Pinchas: Surprising vote for most important Torah verse.

If asked: “which is the most important verse in Torah?” you might choose “Shema, Israel,” “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself,” “I am the Lord Your G-d,” “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue,” or some other familiar pasuk.    

It’s very unlikely that you would cite Numbers 28:3 from this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas.  It requires the bringing of regular sacrifices to the Temple (interpreted during the past two millennia as daily prayer).  
Yet, according to a midrash discussed by the famous 17th century sage, the Maharal of Prague, when our sages debated which Torah verse is most important, one of them, Rabbi Shimon Ben Pazai, chose this seemingly obscure verse.  Even more startlingly, the midrash concludes that after hearing all the leading sages explain their choices, “Rabbi Ploni” (Rabbi “John Doe”) stood up and said: “The law is per Ben Pazai.”

Why would the “rank and file” sages conclude that bringing regular sacrifices is the Torah’s most important verse – especially when this debate occurred centuries after the destruction of the Temple, and thus long after literal compliance had become impossible?  It couldn’t have been the sacrifice requirement itself (even conceptually) that made this verse stand out, since many other Torah verses also deal with this subject.  Rather, the crucial point was the regularity of the obligation. 

Our tradition realizes both that we are creatures of habit and that we often procrastinate or avoid doing what we know we should do.  This is so although we know that accomplishing what is most important requires consistent dedication over the long-haul.  

Moreover, perhaps the “rank and file” rabbis knew even better than the leadership that the essence of Judaism is not “religious” doctrine or belief but rather making the routine holy.  This requires proper behavior under every day, mundane circumstances….it’s how we bring meaning to the way we live.   

Whatever we may say is most important to us, or whatever we think is most important to us, it’s what we actually do day by day that proves what is most important to us.  

Have your daily actions strayed from furthering your most important values?  If so, today is the best day to start “doing T’shuvah” (not “repenting” but literally, “returning”) to the path that will enable you to live the life you know you should, and really do want, to live.      

Shabbat shalom.  

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  • Pinchas: Surprising vote for most important Torah verse.

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3