The Rabbi's Study

From Where Will My Help Come?

שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃ עֶ֭זְרִי מֵעִ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה עֹ֝שֵׂ֗ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃

A Song of Ascents: I lift my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help comes from Hashem; maker of heavens and earth. -Psalm 121:12

The perennial question of why we still read about sacrifices so long after sacrifices ceased from our ritual practices is so worn out that it’s almost hard to give it attention. The most often cited reasons are: because we once did them and so we have an obligation to remember; alternatively, we hope to once again do them and so we have an obligation to be familiar with them.

Parashat Tzav contains the details of each type of sacrifice which was offered in the Mishkan and later in the Temple. This Torah portion is always read around Purim and before Passover, and it is worth exploring the connections between the two narratives as models of redemption. One of the most interesting elements of the Book of Esther is the absence of any explicit mention of God – the redemption of the Jews of Shushan and the other provinces of King Ahashverosh come of their own ingenuity and strength. Passover, on the other hand, is filled with expressions that God redeemed the Children of Yisrael from Mitzrayim, not an agent and not a messenger, but only God. Passover is the model of redemption in the Jewish tradition, and while the holiday is focused on the seven days between leaving Mitzrayim and crossing the Sea of Reeds, the narrative tradition brings us through the next seven weeks to Mount Sinai where the Jewish people accepted the Torah. Our Sages of Blessed Memory look into the Book of Esther and see the verse: “The Jews upheld and accepted upon themselves and their offspring,” (Est. 9:27) as a reference that they had upheld and accepted that which they already had upheld and accepted at Sinai. Passover is a narrative of the end of an exile, and Purim is a narrative of surviving in exile. Perhaps for these reasons, Rabbi Hayim Ibn Atar, the Or HaHayyim, is inspired to provide the following comment on the beginning of Parashat Tzav:

By way of allusion, this entire Torah portion alludes to the final exile which we are in, in order to console us from the depressed spiritual state we are in. Since each Jewish person refuses to be comforted because our exile seems to be never-ending. So it seems to me like this: the exile in Mitzrayim was four hundred years, that in Bavel was seventy – the two together equal 470. And up to this day (1742) already 1672 years have passed. How much longer must we wait?! It is not just being in exile, it is the oppression from other peoples wherein all nations see the Children of Yisrael as inferior and rule over us, and when revolutions occur it is not good for us, because they never speak truthfully to us, their promises are always false. But here come the One Who Sees and is Aware of the End of all Generations, and God informs Moshe to urge the Jewish people and their leaders, to be faithful to the Torah, notably the priests whose task it is to bring people to the Torah, to inform people in future generations of this matter.

What is “this matter” to which the Or HaHayyim refers? Presumably, that our actions matter. Not to say that we deserve the experience of exile and oppression, but that to find the strength and perseverance to survive one needs to both look to the past and to the future in order to overcome the present. Likewise, one cannot rely on oneself alone, or even on God alone, and this is the message that connects Purim to Passover – rather, we must look to God for inspiration to live the most moral, healthiest lives we are able despite any challenges with which we are confronted but it is in our hands to act and create a moral society that will end the experience of exile.

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