Picture of the author
Picture of the author
War bannerWar banner

The Mission Statement of Judaism

"One sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon"

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    3713 views
  • June 28, 2010
  • |
  • 16 Tamuz 5770
  • Comment

Class Summary:

What Is the Mission Statement of Judaism? "One sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon."

In the loving memory of Flora LevyFlora bas Betsalel HaLevi.
By her grandchildren Aryeh, David, Myriam, Chana and Yael Schottenstein
 

The Verse that Says It All

A fascinating Midrash credits an isolated verse in this week's Torah portion, Pinchas, encapsulating the quintessence of Judaism[1].

The Midrash quotes four opinions as to which biblical verse best sums up the ultimate message of Torah. One sage, by the name of Ben Azzai, believed it was the verse in Genesis[2]: "This is the book of the chronicles of man; on the day that G-d created man He created him in the image of G-d."

Another sage, by the name of Ben Zoma, holds a different verse to be more central to Jewish thought: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One[3]."

A third Talmudist, Ben Nanas, chooses this verse: "You shall love your fellow man like yourself[4]." Finally, the fourth sage, Shimon, the son of Pazi, casts his pitch for the epic verse of the Torah. It is culled from the section in this week's portion that deals with the obligation during the time of the Temple to bring each day two lambs as an offering to G-d. "One sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon[5]."

This verse, according to Shimon, the son of Pazi, is the defining verse of Judaism.

The Midrash concludes: "One of the rabbis stood on his feet and declared, 'The verdict follows the opinion of Shimon the son of Pazi!'"

The Big Question

This is strange. The first three opinions make sense. The notion that all of Judaism can be traced back to the idea that a human being reflects G-d seems right. The same can be said about the concept of a single and universal G-d, or the injunction to love our fellow man like ourselves—these ideas, introduced 3300 years ago by the Hebrew Bible, vividly embody the essential weltanschauung of Judaism and its contribution to civilization.

But how does the verse "One sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon" represent the core essence of Torah? How can one even begin to compare the message about offering two lambs with the global and noble ideas contained in the other three opinions?

What is even more astonishing is that the final verdict in the Midrash selects this verse about the sheep as the "winner." The biblical verses dealing with love, monotheism and human dignity, the foundations of morality and civilization, did not "make it" in the contest; it is precisely this verse enjoining us to offer a lamb in the morning and a lamb in the afternoon -- that was chosen as the ultimate embodiment of Judaism!

The Depth of Perseverance

One of the most seminal Jewish thinkers in the post-medieval period was Rabbi Judah Loew (1525-1609), who was known as the Maharal and served as the Chief Rabbi of Prague. In one of his works[6] he offers a powerful answer.

What the fourth and last sage, Shimon the son of Pazi, was suggesting is that the verse that ultimately defines what it means to be a Jew is the one that speaks of unwavering consistency, "One sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon." Every single morning and every single afternoon you shall make a sacrifice for your Creator.

The biblical declarations that reveal the philosophical depth of Torah and its grand vision for humanity—monotheism, love, human dignity—are powerful, splendid, and revolutionary. They have redefined theology, sociology, and psychology. But what makes Judaism and Jewish life unique is the unswerving commitment to live and breathe these truths day in, day out, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

I can be moved to tears by the notion of tikkun olam, of healing the world; I can preach about the ideals of human dignity, love, and peace. But the ideas and inspiration are fleeting. The real and ultimate power of Judaism is that it managed to translate the profound visionary ideals in daily routines and behaviors. Judaism always inspired its people to cultivate their relationship with G-d on a continuous basis, every day of their lives. Torah asks the human being to make daily sacrifices for truth, for love, for peace, for G-d, for family, for marriage. "One sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon."

During exciting days and monotonous days, on bright days and bleak days—“One sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon." In the morning, when you awake, you are called to make a sacrifice to G-d. In the afternoon, when your day is winding down, you are called, once again, to sacrifice something of your ego and insecurity for G-d.

