Rabbi Alan Iser
If I were to ask the average Jew, anywhere in the world , what is the most important verse in the Torah, they would probably answer “Shema Yisrael” or maybe one of the Ten Commandments or “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” from Leviticus. All are good choices. In fact, there is a rabbinic passage that asks and discusses this very same question. Several rabbis offer their opinions. One selects “Shema Yisrael”, another “Love Your Neighbor”. However, the verse which is chosen as the most important and most inclusive verse in the Torah is a seemingly insignificant verse in this week’s Torah portion. Rabbi Shimon ben Pazzi says the most inclusive verse is: “The first lamb you shall sacrifice in the morning and the second lamb you shall sacrifice in the evening.” (Numbers 28:4) (Introduction to Ein Yaakov).
What is this verse about? It is simply the commandment to bring two daily sacrifices to the Temple. Now, of course, the Temple sacrifices have been gone for almost two thousand years. Even in Rabbi Shimon ben Pazzi’s time, it had already been gone for two hundred years. So why did he choose this verse?
This verse is about the importance of constancy, consistency and devotion in religious life. Religious life and our relationship with God isn’t just about the high points in Jewish life, like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Passover. It is about how we lead our lives every day. Do we show gratitude to God? Are we respectful to the elderly? Do we give charity? Are we kind to the people in our daily interactions, especially to the people we don’t know? If we are committed to God and Judaism, it is woven into the fabric of our daily existence. It is not just about the high points, it is about the mundane, simple aspects of our lives, applying Jewish values and principles to how we live.
What is true for our relationship with God and Judaism, is also true in all our relationships. We have ups and downs. We have electric moments of passion and joy, but those cannot be sustained. Truly committed relationships involve consistency and often the willingness to do the same thing, over and over, even if it is not exciting. Anyone who has small children, grandchildren or young nieces and nephews, knows what I am talking about. A sustained relationship means saying I will always be there for you, through the good and the bad.
In Judaism, the highest form of commitment to God was shown through the ages by Jews willing to die for their faith. Unfortunately, history has provided all-too-many examples of this. In Hebrew this is called Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name. However, we don’t have to pay this ultimate price to show our devotion to our religion. If, as a minority religion, our neighbors see that we are kind and charitable people who fulfill the biblical commandment of welcoming the stranger, and we are consistent and constant in our behavior, and they know we are doing this because we are Jews, then that, too, is a form of Kiddush Hashem.
One lamb in the morning, and one lamb in the evening really is a formula for an ideal Jewish life.