan’s sanctification at the end of this unit, the commandment of the korban tamid, the daily offering, is explained in the text.
“And this is that which you shall offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at dusk…It shall be a continual burnt-offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before God, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there.”
So, every day, we offer two lambs, one in the morning and one in evening.
Two things are noteworthy and sort of perplexing about this. One is is that this offering, the daily offering used on the altar, has nothing to do with the Tabernacle itself. The second is that it is repeated almost verbatim in the book of Numbers where it fits contextually.
So why mention it here?
To understand the possible distinction here, it’s important to clarify one aspect of the Jewish legal system. There are certain commandments which are active in perpetuity and those are included in the counting of the 613 mitzvot. However, the mitzvot that are only in practice for particular periods are not counted in the 613. The verse about the daily offering in Bamidbar is of the former category:
“it is a continual burnt offering that was brought at Sinai”
meaning it would be counted as one of the 613.
Rashi understands this in two ways. First he says this verse in Numbers is actually referencing the verse from Tetzaveh which took place during the Tabernacle’s inauguration. According to this explanation then, there is a clear distinction between the parasha of korban tamid in Tetzaveh and that in the book of Numbers.
In Parashat Tetzaveh, the Torah commands the sacrifice of the daily offering as part of the dedication and sanctification of the Mishkan during the days of the consecration of priests. In other words, it is a mitzvah that is practiced only in that particular time, since it was only applicable during the days of consecration. It is only in Parashat Pinchas that Bnei Yisrael were commanded to bring a daily offering in perpetuity.
We can now understand how and why each of these mentions are needed without being redundant. The reference in this week’s portion was a time specific mitzvah. And not only that, but it was needed right here because it was the last step before God would be able finally meet with people and reveal God’s glory. It becomes the perfect book end for this section. Later, when it reappears in the context of the book of Numbers, it functions as the primary source for the commandment of bringing the daily offering which is operative for all time.
Rashi is later taken to task on this by Nachmanides (Medieval sages, they’re just like us!) for the fact that it does say in our portion that it “should be practiced for generations. Nonetheless, let’s take him at his word because I think the paradigm he sets up is quite relevant. It certainly has application: in both the arena of Torah and our relationship with God and also, in our own relationships that we practice.
The fact that future generations are mentioned in Tetzaveh indicates that this unique aspect of the daily offering - as a dedication of the altar - should be eternalized as well.
Even as we worship God day after day, bringing the same exact sacrifice in the morning and then again in the evening in the form of prayer, we should strive for an awareness that we are bringing not only the daily offering referenced in the book of Numbers, but the one mentioned this week in Tetzaveh as well. We should awake every morning with the refreshing attitude that we are about to re-enact the days of consecration, and “rededicate the altar” full of enthusiasm, and verve.
Those days in the Tabernacle were filled with excitement, intense passion, and perhaps a little anxiety. The sparks were flying. That’s one of the lessons that Rashi is offering here. As much as the daily offering of Numbers is the one that we practice every morning and night, that can become a bit mundane after all. We need to remember to capture the initial spice of the daily offering of the Tabernacle, which truly marked the beginning of our love.
This is what De Botton argues vociferously for in his book. It’s not just the aforementioned example. Without giving away too many of his nuggets, he also argues that before every first date you have, each person should ask the other “what’s your crazy?” This is helpful as an anticipatory mechanism that lets us in way earlier on and allows us to see our partners not as unassailable Adonises but complicated, flawed, yet beautiful human beings.
Or, he argues, when we are on the receiving end of a sulk from our partners, we should rethink to ourselves that it’s actually a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk. It means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt.
It is one of the odder gifts of love.
Where he is particular on point though and germane to our conversation here is when he discusses how love develops and adapts over time.
“We might imagine that the fear and insecurity of getting close to someone would happen only once, at the start of a relationship, and that anxieties couldn’t possibly continue after two people had made some explicit commitments to each other: like marrying, securing a joint mortgage, buying a house, have a few children, naming each other in their wills. Yet conquering distance and gaining assurances that we are needed aren’t exercises to be performed only once; they have to be repeated every time there’s been a break---a day away, a busy period, an evening at work---for every interlude has the power once again to raise the question of whether or not we are still wanted.”
In love in our culture we are told that once you’re in it, the default merriment and passion exists as a sort of undercurrent into which one can always tap. Once you get through the hard stuff at the beginning you’ve crested your most difficult wave. Rather, he argues, none of that stuff ever really goes away and certainly when there’s any “break” even something as simple as a day apart, you’ve got to always be recreating, trying to find your way back to those initial flames and passion. Love is a daily endeavor.
This dovetails so perfectly with what Rashi teaches us through the lesson of the daily offering. If our relationship with God requires this constant refresh. If our daily offerings i.e. prayers of the book of Numbers are in constant need of the infusion of daily offerings from Tetzaveh and excitement of the inauguration of the tabernacle, when our love was young and bursting, all the more so do we need this reminder for our lives.
The flames of love need constant tending and stoking. Every day in our love lives needs to be one in which we are innovating, re-trying, bringing ourselves back to the initial days, not isolating one from the other but melding them into a beautiful tapestry.
“Hamehadesh b’tuvo be’khol yom tamid”
we say of God in our prayers, the one who renews with goodness daily. There, I am sure you can hear that word tamid, just like our offering...just like our love. If we are truly living proper Jewish lives by mimicking Godliness, then the love in the air and the reminder from our relationship with God should infuse the same type of renewal every day in our love lives as well.
Shabbat Shalom And Happy Weekend