Sunday, February 6, 2011

Consistency and Constancy, a Lesson from Cal Ripken and the Karban Tamid

There is a famous Yerushalmi (Nedarim, Chapter 9) which asks what is the most important verse in the Torah. Rabbi Akiva answers, ואהבת לרעך כמוך, "Love your neighbor as yourself". Ben Azzai responds with זה ספר תולדות אדם, "This is the book of the generations of man".

The Ein Yaakov in his introduction to his book quotes a variant Midrash. In this version, Ben Zoma says that שמע ישראל ה' אלוקינו ה' אחד, "Listen Israel, the Lord our God, is one", is even more significant. Ben Nanas quotes "Love your neighbor as yourself", quoted above in the name of Rabbi Akiva. Shimon Ben Pazi quotes a verse from this week's Parsha, Parshat Tetzaveh את הכבש האחד תעשה בבוקר ואת הכבש השני תעשה בין הערבעים, "You shall offer one lamb in the morning (as a sacrifice) and one lamb in the afternoon" (Shemot Chapter 29, Verse 39) as the most important verse in the Torah.

My Rebbe, Rav Yehudah Parnes asked the obvious question on this. Most of these verses make sense. If one would take a poll amongst any group of thinking Jews asking them the most important verse in the Torah, Shema Yisrael, the basic tenet of our faith in God, Ve'ahavta, to love our fellow human being as ourself, and even Toldos HaAdam, the supremacy of man, would be chosen by many respondents. By why the Karban Tamid, the sacrifice brought twice daily, once in the morning and a second time every afternoon?

Rav Parnes answered by referencing Cal Ripken who had recently broken the long standing record held by Lou Gehrig for consecutive games played in Major League Baseball. Why is this record so celebrated in the annals of sports? Because it shows consistency, תמידיות. The mida of consistency, to choose a mitzvah and do it on a always is so important that Shimon Ben Pazi considers it to be more fundamental to our religion than belief in one God or love of one's fellow man. It is the reason why we celebrate those who learn the Daf Yomi, one page of Gemara a day, every day, or those who always daven with a minyan.

In fact, Parshat Tetzaveh is filled with this mida. The Parsha starts with the Menorah which was lit Tamid, consistently, and ends with the Ketoret, the incense, which also burned Tamid. Rashi on the first verse in Tetzaveh points out that there are two types of consistency. The Menorah burned every night. Even though it would extinguish by morning and not burn again until the following night, it was considered to be Tamid. This consistency is to do something on a consistent basis, to set a schedule and then keep to it. The Menorah burned every night.

There is another type of Tamid which Rashi associates with the Lechem Hapanim which is even more difficult to accomplish. This is constancy. The showbread was on the table throughout the week. Even when it was removed every Friday, it was immediately replaced by new bread. There are some mitzvot which one should seek to accomplish constantly, belief in God and love of one's neighbor comes to mind. (Going back to the Major League Baseball record book, Cal Ripken actually accomplished both since he not only holds the record for consecutive games played at 2,632 but also for consecutive innings at 8,243, over 904 games.)

My goal with this new blog is to exercise the discipline possible to achieve this mida of consistency. I hope to publish a Dvar Torah every week either on the Parshat Hashavua or on the Haftorah. I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback as that is what can truly make this an interactive learning experience.

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