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by Daneal Weiner
opens with “Zoes Toras ha’olah”- These are the instructions for the Olah offering. On these words the Midrash Tanchumah brings the verse from Psalms 24:4, “Who may ascend the mountain of Hashem and who may stand in the place of His sanctity? One with clean hands and pure heart.” The Midrash is telling us that the Olah offering is for the one who wants to transcend from this world to a place of sanctity.
The Midrash then says something else. Why is it called Olah? Becaue it is the elyonah [same root as olah]- loftiest of the offerings. Of every other animal offering, portions may be returned to and eaten by the offerer and for all, portions are given to the Kohanim to eat. The rest of the animal is burned on the Alter. The Olah offering, however, is one which is entirely burned on. It is entirely offered up to Hashem, so to speak. So it is called the olah- that which ascends.
Regarding the Olah offering, there is no mixture of worldly pleasure for man, through his eating, alongside the spiritual bonding with Hashem, through the burning. The Olah offering is for the one who wants to transcend from this world to a place of sanctity. For the one who will detach himself from this world’s pleasures to reach a higher realm. This is the choicest of offerings.
The instructions for how to ascend to the mountain of Hashem are taught to us in this parsha.
The first method is, Zoes Toras ha’olah, through the strength of Torah. The Gemorah Chagigah says, “The fires of hell have no affect on the Torah scholars for their bodies are already fire, as it says, ‘Behold, My word is like fire, the word of Hashem.’ [Yirmiyah, 23:29.] The fires of gehenom are fires of the evil inclination and physical desires which are nullified by the fires of Torah. Zoes Toras ha’olah- This is the Torah which can make you an olah- one who ascends the mountain of Hashem.
The second method is in the continuation of the verse, “[Zoes Toras ha’olah;] It is the olah that stays on the fire of the Alter all night until the morning, and the fire of the Alter should be kept aflame on it.” Night time, a time of darkness, is reflective of a time of strength of the evil inclination over the good inclination. Of physicality over spirituality.
If a person, at a time when negative influences are strong, is able to place them on the fire of the alter, a fire of sanctity, meaning, can overcome those negative influences, then, again, it will make you an olah- one who ascends the mountain of Hashem. Hashem commanded that the fire on the Alter burn all night as a sign to every Jew that fires of sanctity can overcome the fires of passion.
An event is brought down in the Gemorah Kiddushin: Captive women who were redeemed were brought to the house of Rav Amram the Pious. They were placed on the upper floor of his house and the ladder was removed from the opening so that they would not be considered in yichud- seclusion with Rav Amram. That evening, Rav Amram accidently caught a glimpse of one of the women who passed by the opening between the floors. So overcome by her beauty, Rav Amram grabbed the ladder, which 10 men could not lift, and singly placed it by the opening and began to ascend. Half way up the ladder he managed to stop himself, regained composure and shouted as loud as he could, “Fire in the House of Amram!”
Rabbis came running in and asked were the fire was. Rav Amram explained why he called them. They said, “You have put us to shame [for revealing to us you were tempted to sin].” He said to them, “Better that you be shamed now, in the house of Amram, in this world, and you not be ashamed by him in the World to Come.”
In the World to Come, all things will be revealed to everyone. If they felt shamed now, associating with one only tempted by such sin, how much more so would they have felt ashamed when they learned they spent a life time associated with one who had sinned. And their shame now is temporary while then it would be eternal.
The Gemorah concludes: Rav Amram then adjured the evil inclination to leave him. It left him in the form of a fiery column. Rav Amram then said before all those present and to the Yetser Horah, “Observe. You are fire and I am flesh yet I am stronger than you!”
These are the two methods for ascending the mountain of Hashem. Through the power of Torah and by subjugating ones evil inclinations. This is, of course, the job of the Jew. To elevate our souls, which were cast down into this world, back up to the level of spirituality that our bodies were given the potential to attain.
Being the Shabbos before Pesach, herein lies the message and lesson of chamets. Not only were we commanded not to eat it, we were also commanded not to see it. That none should be found within our domain. No other prohibitions against non-kosher foods goes to such extremes. And that was from the Torah. Our Sages added on to this the prohibition against even a crumbs worth, a smaller measure then what the Torah forbade. They also formulated the bedikas chamets service and of the four forms of nullification they fixed that chamets be destroyed by fire. Why so many precautions against chamets?
Regarding the very first Passover night, Hashem told Moshe, “On the day that I strike the first born of Egypt I will sanctify unto Me the first born of Israel.” Not only did He reveal Himself that night, since He said He would personally strike the first born of Egypt, but he also made Israel a chosen people. Those events were not only for that generation for we are told that in every generation we are to see ourselves as having personally been taken out of Egypt. Every Passover night there is a revelation of Hashem’s presence and a re-choosing of Israel as being sanctified among the nations. Hashem gave us a gift that night and came down to assist us in what we need to do for ourselves.
Leaving Egypt was leaving the physicality of the world. Chamets- leavened products represents the potentiality of the evil inclination and passions to well up within us and forge our connection to this world which distances us from Hashem. The total removal of those elements represents the success of the one who ascends the mountain of Hashem.
That in our physical world even the smallest measure of poison can kill is an indication that spiritual poisons should not be taken lightly either. As always, with only our best interests in mind, on top of the Torah forbidding even seeing or owning chamets, our Sages added not even a crumb. They also devised a method of its removal and the form of its destruction, through fire. The fire of sanctity to overpower the fires of gehenom. As King David wrote of the upheaval preceding Messianic times, “A fire goes before Him and consumes His enemies.”
Pesach is the time for recharging the power Hashem gave us, for extricating ourselves from out personal Egypt and ascending the mountain of Hashem.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom and chag kasher v’somayach.
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