You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Tetzaveh.
Facing Amalek, Facing Ourselves: Reading Parashat Zakhor this Year
R. Ethan Tucker
This Shabbat we will read Parashat Zakhor, remembering the command to blot out Amalek. And then we will head into Purim, recalling a time when Jews took up arms to defend themselves from annihilation.
This week, we have once again experienced Jews being attacked and murdered with their guard down. It is thus natural to reach for Parashat Zakhor when seeking vengeance for what was taken from us. It can seem like a made-for-the-moment text: a passage in the Torah that calls out those who prey on the weak, and demands that we identify the external enemy who took them down and eradicate them.
But this week, we also saw a great desecration of God’s name, as religious Jews torched hundreds of homes in the village whence the attackers came. Pausing to daven Maariv as the flames rose from the village, these young men, wearing their kippot and tzitzit, may have felt they were fulfilling the Biblical command we read about this week: taking revenge on our enemies. They may have felt triumphant echoes of the megillah–“וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְשֹׂנְאֵיהֶם כִּרְצוֹנָם–the Jews dealing with their enemies as they see fit.” (Esther 9:5)
In reality, though, they were reminding us about the real essence of the war against Amalek: how only a hair’s breadth separates Israel from its arch enemy. The preying on the weak, the loss of moral compass, the pursuit of power without restraint or protocol—these are the Amalekite tendencies that are latent within all of us, especially the people of Israel.
A close reading of Tanakh and midrash yields this conclusion.
There are two accounts of the desert battle with Amalek in the Torah; we read one on the Shabbat before Purim (Devarim 25:17-19) and one on Purim morning (Shemot 17:8-16). Though both feature the threat and command to wipe out Amalek, the passage from Shemot reads unremarkably like any battle scene with one of Israel’s enemies, whereas the passage from Devarim seems, in using the unusual phrase וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ – ‘he attacked you from the rear,’ to make claims about Amalek’s unusual cruelty. We are thus drawn to conclude that the Torah’s intense hatred of Amalek derives from their tactics of warfare; not the fact that they fought Israel, but how they fought.
The verb לזנב – to attack from the rear – resurfaces later in the Bible, however, in reference to Israel. In the aftermath of Yehoshua’s hard-fought victory over the town of Ai and his treaty with the residents of Giv’on, five Emorite kings band together to try to stop the Israelites’ momentum by destroying Giv’on. After Yehoshua’s troops successfully defend Giv’on and completely rout the attackers, he orders his troops as follows:
וְאַתֶּם אַל־תַּעֲמֹדוּ רִדְפוּ אַחֲרֵי אֹיְבֵיכֶם וְזִנַּבְתֶּם אוֹתָם אַל־תִּתְּנוּם לָבוֹא אֶל־עָרֵיהֶם כִּי נְתָנָם ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם בְּיֶדְכֶם:
“Don’t stop! Chase after your enemies and attack them from the rear–וזנבתם אותם–don’t let them reach their towns, for the Lord your God has delivered them into your hands.”
Yehoshua’s command to his troops mirrors Devarim’s description of what Amalek did to Israel. Yehoshua, Israel’s general who witnessed the tactics of Amalek and defeated them, later seems to order the same sort of warfare himself. Obviously, distinctions can be drawn. Devarim describes Amalek as attacking the נחשלים, a word, though without parallel elsewhere in Tanakh, that is generally taken to refer to weak defenseless non-combatants, whereas Yehoshua’s command is clearly focused on soldiers fleeing from battle. Amalek attacked a civilian camp; Yehoshua attacked an army. Nonetheless, the striking similarity of language–these are the only two places in all of Tanakh where זנב is used as a verb–cannot be avoided.
Indeed, in Shemot 17:16, we are told that the divine war against Amalek is “מִדֹּר דֹּר”– in each and every generation. God’s battle with Amalek seems to be cast as one that is eternal because it takes on different forms in different generations. There is always an Amalek, but it may have different faces at different times. We must be able to see the different faces of Amalek, in all its possible manifestations.
One idea explored in our tradition is that Amalek is nothing more than the messenger sent to punish Israel for its failures. In this reading, the most important thing for us to understand about Amalek is the root causes of its appearance in Israel’s story. Various midrashim diagnose the attack of Amalek as a symptom of deeper diseases that course through Israel. These include eroded commitment to Torah (רפיון ידים מן התורה) or unethical behavior (Mekhilta Beshallah 1). Most haunting is the following midrash, which creatively reads our passage in Devarim 25:18:
אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל־הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱ-לֹהִים:
The plain meaning of this verse is probably that Amalek, not fearing God – וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱ-לֹהִים – happened upon you and attacked the weak among you at your tail, while you were tired and weary. But this midrash says: ולא ירא אלהים–אלו ישראל שלא היו בידם מצות. It is Israel who did not fear God and follow God’s mitzvot, and therefore were weak and vulnerable. What is most haunting about this derashah is that once you hear it, the syntax of the verse in Devarim almost seems to demand this interpretation: You, Israel, were faint, weary, and lacking fear of God.
There is yet another aspect to Amalek that gives us pause, one that reflects its very close relationship to Israel. In the book of Shoftim, the prophet Devorah sings a victory song in which she runs through the various Israelite tribes who proved either their valor or their diffidence during the war against Sisera and Midian. Her comment on the tribe of Efraim is the following: מני אפרים שרשם בעמלק–from Efraim, their roots in Amalek (Shoftim 5:14). The traditional commentators interpret this to mean that Efraim’s courage stems from its prior conflict with Amalek: Yehoshua, a member of the tribe of Efraim, was the first to engage the battle with Amalek, and from this history Efraim drew the subsequent strength to come to Devorah and Barak’s aid. The verse, however, is obscure, and there are other connections between Efraim and Amalek that may be intended here. Shoftim 12:15 tells us that the judge Avdon ben Hillel was buried in the country of Efraim on הר העמלקי – the hill country of Amalek – seemingly indicating that Efraim displaced Amalek in securing its share of the land of Israel. Efraim thus sits on the ruins of Amalek, and its roots are quite literally intertwined with Amalek’s history.
This shadowy connection between Efraim and Amalek runs deeper. Efraim is Yitzhak’s great-grandson, through the line of Ya’akov. Amalek is also Yitzhak’s great-grandson, through the line of Esav (Bereshit 36:12). Amalek is therefore a direct descendant of Avraham Avinu as well.
