Tzav: Blasphemy or Heartfelt Cry?

March 21, 2024

A young Jewish woman married to a Greek officer storms the Holy Temple, kicks the altar, and shouts "wolf, wolf..." Can anyone give this story a positive spin?

Sicha, 6 Tishrei 5728
Sicha, 6 Tishrei 5735
Sicha, Simchas Torah 5735

The Altar

This week’s Torah reading revolves around the Altar (Source 1).

The Story of a Young Woman

The Talmud recounts a story that happened during the Greek conquest of Israel, where a young Jewish woman kicked the altar and challenged G-d that He consumes the offerings of the Jewish people but doesn’t come to their aid in times of trouble. In response, her family was punished (Source 2).

The Rebbe asks what purpose there is in telling us her name; the Torah even avoids negatively speaking about non-kosher animals (Source 3).

A Positive Spin

The Rebbe offers a positive perspective on this story: mentioning her name was intended to highlight that her behavior was unique and not representative of the Jewish people. Despite the torture, brainwashing and suffering for being Jewish (Sources 4-5) only one person fell so low.

When should we try to judge favorably?

However, the Rebbe doesn’t suffice with this and insists on judging Miriam herself favorably, because the Torah commands us to judge everyone favorably. Doing so reveals the good in them.

The Rebbe tells an incredible story, how a mentally ill person was brought to the Alter Rebbe to be healed and the Alter Rebbe began speaking about the killing of Zechariah, finding a positive perspective on their motivations (Sources 6-7). Following that, the person returned to normal function. The Rebbe explains that his soul was from the same soul as Zechariah’s killers, and now it had been rectified. 

The Rebbe sees the Alter Rebbe’s revolutionary approach as paving the way for all of us to do the same, for any Jew.

Judging Miriam Favorably

The Rebbe finds a positive explanation for Miriam’s actions: This young woman fell so low, renounced her Judaism, married the enemy and joined their forces in raiding the Holy Temple. Yet, upon seeing the altar, her Jewish heart and soul cried out for the plight of her people. She turned to the altar and cried out to G-d: Why do you not help your people?!”

This moment resparked the flame of her Jewish soul. 

If we can see Miriam in a positive light, who can we not judge favorably … ?



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