The Sages of the Mishnah debated which is the most important verse
in the Torah. Rabbi Akiva opens the discussion by invoking the golden rule “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).
Ben Azai, however suggests “… on the day that God created man, He made him in His Image” (Bereshit 5:1).
Ben Zoma goes for the well-known declaration of faith “Shema Yisrael” (Devarim 6:4), whereas Ben Nanas also casts his vote for “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).
Shimon Ben Pazi suggests a more inclusive verse from our sedra: “The first lamb you shall sacrifice in the morning and the second lamb you shall sacrifice in the evening.” (Shemot 29:39 and Bamidbar 28:4).
The debate concludes with Rabbi Ploni standing up and declaring that the halacha is in accordance with Ben Pazi.
This is a fascinating debate whose conclusion seems rather odd.
Most of the contenders for the top spot are the usual suspects and the winner is the rank outsider. What is Ben Pazi teaching us with his verse?
Perhaps he is teaching us that love of our fellow, seeing humanity as being created in the image of God and declaring our belief in one God are indeed central themes in Judaism. However, if they are not put into practice in a consistent fashion, then they lose their value.
Ben Pazi’s verses are talking about the daily sacrifices that took place every morning and every evening without fail, the bedrock of the service in the Temple.
This is not just a message for religious observance. Rather, the Torah is teaching us a lesson for life.
Consistency allows for measurement of achievements; it creates accountability and establishes ones reputation.
When we are clear with what we expect from ourselves, people know what to expect from us.
Of course, there is always room for flexibility and spontaneity, and in the Temple, there were additional Mussaf offerings on special days and free will offerings that could be brought as one wished.
However, these were secondary to the constant daily offering.
This week we marked the fast of the 17th of Tammuz.
One of the reasons the fast was established was because on that day the daily sacrifice ceased during the period of the destruction of the
While we do not have the ability to fulfil the mitzvah, we certainly can
internalise its message.
• Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is an educator at AISH London
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