Perhaps this is the sense of the tantalizing statement that אין זרעו של עמלק נופל אלא ביד בנה של רחל. (Pesikta Rabbati 13) Only a child of Rahel can defeat Amalek’s line; Yehoshua, Shaul, Mordechai and others must confront Amalek because Amalek is their mirror image and only a person himself can slay his own shadow.
Amalek is closer to us than we like to think. Amalek is the path not taken, Israel’s doppelganger in history, reflecting what might have been and what is still always possible if we lose our way. The holy war against Amalek is thus always also one against our own failings, the recognition that our own missteps can ultimately come back to haunt and debilitate us. Amalek is thus not only significant as a historical people, but perhaps even more prominently as a specter of what Jews and Judaism can become if they stray from the correct path.
How do we show up to Parashat Zakhor this Shabbat? This year, it would be a distortion and moral blindness to direct our thoughts primarily outwards to external threats and Jewish vulnerability. We must listen carefully to the midrashic reading of ולא ירא אלהים and look deeply into the mirror that it holds up to us – to force ourselves, even if we are in grief, not to look away. This is a year to focus on the Amalek that projects for us the threat of an Israel gone astray. Only we can slay that enemy. Only we can say, לא זו דרכנו—this is not the way we defend the Jewish people. Remember this—do not forget.
Rabbi Ethan Tucker
From reform judaism.org
Splitting like a Fig
T’tzaveh, Exodus 27:20−30:10
D’VAR TORAH BY: RABBI JONATHAN K. CRANE
We often encounter paradoxes in life, things that appear to be mutually incompatible. Paradoxes sometimes appear in the unlikeliest places, and they deserve our close attention, like the one hiding in this week’s parashah.
While describing the ornate pieces of the Kohein Gadol’s (high priest’s) wardrobe, Moses speaks of the ephod (shoulder cape or mantle) and the choshen (breastpiece). The ephod is to be made of gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarn and linen twisted together and worked into designs and shall have two lapis-lazuli stones each engraved with six names of the sons of Israel, and those stones are to be framed by gold (Exodus 26:8).
The choshen is to be similarly made of yarn, stones, and gold. Instead of two stones, the choshen will have 12, each with the name of a different tribe. On one hand, they are to be “framed with their gold in their mountings (b’milu’otam)” (Exodus 28:20). The Targums Jerusalem and Pseudo-Jonathan (ancient Jewish-Aramaic translations of the Bible) both understand this phrase to mean “they shall be set in gold, in their completeness,” that is, the stones are to be full and unblemished. Yet, each stone “will be engraved like seals (pituḥei ḥotam),” just as the ephod stones are engraved (Exodus 28:11,21).
Given that engraving a stone requires gouging out bits and shards to make physical markings, how could choshen stones be both flawless and engraved?
How can we respond to this (or any) paradox?
Let’s begin with another biblical paradox about stones.
King Solomon built the Temple with “whole stones cut at the quarry, so that no hammer or ax or any iron tool was heard in the House while it was built” (I Kings 6:7). Yet these same stones were “sawed with saws inside and out” (I Kings 7:9). How could they be both unhewn and sawed?
The Talmudic sages solved this enigmatic contradiction in two ways, according to Sotah 48b in the Babylonian Talmud. The first approach confidently argues that the unhewn stones were used for the Temple itself, whereas the tooled stones were used to build the king’s home. By insisting that the Bible does not reference the exact same stones, this strategy dismantles the paradox altogether.
The second strategy tries to solve the paradox by invoking a further mystery. It claims that Solomon built the Temple by using a shamir. According to many classic commentators, the shamir was a small worm, the size of a barleycorn. It reportedly had special powers: rocks would split asunder when exposed to this worm (Barternura on Pirkei Avot 5:6; Rashi on Ezekiel 3:9 and Zechariah 7:12). Since nothing could withstand its gaze, the shamir was wrapped in tufts of wool and placed within a leaden vessel full of barley (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 48b). The shamir was so unusual that it was one of the things created at twilight before the first Shabbat (Pirkei Avot 5:6; Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 54a). But, sadly, the shamir became nullified (batul) after the destruction of the Second Temple (Mishnah Sotah 9:12; Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 48a). The shamir’s origins are as mysterious as its absence.
The rabbis posited that Moses used the shamir on the engraved yet untarnished choshen stones. They thought Moses painted the names of the tribes on the choshen stones, and when he showed the stones to the shamir, the stones split along the lines of the ink of their own accord, “like a fig that splits in the summer without losing anything” (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 48b).
Rabbi Natan Slifkin, director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh, Israel, offers a naturalist’s attempt to understand theshamir. He suggests that it could be an Euchondrus desertorum, a tiny snail of the Negev desert that eats lichen just below a rock’s surface, but only limestone rock, not hard gemstones like those on the choshen. Maybe the shamir was the chiton, a marine mollusk, whose magnetite teeth are the toughest material created by an animal. On the other hand, since the shamir was kept bottled up inside a lead tube, maybe it was not a creature but a reaction, specifically a radioactive one.
If this were the case, the lapidaries working on the choshen could paint a stone with some kind of lead or lead-oxide ink, and when that stone was exposed to the shamir, unpainted bits would crumble away, leaving the face of the rock etched like an engraved seal. The stone would corrode and split like a ripe fig without “losing” anything. Insofar as the potency of radioactive materials decreases over time, this helps explain the rabbinic assertion that after the destruction of the Second Temple, the shamir was null. It’s not that the shamir didn’t exist; what remained of it was ineffective.
Though the shamir is fascinating and we could spend years studying it, the original paradox remains. Neither strategy – dismantle and avoid the paradox or offer a distracting mystery – truly satisfies. However, paradoxes do not require solving; they need to be appreciated.
Consider some of the other enigmas Judaism embraces that are apparently self-contradictory: humans are simultaneously ethereal and material, we are made b’tzelem Elohim and from dust. Do we have free will even though God knows all? Pharaoh’s hardened heart is a good illustration of that question. Finally, there’s the commandment to remember to forget Amalek, which we encounter every year at our Purim celebrations when we remember the downfall of his descendant, Haman.
The issue is not the existence of such paradoxes, but how we respond to them. Do we coolly reject and dismantle paradoxes with great certainty that only one answer truly satisfies? Or do we posit further mysteries and enigmas to distract us from the original conundrum? However enticing such strategies may be, they resist the fact that life is frequently, inescapably, and often beautifully “both/and”. By allowing ourselves to linger longer in the enigmatic heat of life’s paradoxes, we may find ourselves splitting like figs, bursting with appreciation of life’s complexities. And in that heat, we can adorn ourselves with personalized ephod and choshen that show the amazing paradoxes of our own lives.
