Which one verse in the Torah summarizes what Judaism is all about? A midrash quoted in the Ein Yaakov offers several different answers to this question. Ben Zoma suggests, “Shema Yisrael,” the basic statement of faith said every day. Ben Nanas maintains that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a more inclusive verse, encompassing all of the values of interpersonal relationships. But Shimon ben Pazi says that the pasuk that sums it up the best is Exodus 29:39, where we are commanded to bring the korban tamid, the daily offering, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. At first glance, this is a shocking suggestion — how could one possibly suggest that this mitzvah encompasses everything?
In Parshat Terumah, we begin the detailed description of the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) and all of its vessels. The main event in the Mishkan was the offering of the korbanot, the sacrifices offered on the altar, some for special occasions and some brought as part of the daily routine. The korban tamid was brought twice every day without fail — weekday or Shabbat, holiday or fast day, rain or shine. What is the message of this korban that makes it so central to Judaism, according to Shimon ben Pazi?
The word “tamid,” which means constant, appears 35 times in the Torah. 34 of those times are about the Mishkan! The bread on the shulchan (table) is there “tamid” (always, constantly). There is a “ner tamid” on the menorah. There is a fire “tamid” on the altar, and so on. What is the message of “tamid”? That life is measured by the constants, by the things we do every day, not the once-a-year or once-in-a-lifetime exciting, inspirational events. The mitzvot are there to concretize our values into the nitty-gritty details of life. You want to be a “good person”? The Torah says: Great – now give tzedaka, return lost objects, don’t be jealous, and don’t speak lashon hara. We want to “feel connected to God”? Then we need to daven every day, even when we are tired or in the middle of something. Shacharit and Mincha parallel the korban tamid – every day, rain or shine, an ever-present reminder of our relationship with Hashem, our dependence on Him, and our need to communicate with Him. Inspiration may happen at various times; translating that inspiration into consistent action is the challenge — and the opportunity — that every Jew faces.
What about the 35th time the Torah says, “tamid”? That one is a promise from Hashem: That the Land of Israel is a land that Hashem watches over – God’s eyes are “tamid” on Eretz Yisrael, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:12). Just as we are meant to serve Hashem “tamid,” Hashem too constantly watches over our people in our land.