Judaism is not only about a moving Yom Kippur experience or an emotional memorial ceremony; it is something the Jew lives every moment of his life. It is the dedication of ordinary people to construct, through daily ordinary acts, a fragment of heaven on planet earth.

It is a truth the great artists grasp well: Consistency is the soil in which creativity blossoms. The mission statement of Judaism is that you are always an ambassador of the Divine, an ambassador for love, light, and hope. When your sun rises and when your sun sets, you are G-d's agent here on earth to infuse it with meaning, purpose, and harmony, creating unity out of chaos, oneness out of fragmentation, light weaved from the stuff of darkness. You may be having a good day or a bad day, you may be at peace or in the midst of a struggle, but you are, in the words of the Maharal, an "Eved Hashem," a servant, a messenger of G-d. You are a ray of infinity, working for G-d, and reflecting His oneness in the world you inhabit.

(Please make even a small and secure contribution to help us continue our work. Click here. To watch a more elaborate video presentation of this class by Rabbi YY Jacobson, please click here.) 

________________

[1] The Midrash is quoted in the introduction to Ein Yakov, compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Ben Chaviv. He writes there that he found this information recorded in the name of the Midrash, but could not discover the original source. He proceeds to present his own explanation to the Midrash.
[2] Genesis 5:1.
[3] Deuteronomy 6:4.
[4] Leviticus 19:18.
[5] Numbers 28:4.
[6] Nesivos Olam vol. 2 Nesiv Ahavas Ria chapter one.  (My gratitude to Rabbi Nir Gurevitch, spiritual leader of the Australian Gold Coast community. I first heard this Midrash and Maharal from Rabbi Gurevitch, when I visited his community years ago.)

Please leave your comment below!

  • Anonymous -1 year ago

    Stunning!

    It is through our avoda that we connect to the One.  Ben Azzai's opinion, therefore, contains the other three.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

    • Anonymous -1 year ago

      Yes, for sure. Thank you.

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • M

    Mendy -4 years ago

    Shkoyach.

    Didn't see the view of Ben azay with the possuk "zeh toldos."

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

    • Anonymous -4 years ago

      That comes from a Yerushalmi, Toras Kohanim and Midrash. See the source sheet below this video, where it is all compiled:

      https://www.theyeshiva.net/jewish/7067

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

    • Anonymous -4 years ago

      The view of Ben Azei is in another source: In Yerushalmi, Toras Kohanim and Midrash Rabah.

      All the sources were compiled in the source below this video:

      https://www.theyeshiva.net/jewish/7067

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Anonymous -4 years ago

    In conjunction?

    Respectfully, Rabbi YY.  How could such a statement be considered central.  One sheep sacrificed in the morning and afternoon.  There is no other discussion of this. This statement contains none of the noble ideas before it, as you noted. I don't see the reasoning here.  Unless it is meant to say:  along with these other statements, this is central because it shows consistency of practice. Meaning, the statement is seen in conjunction with the others.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

    • YJ

      YY Jacobson -1 year ago

      It is the central idea of serving Hashem in the morning and in the evening. Every day, rain or shine, that readiness to show up and do our best in sacrificing our inner ego and fears to truth. 

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • T

    Theresa -7 years ago

    Excellent! Todah Rabbah...

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • D

    Daniel -7 years ago

    any significance in the fact that they are all called Shimon?

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

    • RYJ

      Rabbi YY Jacobson -7 years ago

      You mean Shimon ben Pazi and which other Shimon?

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay Pinchas

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • June 28, 2010
  • |
  • 16 Tamuz 5770
  • |
  • 3713 views
  • Comment
In the loving memory of Flora LevyFlora bas Betsalel HaLevi.
By her grandchildren Aryeh, David, Myriam, Chana and Yael Schottenstein
 

Class Summary:

What Is the Mission Statement of Judaism? "One sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon."

Related Classes

Please help us continue our work
Sign up to receive latest content by Rabbi YY

Join our WhatsApp Community

Join our WhatsApp Community

Ways to get content by Rabbi YY Jacobson
Connect now
Picture of the authorPicture of the author