Garments of Light
BY : RABBI RAYMOND SCHEINDLIN
Last week, we read God’s orders to Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle and its accoutrements. This week, our parashah continues on the subject of the Tabernacle and the preparations for starting the sacrificial cult, focusing on the Tabernacle’s personnel: the priests—particularly their vestments and the rituals for the priests’ consecration. These subjects will return, for after a week devoted largely to the story of the Golden Calf, the Torah will repeat the account of the Tabernacle nearly verbatim, not in the form of instructions for things to be made but as a narrative of their making. Nor is this the end of the matter; in Leviticus, the consecration of the priests’ returns as a narrative of how the consecration rituals commanded in this week’s parashah were actually carried out. Because they occupy four weekly parshiyot in Exodus and the better part of a fifth one in Leviticus, it is clear that the construction of the Tabernacle and the consecration of the priests, as dry as they may seem to us, are among the Torah’s important concerns.
That God should have commanded the construction of the Tabernacle might seem like a natural development, for we are accustomed to having structures where holy objects are housed, where worship is conducted, where a religious community assembles, and where the divine presence is felt to be concentrated. What may come as a surprise is the amount of attention paid to the garments of the priests, especially those of the high priest. It seems out of harmony with the Rabbinic admonition to concentrate on the wine rather than the vessel that holds it. Our religious sensibilities find ostentation incongruent with reverence. Yet the Torah seems fascinated with the garments of the High Priest, enumerating eight items of dress, all made of precious fabrics colored with precious dyes, sparkling with gold thread and golden ornaments, glittering with precious stones, and collectively known as the golden garments.
How our ancestors loved the High Priest’s glittering garments! Writing around 200 BCE, the wise Ben Sira, an eyewitness to the Temple service, wrote of the High Priest Simeon ben Yoḥanan:
How splendid he was when he peered from the tent,
Emerging from behind the curtain!
Like a gleaming star among the clouds,
Like the full moon on a festival night,
Like the sun shining on the king’s palace,
Like the rainbow appearing in a cloud . . .
When he donned the robes of honor,
Wore his splendid garments.
(Ben Sira 50:5–7, 11)
The Letter of Aristeas, a possibly fictional first-century BCE account of a visitor’s impressions of the Temple, echoes this fascination with the vestments of a high priest named Eleazar:
We were struck with great astonishment when we beheld Eleazar at his ministration, and his apparel, and the visible glory conferred by his being garbed in the coat that he wears and the stones that adorn his person. . . The total effect of the whole arouses awe and emotional excitement.
(Aristeas 96, 100)
The poets who wrote descriptions of the Temple’s Yom Kippur service for the synagogue liturgy were likewise entranced by the high priest’s robes. Like Ben Sira and the author of the Letter of Aristeas, they waxed eloquent in describing the precious stones of the breastpiece. But like the Rabbis of the Talmud and Midrash, the synagogue poets were less interested in the vestments’ luminousness than in their moral symbolism; they enumerated, in verse of a rather didactic style, each garment and the sin for which it was designed to atone. They reserved their more ecstatic effusions for the high priest himself, who is described as follows in an anonymous poem in the Ashkenazi mahzor:
Like the rainbow with a cloud
Like Venus in the eastern sky
Like a lamp shining through windows
Like the sunrise over the earth
Like Orion and the Pleides
did the priest appear
No mention here of the golden garments, for this is a Yom Kippur hymn; and on Yom Kippur, the high priest wore the golden garments only for the rituals that are performed on weekdays and ordinary festive days—the twice-daily offering of a lamb, or renewing the lamps in the lampstand, for example. For the rituals specific to Yom Kippur, such as entering the Holy of Holies or selecting and sending forth the scapegoat, he wore four white garments, containing no gold and adorned with no jewels, and for this reason called the linen garments. The high priest’s radiance as he emerged from the Holy of Holies is thus not ascribed to his garments but to his person and is entirely metaphorical: he glowed not with the gold of the diadem, the gold thread in the fabric of his robes, the flashes from the twelve gems on the breastpiece, or the gems’ gold settings, but with the radiance of contact with the divine.
In truth, the glitter of the golden garments and the dazzle of the linen garments were only pale substitutes for the luminescence that God intended for all mankind when God bestowed garments of light on Adam and Eve.
The Psalmist says that God wears light as a garment, and the Midrash, in its hyperbolic way, expands that one garment of light to ten. When God drove Adam and Eve out of paradise, he dressed them in some of His own garments of light, at least according to one of the sages of old. Perhaps He did this to console Adam and Eve for their loss of Eden and to protect them from the dangers of the natural world now that they were reduced from their original enormous size (for no wild beast would dare approach the divine radiance). But more likely, He intended His gift as an assurance that they would continue to enjoy the proximity of His divine presence and to partake in His divine nature, if only in a reduced way.
Time passed; Adam and Eve’s progeny multiplied and scattered. Man went about his ways, and God’s light in him dimmed. Then God decided to establish His presence among mankind by demanding that His nation of priests construct Him a dwelling—the Tabernacle. By vesting the priests in garments of light, God’s intention must have been to remind men that they had once worn His own garments of light and that His light had radiated consolation, protection, and a divine character that was their very own. Perhaps in the priests’ luminous garb, men would glimpse the divine light in mankind and strive to deserve its restoration in full.
The Finest That We Have To Offer
A d’var Torah for Parashat Tetzaveh by Rabbinical Student Abi Weber
In religious and spiritual communities, I am often asked to “shed layers” — that is, to dig deep into my soul, discerning what truly matters and letting go of the rest. There is a sense that spiritual connection has to do with getting rid of the extra stuff that builds up, of drilling into the core of things. So it is interesting that this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, is all about putting layers on.
The focus here is on Aaron, who is to become the High Priest of the soon-to-be-built Mishkan (Holy Tabernacle). The Israelites are commanded to give Aaron bigdei kodesh, “holy clothing,” for the sake of dignity and adornment (Exodus 28:2). These sacred garments are to be crafted by skilled artisans and include a breastpiece, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, a sash, and an “ephod” — which Rashi translates as a sort of fancy apron. Each garment is described in all of its particulars: its gold, blue, purple and crimson yarns, its fine linen, its “braided chains of corded work in pure gold” (Exodus 28:22). It is clear that these are not simple frocks.
