The LORD said to Moses: “Give Aaron and his sons this command: These are the regulations for the burnt offering: The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” — Leviticus 6:8–9
The Torah portion for this week is Tzav, which means “command,” from Leviticus 6:1–8:36, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 7:21–28; 9:22–23.
The Torah portion of Tzav begins with a commandment to leave the burnt offering, in Hebrew known as the olah, burning on the altar all night long. In the morning it would be dust and ashes. However, the Jewish sages teach an alternate reading of the verse — one that leaves us with a profound message for our lives today, long after the priests performed their holy services in the Temple.
The word olah, which refers to the burnt offering, literally means “to go up.” The sages learn from this connection that olah can also be a reference to an arrogant person – a person who is haughty, literally higher up than he ought to be. With this understanding, the verse can also be read this way: “The arrogant person is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night.”
In other words, beware arrogant people! While the haughty seek to raise themselves up higher and higher, God will bring them down and reduce them to dust and ashes. They try to become everything, so God makes them into nothing. There can only be one Master of the World and none of us is it! Anyone who thinks otherwise is in for a rude awakening the moment they encounter the dark times in their lives; they will be left burning “throughout the night.”
In contrast, we find that the Patriarch Abraham, who said, “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27), was raised up by God and chosen to be the father of a great people. While God brings the arrogant and haughty down to earth, He raises up the humble and meek to great heights. As we read in Psalm 113: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (113:7).
While we live in a society that teaches us that we must raise ourselves up and make ourselves noticed in order to get ahead in life, God’s Word teaches us otherwise. It is specifically those who are quiet and humble, meek and unassuming who will prosper in the end. The psalmist teaches: “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity” (Psalm 37:11). God alone will decide who will enjoy prosperity, and He will give it over to those who are humble in their hearts.
Every morning, the first thing the priests would do is empty the ashes from the burnt offering, which was symbolic of emptying their hearts of arrogance. We need to begin each day doing the same. We need to submit our hearts fully to God. As we lower ourselves before Him, He will raise us up before others. Only the humble heart is truly beloved by God.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President