“Speak,” “Say,” and “Command” - Three Types of Mitzvos
When G-d told Moshe to relay various mitzvos to the Jewish people, He used the expressions: “speak to the children of Israel,” “say to the children of Israel” or “command the children of Israel.”1
All commandments, even those conveyed with the expressions “speak” or “say,” are termed mitzvos , rooted in the word tzavei — “command.” Thus, all are considered commands and decrees. Nevertheless, the use of the expression “command” concerning specific mitzvos indicates that the idea of command plays a larger role with these than it does with mitzvos introduced with the terms “speak” or “say.”
This is why our Sages state in Toras Kohanim , at the beginning of the Torah portion of Tzav (“Command”), that “command” indicates an “urging on with alacrity, both now as well as for coming generations.”
Chassidus explains2 that the word mitzvah — commandment — derives from the expression tzavsa v’chibur, “cleaving and attachment,” for the underlying purpose of all mitzvos is that through them one becomes bound and “attached” to G-d.
We thus understand that although binding and attachment applies to all mitzvos , a greater degree of attachment is achieved through those mitzvos relayed to us with the expression “tzav — command,” for this expression more clearly indicates attachment.
The difference between “speak,” “say,” and “command” is that when one is merely spoken to, or is merely told to do something, he is entirely free to do as he wishes. This is not the case when one is commanded to do something. The issuing of a command presupposes that the one doing the commanding has some degree of dominance over the individual being commanded. For example, an army officer can command a subordinate; he cannot issue commands to one of the same rank as himself — he can “speak” to him, but cannot “command” him.
Thus, a person is less free to ignore mitzvos conveyed with the term “command” than he is to ignore those relayed with the words “speak” or “say”; in the former instance, it is as if the person were coerced to obey.
Accordingly, “speak” and “say” mitzvos — obedience to which is left up to the hearer — accomplish most of their “cleaving and attachment” when a Jew actually fulfills them.
Not so with mitzvos conveyed with the word “command”: Since there is a greater certainty that the person will fulfill them, their “cleaving and attachment” is fully accomplished at the moment the command is issued.
While “command” mitzvos achieve “cleaving and attachment” at an earlier stage than do other mitzvos , all mitzvos accomplish this sooner or later. How so?
The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe offers the following parable:3 An intellectual giant whose whole life revolves around knowledge will ignore a person who has nothing to do with matters of intellect — the simpleton is not negated; he simply does not exist in the genius’s world. The simpleton, too, will feel himself to be nonexistent in comparison to the prodigy.
However, when the wise man commands the simple one to do something for him, suddenly the simple person exists to the wise man. As well, the simple person becomes aware of his own importance.
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. VII pp. 30-34.
Day People Vs Night People
In the opening verse of the portion Tzav we read that “The burnt-offering shall remain on the firewood on the altar all night until morning.”4 Rashi comments:5 “This teaches us that the fat and the limbs may be burned the entire night.”
Although the priests were to endeavor to do the burning by day — this being the most appropriate time6 — they could also do it throughout the night, in order to obey the command “Do not allow the fat of My offering to remain… until morning.”7
The Ramban states8 that the offering of an animal upon the altar was able to achieve atonement for a sinner because the person realizes that everything transpiring with the animal should have been happening with him, were it not that G-d in His kindness permitted the substitution.
It is thus understandable that all aspects of an offering, including the burning of fat and limbs, find corollaries in terms of man’s spiritual service.
How does “burning the fat” apply to our spiritual lives?
Fat is indicative of pleasure.9 The lesson here is: “All fat is to be offered to G-d”10 — all of a Jew’s pleasure and satisfaction should be offered to G-d.
This is why the main purpose of burning the fat is achieved by day. “Day” and “night” symbolize man’s spiritual states: day is the condition in which one’s soul shines within its body; night refers to a person who lacks this spiritual illumination.
The “day person” feels G-dliness not only while engaged in Torah study and mitzvah performance, but the whole day through — even while engaged in mundane affairs. For this individual is sensitive to the G-dliness that permeates the world. He is thus able to serve G-d even while engaged in mundane actions — “In all your ways you shall know Him.”11
The “night person” lacks this spiritual sensitivity and illumination. Thus, this person must struggle while engaged in mundane affairs to see that such actions are done “for the sake of heaven” and not for selfish pleasure. It goes without saying that unlike the “day person,” the “night person’s” mundane actions are not elevated to holiness.
Moreover, the “night person” must be on guard even while engaged in the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos : Since Torah is clothed in human intellect and mitzvos are garbed in the physical world, a person who lacks spiritual illumination must toil mightily to be sure that his Torah study is done purely for the sake of Torah, and not for the intellectual pleasure it causes. And so too with his performance of mitzvos.
Thus, while each kind of individual sacrifices his pleasure to G-d, “day people” do so in a positive manner — their entire delight in even mundane affairs is that of G-dliness. “Night people,” however, cannot truly say that their entire pleasure is G-dly. Their spiritual toil lies mostly in subduing their baser instincts, and in seeing to it that whatever they do should at least be “for the sake of heaven.” Thus, their primary manner of service is the negation and suppression of evil.
This is why “offering the fat to G-d” — dedicating one’s pleasure to holiness — is achieved principally by those on the level of “day,” while the burning of fat by night reflects the forestalling of transgression through the negation and subdual of evil.
Although lacking the spiritual intensity of a soul unencumbered by the body, the service of the average soul — struggling to elevate the body and the world — contains elements superior to the soul’s service prior to its incarnation.
Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. III, pp. 948-952.
1. See Rashi, beginning of Vayikra ; See also Toras Kohanim ibid.
2. Likkutei Torah, Bechukosai 45c, et al.
3. HaTamim I , p. 25ff.
4. Vayikra 6:1.
6. Menachos 72a; Rambam , Hilchos Ma’aseh HaKarbanos 4:3.
7. Shmos 23:18.
8. Commentary on Vayikra 1:9.
9. See Gittin 56b.
10. Vayikra 3:16.
11. Mishlei 3:6.