As I read of these lavish designs, I can’t help but think of how strange it is that these Israelites are focusing on such things at this moment. They have just been liberated from 400 years of slavery in Egypt; they crossed the Sea of Reeds and received the Torah at Sinai; they are now learning to survive in the wilderness. And what is it that they are to spend their time and energy thinking about? Fancy clothes! How odd.
This odd moment reminds me of a story from Tanna debei Eliyahu Zuta (chapter 2), a 10th-century midrash, about a king who has two beloved servants. He gives each servant a measure of wheat and a bundle of flax and goes away, returning after a time to see what each has done with his gift. One servant, having taken good care of the king’s precious gift, proudly displays the untouched, unmarred raw wheat and flax in a basket. The other has transformed these items: He weaves the flax into cloth and makes it into a table covering; he makes flour from the wheat, sifting, grounding, kneading, and baking it into a delicious bread that he places upon the tablecloth. Which servant will be rewarded by the king?
If this were a story of the spiritual virtue of simplicity and making do with the bare minimum, surely the servant who does nothing would be rewarded. He has made it clear in his inaction that he was satisfied with the raw ingredients that his master provided for him. This is not a story about simplicity, though: The simple man who does not alter the wheat or flax is called an “embarrassment” and a “disgrace,” while the servant who works hard to transform these simple ingredients into a beautiful table spread is lauded by the grateful king. The king likes the transformed items better.
The lesson as it is explained in the midrash has to do with the importance of interpretation in Jewish tradition — the raw ingredient of Torah is not enough; we, as readers of Torah, must add to the conversation with our commentary, thus weaving a more beautiful product from the simple materials. I see another lesson here, though: Nobody should have to get by with just the bare minimum.
As a human rights organization, T’ruah is committed to the idea that all human beings have inalienable rights. These rights are not limited to waking up each day, making a minimum wage, and eating just the right number of calories to survive to the next day. “Human rights” also means being treated with dignity and respect — earning fair wages, eating enough to be full (and confident you know where your next meal is coming from), and having the ability to make decisions about your own life. For T’ruah’s allies in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, being recognized by their farmer employers as human beings, as equals with whom to negotiate, was as important as the tangible benefits they won, like wage increases and zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Similarly, T’ruah works for a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to preserve the dignity of both groups. Better wages or simple lack of violence are not enough: As Jews, we must demand more of ourselves and our systems. We must take the raw ingredients that the world has given us and create something better.
Perhaps, absent this Torah portion, the Israelites would have thought the priests could get by with ordinary garb. After all, the priests had no inheritance of their own — they relied on the support of the other Israelites for their survival. Did they really need the fanciest things? The Torah is clear on this question: yes. Yes, and more. When we give, when we work to create a better world, it is not enough to give the bare minimum. We must work for systemic changes that provide every human being with the safety, dignity, respect, and love that they deserve. Rather than shed our layers, we must build new and better layers — layers of gold, of blue, of purple, of crimson, and of the finest that we have to offer.
Abi Weber is a third-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. She was a T’ruah Israel Fellow in Jerusalem last year and currently serves as a Marshall T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow at B’nai Jeshurun.
By Rabbi Rachel Axelrad
In Exodus 27:20-21, we read:
You shall command the Children of Israel [thus]: They shall bring olive oil for lighting that is clear and beaten before you, to raise up the light always. Aaron and his sons shall prepare them in the Tent of Meeting outside the curtain which is over the Testimony, from evening until morning before Adonai, a law forever for the generations of the Children of Israel.
In this passage, the Torah presents the textual basis for the Ner Tamid. The text of course refers to the lamp that is continuously lit in the Tent of Meeting before the eidut (Testimony), and later in the Beit HaMikdash. The act of lighting the lamp- l’ha’a lot – is in the hifil infinitive, literally, “cause to ascend”. This verb is also translated as “raise up”, “elevate”, and “offer [a sacrifice]”. Each instance involves an action directed upward to facilitate a connection to the Divine. The specific location-before the eidut – tells us that the continuous light is witnessed, testified to. The combination of the light and its raising up is seen as a testimony to the existence of a Divine connection and to our capacity to access that connection. This is the essence that we are concerned with today. The rabbinic custom of establishing a Ner Tamid in every synagogue is critical in that it assures us of that Divine connectivity that we can access even today, two millennia after the Second Temple destruction. We note a similar passage in Leviticus 24:1-3, almost identical, underscoring the significance of the Ner Tamid – the continuous light:
Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: Command the Children of Israel [thus]. They shall bring olive oil for lighting that is clear and beaten before you, to raise up the light always. Outside the curtain of Testimony Aaron shall prepare it always from evening until morning before Adonai; a law forever for their generations.
The instruction is repeated again in Numbers 8:2:
Say to Aaron “you shall say to them, ‘in your raising up the lights in front of the menorah, seven candles shall be lit.'”
Note the repetition of the root for lighting, beha’a lot’cha. The very act of lighting the menorah reflects an upward connectivity to the Divine. Clearly, our theology directs us to understand our connection to the Divine via this metaphor of the lighting of continuous lights. It is no surprise that in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple, rabbinic Judaism established the custom of maintaining a constant light over the ark that holds the Sefer Torah, calling it a Ner Tamid.
This Divine connection is not limited to a lamp in the synagogue. Thus, spiritually, the Ner Tamid transcends the priestly duties in the Beit HaMikdash, becoming a metaphor for our capacity to connect with the Divine in our mundane lives, wherever and whenever we are.
Consider the passage in Psalm 18:29:
It is You who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness [JPS translation]
The Psalmist, in the voice of David, is in the deepest pit of despair, nowhere near the Ark, whether in the Tent of Meeting or the Beit HaMikdash (which hasn’t even been built). Yet, at his time of deepest distress, beset by enemies, he achieves an upward connection with the Divine, expressed as the Light. He encapsulates the essence of the fire-light in his soul and uses it to reflect his energy outward and upward out of the pit to overcome his dark challenges. It is a connectivity that we feel in our souls.
Midrash Tanchuma, Beha’alotcha 4:1 aptly describes this capacity to perceive the Divine light by reflecting it outward:
“For You light up my lamp.” Israel said to the Holy One, blessed be He, “Master of the world, are You saying that we should give light before You? [But] You are the light of the world and the light [dwells] with You, as it is written…’He reveals the deep and secret things, He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells within Him.’ …” [https://www.sefaria.org/topics/lighting?tab=sources].
