Rashi seems to soften the imperative. Instead of the stark order, “Command!” he says, “Tzav means encouragement, now and for future generations”.
Rashi adds the remark of Rabbi Shimon, “Encouragement is especially necessary when a monetary loss is involved”.
We understand Rabbi Shimon, but do we understand Rashi?
Rabbi Shimon is saying, “A person must hesitate to obey God if he is going to suffer a loss thereby, so he needs encouragement.”
What is Rashi saying?
The explanation arises out of a passage in the Talmud (Kidd. 29a), which reads, “The School of Rabbi Ishmael taught, ‘Whenever command is stated, its purpose is to denote exhortation for then and all time’”.
There is no contrast between “command” and “encourage”. With a positive attitude to God’s will, a person knows that what God wants is doable. They do not stiffen their resistance to the command but feel overjoyed and encouraged that God has such faith in them.
Now comes the relevance of Rabbi Shimon’s comment. A person is always tempted to put personal interests first and say, “That’s all very well if you are comfortably off. Doing the mitzvah doesn’t cost you in that case and you don’t feel it. But me, I’m struggling and I can’t afford what it’s going to cost!”
It reminds me of a certain bridegroom with whom, many years ago, I was discussing coming to the Synagogue on Shabbat for a pre-wedding call-up to the Torah. His answer was, “Look, I have a stall at the market and Saturday is my best day. If the Chief Rabbi will make up my losses I’ll come to shule!” It should have been Rabbi Shimon talking to him, not me, and I don’t remember whether he came to the service or not.
But the Shabbat question comes into an exposition of Rashi and Rabbi Shimon by the Kotzker Rebbe, who says, “If you should keep the command even if you suffer monetary loss, how does this apply on Shabbat when you shouldn’t be concerned with money at all?” On weekdays there are many ways to do a good deed that costs money, for instance by means of giving charity – but what about Shabbat?
The Kotzker answered his own question by saying, “So let a person find ways of sharing the joy of Shabbat with others, especially by means of hospitality!”