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The Temptations of Money

Tzav (Leviticus 6-8 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

"And God said to Moses, saying; Command (tzav) Aaron and his sons, to say; this is the Law of the burnt offering..." (1)

The Parsha begins with God instructing Moses to command the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) regarding the burnt offering, the Olah. The Midrash notes the use of the word, 'tzav' in the verse; normally the Torah would say 'tell Aaron and his sons...' Why here did the Torah use the stronger language of 'tzav'?

The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, explains that the word 'tzav' implies an extra sense of zerizus (alacrity) and that there was an extra necessity for this stronger language with regard to the Olah offering. Rebbe Shimon explains that there is an element of financial loss(2) involved with this offering, therefore there was the concern that the Kohen Gadol would be more hesitant in fulfilling this mitzvah. Accordingly, it used the stronger language of 'tzav' in order to warn the Kohanim of the extra need for alacrity in bringing the Olah. (3)

Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt"l points out a remarkable lesson from this Midrash: The Kohen Gadol was, in most instances, the most righteous and holy man of the generation.(4) Moreover, the Talmud tells us that one of the prerequisites for being the Kohen Gadol is that he must be very wealthy.(5) Based on the Kohen Gadol's great righteousness and wealth, it would have seemed unnecessary for the Torah to be concerned about a possible lack of alacrity as a result of a relatively small financial loss. Rav Levenstein explains that the Torah is teaching us that even the Kohen Gadol is subject to the powerful drive of love for money.(6)

Our Sages emphasize the power of the desire for money in a number of other places.(7) One striking example of this is the Talmud in Bava Basra that discusses the most commonly transgressed sins. "Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, the majority of people [stumble] in theft, a minority [stumble] in immorality ..."(8) (9) Rashi explains that it does not mean that the majority of people engage in blatant theft, rather they rationalize during their business dealings to withhold the money that others deserve. This piece of Talmud teaches us how everyone is at risk of being enticed by the yetzer hara (negative inclination) for money to justify dishonest behavior that constitutes theft according to Torah law.

Even the most righteous people felt the power of the yetzer hara for acquisition of money. The great sage, Rav Yisroel Salanter once visited the home of a very wealthy man. The man had to step out of the room for a few minutes, leaving Rav Yisroel alone. When the man returned, Rav Yisroel was no longer in the room. He finally found Rav Yisroel standing outside the house. Rav Yisroel explained that there was a large amount of uncounted money in that room and he did not want to be alone with that money. He explained by bringing the aforementioned Talmud that the majority of people stumble in theft and only a minority stumble in immorality. There is a prohibition of 'yichud' to be alone with a woman because of the concern that one may not be able to overcome his temptation for immorality. Rav Yisroel concluded that if there is a prohibition of yichud for fear of sexual immorality of which only a minority stumble, then all the more so the yichud prohibition should apply with money, an area in which a majority stumble.(10)

If someone such as Rav Yisroel Salanter felt a need for extra boundaries to protect himself from the temptations of money, then surely everyone needs to be extra vigilant of this powerful yetzer hara. There are a number of areas in which such vigilance is necessary. Firstly, the lesson of this Parsha is that one must be careful that fear of loss of money does not harmfully effect one's fulfillment of mitzvot. There are numerous commandments that involve significant expenses, and one should strive to maintain the same alacrity in performing such mitzvot as in less expensive ones. Moreover, one should be aware to maintain consistency in his spending on commandments in comparison to his expenses on material comforts. If one elaborately spends on his vacations, home and car, then he should show a similar desire to spend money on commandments in general and giving charity in particular.

The Chofetz Chaim zt"l once encouraged a wealthy man to give more charity - the man felt that he was already giving a significant amount. The Chofetz Chaim showed him that he actually spent more on his drapery alone than what he gave in charity!

Another way in which love of money can hinder one's Divine Service is that in areas of potential monetary loss a person may be tempted to 'bend' the laws of the Torah. Thus, an otherwise God-fearing person, may be inclined to avoid asking halachic questions to rabbis in areas that pertain to monetary issues.

We see from the warning to the Kohen Gadol of the powerful effect that desire for money has on even the greatest people. May we all merit to only use money for the good.



1. Tzav, 6:1-2.

2. There are different opinions as to the exact nature of the financial loss; many commentaries explain that unlike other korbanos, the Olah was fully burnt and the Kohanim were not allowed to eat from any part of it. Thus, he had a sense of loss in that in the time he was offering the Olah he could have offered a different korban from which he could have gained material benefit. See Ohr HaChaim, Tzav, 6:2 for an outline of other interpretations of the loss here.

3. Toras Kohanim, 6:1, quoted by Rashi, Tzav, 6:2.

4. An exception to this is the Kohanim of the Second Temple period who often attained the position through bribery and political affiliations.

5. Yoma, 18a.

6. Tallelei Oros, Parshas Tzav, p.100, quoted by Meilitz Yosher.

7. See Chagiga, 11b and Bava Basra, 165a. See also Mesillas Yesharim, Ch.11 who discusses these Gemaras.

8. Translated as arayos. This refers to specific forms of immorality that the Torah prohibits in the strongest fashion such as relations with a married woman.

9. Bava Basra, 165a.

10. Rav Yerucham Levovits zt"l brings Rav Yisroel's hanhago of never being alone with uncounted money. Rav Yerucham himself adds that he would even not want to be alone with counted money despite the heightened chance of being caught for stealing it! (Daas Chachmo u'Mussar, 4th Chelek, Parshas Shelach, p.115b)

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