The Etz Chaim commentary describes this Light ‘as a symbol of God – it cannot be seen itself; it enables us to see other things. We cannot see God, but are aware of Him in the beauty of the world. Light is the process of liberating the energy hidden in the object. Fire – a human technology – represents human effort to bring the reality of God into our world.’ By accessing the Divine Light from above and reflecting the light outwards from our souls, we are able to connect with the beauty that surrounds us.
During the past year, we have been in a period of darkness and distress, much like the Psalmist, in his deepest pit of despair. As we approach an abatement of the terrible disease that has plagued us for so many months, we can “see the light at the end of tunnel”. We are not there yet. However, we have the capacity to reach for the Divine light, whenever and wherever we are. As we continue to adhere to the health and safety protocols established by scientific experts, we radiate the Divine light that we are able to connect with. As we look upward to connect with the Divine light above, we will be able to emerge from the deep cover of the darkness that has plagued us during the last year. We will again be able to see the beauty of the world around us as we reflect this Divine light outward from our souls.
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Brothers: A Drama in Five Acts (Tetzaveh 5779)
It is interesting to note the absence of Moses from the parsha of Tetzaveh. For once Moses, the hero, the leader, the liberator, the lawgiver, is off-stage in the only instance where the name of Moses is not mentioned at all in any parsha since the first parsha of the book of Shemot (in which he is born).
Instead our focus is on his elder brother Aaron who, elsewhere, is often in the background. Indeed, virtually the whole parsha is devoted to the role Moses did not occupy, except briefly – that of priest in general, High Priest in particular.
It is important that we have a parsha dedicated to the legacy of the priestly role for Judaism. However, need this focus have removed Moses from the passage entirely? Is there any larger significance to his absence? The commentators offered various suggestions.
One given in the Talmud refers to an event at the beginning of Moses’ leadership: his encounter with God at the burning bush. Moses repeatedly expressed reluctance to undertake the mission of leading the people out of Egypt. Finally we read:
But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”
Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and He said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.” (Exodus 4:13–15)
The Talmud records a debate about the lasting consequences of that moment when Moses, as it were, refused one time too many. To decline a leadership challenge once or twice is a sign of humility. To continue to do so when it is God Himself issuing the challenge risks provoking divine anger, as happened here. The Talmud comments:
“Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses” – Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha said: every instance of [divine] anger in the Torah leaves a lasting effect, except in this instance. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: here too it left a lasting effect, for it goes on to say, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite?” Surely Aaron was a priest [not just a Levite]. Rather, what God meant was: I originally intended that you [Moses] would be a priest and he [Aaron] would merely be a Levite. But now [because of your refusal], he will eventually become a priest and you will only be a Levite.
According to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the lasting effect of Moses’ reluctance to lead was that one vital leadership role – priesthood – would eventually go to Aaron rather than to Moses himself.
Basing himself on this passage, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (1270– 1340) suggests that Moses’ name is missing from Tetzaveh, which deals with the priestly garments, “to spare him distress” on seeing Aaron acquire the insignia of priesthood that might have been Moses’ own.
Without negating this or other explanations, there is also a more fundamental message. One of the recurring themes of Genesis is sibling rivalry, hostility between brothers. This story is told, at ever-increasing length, four times: between Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers.
There is an identifiable pattern to this set of narratives, best seen in the way each ends. The story of Cain and Abel ends with murder – fratricide. Isaac and Ishmael, though they grow up apart, are seen together at Abraham’s funeral. Evidently there had been a reconciliation between them, though this can only be read between the lines (and spelled out in midrash), not directly in the text. Jacob and Esau meet, embrace and go their separate ways. Joseph and his brothers are reconciled and live together in peace, Joseph providing them with food, land, and protection.
Genesis is telling us a story of great consequence. Fraternity – one of the key words of the French revolution – is not simple or straightforward. It is often fraught with conflict and contention. Yet slowly, brothers can learn that there is another way. On this note Genesis ends. But it is not the end of the story.
The drama has a fifth act: the relationship between Moses and Aaron. Here, for the first time, there is no hint of sibling rivalry. The brothers work together from the very outset of the mission to lead the Israelites to freedom. They address the people together. They stand together when confronting Pharaoh. They perform signs and wonders together. They share leadership of the people in the wilderness together. For the first time, brothers function as a team, with different gifts, different talents, different roles, but without hostility, each complementing the other.
Their partnership is a constant feature of the narrative. But there are certain moments where it is highlighted. The first occurs in the passage already cited above. God tells Moses that Aaron “is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you.” How different this is from the tense encounters between brothers in Genesis!
Aaron, we may have thought, would have many reasons not to rejoice on seeing Moses return. The brothers had not grown up together. Moses had been adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in an Egyptian palace, while Aaron remained with the Israelites. Nor had they been together during the Israelites’ sufferings. Moses, fearing for his life after his assault on an Egyptian taskmaster, had fled to Midian.
Besides this, Moses was Aaron’s younger brother, and yet it was he who was about to become the leader of the people. Always in the past, when the younger had taken something the elder might have believed belonged naturally to him, there was jealousy, animosity. Yet God assures Moses: “when Aaron sees you, he will rejoice.” And so he did:
And the Lord said to Aaron, Go to the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him. (Exodus 4:27)
The second fascinating clue is contained in a strange passage that traces the descent of Moses and Aaron:
Amram married his father’s sister Yocheved, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years…It was this same Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, “Bring the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.” They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. It was this same Moses and Aaron. (Exodus 6:20, 26–27)
The repeated phrase, “It was this same,” is emphatic even in translation. It is all the more so when we note two peculiarities of the text. The first is that the phrases, though at first they sound identical, in fact place the names of the brothers in a different order: the first says “Aaron and Moses,” the second, “Moses and Aaron.” Even more striking is the grammatical oddity of the phrase. Both times, the third person singular is used. Literally, they read: “He was Aaron and Moses,” “He was Moses and Aaron.” The text should have said, “They” – all the more so since the pronoun “they” is used in the middle of the passage: “They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh.”
The unmistakable implication is that they were like a single individual; they were as one. There was no hierarchy between them: sometimes Aaron’s name appears first, sometimes Moses’. There is a wonderful Midrash that bears out this idea, based on the verse in Psalms (85:11) “Loving-kindness and truth meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”
Loving-kindness – this refers to Aaron. Truth – this refers to Moses. Righteousness – this refers to Moses. Peace – this refers to Aaron.
The Midrash brings proof-texts for each of these identifications, but we understand them immediately. Moses and Aaron were quite different in temperament and role. Moses was the man of truth, Aaron of peace. Without truth, there can be no vision to inspire a nation. But without internal peace, there is no nation to inspire. Aaron and Moses were both necessary. Their roles were in creative tension. Yet they worked side by side, each respecting the distinctive gift of the other. As the Midrash goes on to say:
“And he kissed him” [the brothers kissed when they met] – This means: each rejoiced at the other’s greatness.
A final Midrash completes the picture by referring to this week’s parsha and the vestments of the High Priest, especially the breastplate with its Urim and Tumim:
“His heart will be glad when he sees you” – Let the heart that rejoiced in the greatness of his brother be vested with the Urim and Tumim.
The Urim and Tumim were a form of oracle, carried by the High Priest in his breastplate. They conveyed divine inspiration and guidance, a kind of priestly equivalent of the divine word that came to the prophet. It was precisely the fact that Aaron did not envy his younger brother but instead rejoiced in his greatness that made him worthy to be High Priest. So it came to pass – measure for measure – that just as Aaron made space for his younger brother to lead, so the Torah makes space for Aaron to lead. That is why Aaron is the hero of Tetzaveh: for once, not overshadowed by Moses.
“Who is honoured?” asked Ben Zoma. “One who honours others.” Aaron honoured his younger brother. That is why Moses (not mentioned by name but by implication) is told in this week’s parsha, “Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him honour and splendour” (Exodus 28:2). To this day a Kohen is honoured by being the first to be called up to the Torah – the Torah that Aaron’s younger brother Moses gave to the Jewish people.
The story of Aaron and Moses, the fifth act in the biblical drama of brotherhood, is where, finally, fraternity reaches the heights. And that surely is the meaning of Psalm 133, with its explicit reference to Aaron and his sacred garments: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.” It was thanks to Aaron, and the honour he showed Moses, that at last brothers learned to live together in unity.
 See my earlier essay on Tetzaveh, “Priests and Prophets”, Covenant and Conversation: Exodus, the book of Redemption, p. 219.
 Zevaĥim 102a.
 R. Jacob ben Asher, commentary of Baal HaTurim to Exodus 27:20.
 Some developed later – see Numbers, chap. 12 – but was resolved by Moses’ humility.
 “This teaches that they were equals” (Tosefta, Kritot, end).
 Shemot Rabbah 5:10
 Ibid., ad loc.
 Ibid. 3:17.
 According to Ramban, they consisted of letters spelling out the divine name or names, some of which would light up at key moments, spelling out a message to be deciphered by the High Priest.
 Avot 4:1
From My Jewish Learning
Aromatherapy: Jewish Style
The incense reminds us to unite our bodies and souls in our service of God and to imbue our lives with holiness, purity, compassion and hope.
BY RABBI AVI WEINSTEIN
Toward the end of Parashat Tetzaveh, we learn that there are two altars, one for the animal sacrifices, the “korbanot” and one for burning the incense, the “ketoret.” The design of this second altar is explicated in great detail, but the purpose of the incense is unclear. The altar is, however, to be used exclusively for incense. Only on Yom Kippur is the blood of animals to be sacrificed upon it. The only thing we know is that the aromatic incense is to be burned before the lamps of the menorah are prepared.
1. What does the “ketoret” symbolize?
2. Why is it connected to preparing the lamps on the menorah?
From Midrash Tadsheh Chapter 11 (taken from Rabbi Menachem Kasher’s monumental 45-volume anthology, “Torah Shelemah“): There were two altars in the sanctuary, one of gold, which symbolized the human life force, and one of copper, which symbolized the body. Just as gold is more precious than copper, so too, the life force is more precious than the body. Yet, each day it was decreed that both always be rendered before the Holy One.
So too, one must always come before the Master of Many Worlds — always with the life force and the body. The copper altar is for sacrifices that are to be eaten — eating is a bodily function. Only incense, something that was made to be smelled, was allowed on the golden altar — and only the soul gets pleasure from fragrance.
From the Midrash Tanchuma on the parshah: The Hebrew word for incense KeToReTH is an acronym: The letter kuf (K) alludes to kedusha–holiness. The letter tet (T) alludes to tahara –purity. The letter resh (R) alludes to rachamim–mercy, and the letter tahf (TH) alludes to tikvah—hope.
The verse in Proverbs teaches, “A mitzvah is the lamp and the Torah is the light…” (Proverbs 6:23). The most heavenly sense is the sense of smell and the midrash of the Tanchuma connects this feeling with four heavenly qualities, holiness, purity, mercy and hope. Each of these qualities brings transcendence and meaning to the banalities of everyday life.
Each day Aaron’s morning began with the reminder that existing is not enough, but each day must include kedusha (holiness), a commitment to our sacred mission; tahara (purity), a commitment to the cleansing of the spirit; rachamim (compassion), a predilection to be generous of spirit; and tikva (hope), a renunciation of despair replaced by a vision of hope. The incense reminds us that this heavenly smoke is meant to light up our souls.
Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.
Multiplicity Of Meanings
The high priest’s breastplate reminds us of the numerous ways to understand text and reality.
BY RABBI SHIMON FELIX
This week, the Torah portion continues with the details of the Mishkan–the Tabernacle. The focus is on the clothing worn by the priests and the high priest, the inaugural rituals and services which were to be done at the opening of the Tabernacle, and details of some of the vessels and offerings in the Tabernacle.
I would like to focus on a part of the high priest’s outfit that has fascinated me since I was a kid–the breastplate, known as the ‘Choshen Hamishpat,’ the Breastplate of Judgment. On it were 12 precious and semi-precious stones, arranged in four rows of three. The Torah states that “the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve in their names, engraved, each person with his name on it shall be, for the twelve tribes.” Later, at the end of the section, we are told “and Aharon [the high priest] shall carry the names of the children of Israel in the Breastplate of Judgment on his heart when he enters the holy place as a remembrance before God, always.”
That’s not all. In addition to the breastplate itself, there is a mysterious final touch, which students and alumni of Yale will be familiar with: “And you shall place in the Breastplate of Judgment the Urim and the Tummim, and they shall be on Aharon’s heart when he comes before God, and Aharon shall carry the judgment of the children of Israel on his heart before God, always.” The words “Urim and Tummim” are often left untranslated, as their meaning is obscure. Urim is connected to the Hebrew word ‘ohr‘ which means light, and Tummim is connected to the word ‘tam‘ which means simple, perfect, or pure.
The symbolism and function of all this is less than clear. The traditional commentaries suggest a variety of possibilities. Rashi, quoting the Talmud, says that the breastplate in some way atones for mistakes in judgment; if the court made an error, and decided a case wrongly, that mistake in judgment is somehow atoned for by the wearing of the Breastplate of Judgment. How that works is not explained.
Another explanation which Rashi, the Rashbam, and others give, is that the Breastplate dispenses judgment to Israel. This is the meaning of the verse in Numbers (27:21) “Before Elazar the priest he [Joshua] will stand, and seek from him the judgment of the Urim.” How these two different functions relate to each other is something I will come back to later.
It is this dispensing of judgment by the breastplate which is the really interesting part. Traditionally, it is believed that the Urim and Tummim somehow empower and energize the breastplate to do this. Generally, the understanding is that it works like this: The Jewish people have a question about some communal issue. The question is brought to the high priest who is wearing the Choshen. After some sort of ritual or rite, some of the letters incised into the stones on the breastplate light up, spelling out the answer to the question, rendering the ‘judgment’. It is understood that the Urim and Tummim, in some way placed inside the breastplate, are what give it this power.
What Are Urim and Tummim?
What exactly these Urim and Tummim were is an interesting question. In general, most commentaries think that they were some sort of written formula–the name of God, according to Rashi–which somehow gave the breastplate its oracular ability.
The Ramban (Nahmanides) says that they were “holy names, by whose power the letters on the stones of the breastplate lit up to the eyes of the priest who was asking for judgment.” The Ramban’s language is suggestive; his use of the phrase “to the eyes of the priest” seems to indicate that the stones did not actually light up, but, rather, that by concentrating on and/or reciting these divine names, the high priest had a vision in which the letters carved in the stones lit up.
The Ramban goes into some detail describing this process: “For example: when they asked ‘who should lead the way for us to fight against the Canaanites?’ the priest would concentrate on the divine names which are the Urim, and the letters would light up to his eyes… .
“And when the letters lit up to the eyes of the priest he still did not know their correct order, for from the letters which can be ordered ‘Yehuda ya’aleh (Judah shall go up)’ it is possible to make of them ‘hoy hed alehah‘ (perhaps ‘oh, echo upon her’) or ‘hey al Yehuda‘ (perhaps ‘woe unto Yehudah’), and many other words.
“But there were also the holy names which are called ‘Tummim,’ through whose power the heart of the priest was made perfect in the knowledge of the meaning of the letters which lit up to his eyes, for when he concentrated on the Urim and the letters lit up, he then immediately concentrated on the names which are the Tmumim, while the letters were still lit up to his eyes, and there appeared in his heart that the order was ‘Yehuda ya’aleh’ (‘Judah shall go up)’. And this is one of the levels of the holy spirit, lower than prophecy, and higher than a heavenly voice…”
On its own, this process is fascinating, and is very suggestive in the way in which it views the ‘text’ of the lit up letters as something plastic, undetermined, containing a multiplicity of possible meanings and interpretations, which need to be worked through by the process of the Tummim. In fact, the Ramban himself, in his preface to Genesis, describes the entire Torah in a similar fashion: the Torah is written with no punctuation, no sentences, just letters in a row, and therefore could, in theory, be divided up into words and sentences in a way other than the way we traditionally divide it up. The Torah would then be read in a way that is substantially different from the way in which it is traditionally read, communicating other meanings, other messages, other truths.
This way of looking at the information communicated by the Breastplate of Judgment, and, in fact, at the message of the entire Torah itself, is, in many ways, a destabilizing one, as well as a liberating one. Divine messages–the Torah we received at Mt. Sinai, as well as the ongoing, oracular communications of the Breastplate of Judgment in the Temple–contain many possible readings, which must be worked through in order to achieve ‘the’ reading.
The obvious implication, of course, is that the meaning communicated by the reading which we decide upon as normative is only one of many possible meanings, each with its own power and profundity, which are lost to us in the process of arriving at the ‘right’ meaning, but available to us if we choose to leave behind the traditional reading and search for a different one. Is this the particular nature of divine texts, divine communications? Or, is this the nature of all texts? Is the measure of a text’s divinity precisely its ability to not mean one specific thing but, rather, to communicate a multiplicity of meaning?
Having learned this destabilizing lesson from the process of the Urim and the Tummim, we can turn to our earlier question. The Breastplate of Judgment was seen to have, in addition to its oracular function, another function, that of atoning for mistakes in judgment by the courts of law. How did it do that? And, how did the Breastplate do these two apparently different things; atone for poor judgment as well as dispense correct judgment? How did these two roles co-exist?
Might we not suggest that the model presented to us by the Urim and Tummim of a text which, rather than being solid, clear, and immutable, is, in fact, slippery, suggestive, and full of possibilities, is one that is also relevant for any and all attempts to make meaning?
Are not judges, when trying to arrive at the truth in a case, called upon to interpret reality in the same way that a text must be interpreted; knowing all the while that the meaning they arrive at in their reading of reality is only one of myriad possible meanings? Is it not the case that there is no guarantee that their reading is the ‘right’ one?
It is this very knowledge, this understanding of the multiplicity of meaning, implied by the workings of the Urim and Tummim in the Breastplate of Judgment, which serves as an atonement for an incorrect judgment, for a poor reading by the judges of the reality which they were called upon to determine. For the high priest, after all, has the Tummim, with which he can hope to get the inspiration necessary to arrive at a true meaning of the message of the Urim, the lit up letters. We, in our attempts to wrest meaning from a confused and confusing world, have no such built-in assistance.
Provided by the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a summer seminar in Israel that aims to create a multi-denominational cadre of young Jewish leaders.
Confronting An Absence
Both Parashat Tetzaveh and the Book of Esther are missing some central characters.
BY LISA GRANT
Most years, this Torah portion is read during the week preceding Purim. The connection between the portion and Purim is not immediately apparent. Tetzaveh is filled with exacting details about the assembly of the priestly garments and the ritual role Aaron and his sons are to perform as anointed priests. The Book of Esther is a melodramatic tale of threat, intrigue, and ultimate redemption through plot twists and the reluctant heroism of a beautiful queen.
While the plots and purposes of these texts are vastly different, each in its own way, asks us to confront an absence. Tetzaveh is the only Torah portion from the beginning of the Book of Exodus until the end of Deuteronomy where the name of Moses does not appear. And Esther is one of only two books of the Bible where the name of God does not appear. These absences are cause for abundant commentary in each individual case, but the relationship between the two texts seems to receive only passing mention. What insight can this parallel presence of absence convey?
Why Is Moses Missing?
Many commentators speculate as to why Moses’ name is absent from Parashat Tetzaveh. One theory is that the omission is meant to acknowledge the anniversary of his death, which is said to be the seventh of Adar, just one week before Purim. Another theory is that Moses’ name is left out as divine admonishment for his jealousy over Aaron’s appointment as chief priest. Still others maintain that in his humility and self-effacement, Moses graciously cedes the role to his brother and absents himself from the narrative, so to speak, to make this clear.
Regardless of the reaction that Moses mayor may not have experienced when his brother became the head priest instead of him, the narrative suggests that although his name is not mentioned, Moses remains God’s agent-the enabler for all that is to happen. This is made evident through an unusual grammatical formulation found in the portion’s opening verses.
Elsewhere in the Torah, God’s commands to Moses are stated in the simple imperative: “instruct” (tzav) or “speak” (dabber). In Tetzaveh, however, three instances of an additional pronoun appear, giving extra emphasis to the actor responsible for the actions. Translating the text more literally, the first verse of the parashah (Exodus 27:20) reads: ”And you, yourself shall command the children of Israel.” Shortly thereafter, we read: “And you, bring near to yourself your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve Me as priests” (Exodus 28:1). The same grammatical form appears two lines later: “You, yourself speak to all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron’s vestments” (Exodus 28:3).
It’s All You
The 16th-century commentator Moshe Alshekh suggests that this repeated double emphasis is God’s way of saying to Moses, “It’s all really you. You have a greater share in it than anyone. All fulfill themselves through you” (cited in Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot, 1980, p. 526). Perhaps such language means to tell us that Moses is not absent at all. Rather, his presence is momentarily diminished so that other leaders can step forward to serve the broader needs of the community.
Just as we can see Moses as a behind the scenes mover in the portion, so too, can we see God as filling a similar role in the Purim narrative. While many interpret the Purim story as an instance when the Jews achieved victory through their own actions-without waiting for divine intercession-the classic rabbinic interpretation is that God was hidden from view, but not absent. In BT Chullin 139b, the Rabbis made this point through a biblical proof text, asking: “Where is Esther indicated in the Torah? In the verse “I will surely hide (astir) My face” (Deuteronomy 31:18). The Hebrew word astir (“I will hide”) serves as a wordplay on Esther’s name.
We can extend the wordplay even further by considering that the Hebrew word Megillah shares the same root as the verb “to reveal” (g-l-h). Thus, the Book of Esther can be read playfully as “revealing the hidden.” God’s presence is revealed through Mordecai’s conviction and Esther’s courage. God’s presence is revealed in the triumph of good over evil, in the flawed but ultimately responsible actions of human beings.
In a typical Purim twist, the biblical text also reinforces the presence of God’s absence by pointing out the consequences of the absence of God’s presence. The story opens with a drunken debauchery hosted by King Ahasuerus, where “he displayed the glory of his kingdom and the richness of his magnificent splendor for many days, for 180 days” (Esther 1:4).
The words used to describe the “glory” and “splendor” of his kingdom are the same words, kavod u’tiferet, that are used in Tetzaveh to describe the priestly garments (28:2, 40; there translated as “dignity and adornment”). In Tetzaveh, the lavish garments are designed to serve and honor God. In Esther, the King’s wealth is evidence of his corruption. The Midrash draws an even more powerful connection by claiming that the riches of Ahasuerus’ kingdom were made up of the spoils of the Temple, including the priestly garments themselves (Ester Rabbah 2.1).
The Purim message that sometimes gets lost in all of the revelry is that a sense of God’s presence in the world, even if hidden and obscure, gives us the strength and moral purpose to cope with uncertainties and imperfections. Parashat Tetzaveh paints a picture of the detail and exacting effort it took for the Israelites to feel God’s presence in their midst. Today, we have no priests and no Temple. The only vestige we have of this experience is the ner tamid, the eternal light, the first thing that God instructs Moses to establish in the opening verses of the portion. This light has come to symbolize the light of Torah. For us, then, the glory and splendor of God’s presence must be felt through the study of Torah and the constant striving to live in its light.
Reprinted with permission from The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).
By Rabbi Janet Madden, PhD, ’11
“Thus are true Aarons drest” (“Aaron”— George Herbert)
Long before Shakespeare’s Polonius famously opined that “the apparel …proclaims the man,” Parshat Tetzaveh described the special garments that signal the status and duties of the Temple priesthood— the clothing to be worn by the kohanim during their service in the Temple sanctuary. This four-piece ensemble consists of the ketonet (full-length linen tunic), the michnasayim (linen breeches), the mitznefet (linen turban) and the avnet (long sash wound above the waist). These distinctive and distinguishing white linen garments carry deep symbolic meaning, operating as a synecdoche for Divine consecration. As the Mishnah makes clear, donning this clothing confers holiness: “When they [the kohanim] are wearing their (special) garments, their priesthood is upon them; if they are not wearing their (special) garments, their priesthood is not upon them” (Zevachim 17b). As the number four is foundational to Judaism and as Shemot 19:6 had previously established that the Israelites should be “a kingdom of priests,” it is not unexpected that these sacral garments, signifiers of elevation of status and holiness of purpose, become the paradigm for other profound moments of holy purpose, both for the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling that when praying, a person should wear special clothes “similar to the way the priests wore priestly garments.” (Orach Chayim 98:4) and for the tachrichim used during Halbasha, the ceremonial dressing of the meit/ah that follows taharah.
Appropriately, since the number eight signifies completion, Tetzaveh specifies an additional four garments to be worn by the Kohen Gadol, the High/Great Priest. These splendid additions overlay the simplicity of the original four garments and proclaim the unique status and responsibility of the Kohen Gadol: the efod, an apron-like garment made of blue-purple and red-dyed wool, linen and gold thread—the colors of royalty; the choshen, a breastplate containing twelve precious stones inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; the me’il, a cloak of blue wool, with gold bells and decorative pomegranates on its hem and the tzitz, a golden plate worn on the forehead, bearing the inscription “Holy to G‑d.” Specific reasons are given for these singular, ornate and labor-intensive garments: “you should make sacred clothes for Aaron your brother, for honor and for glory. And you should speak to all those who are wise of heart who are filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they should make Aaron’s clothes to sanctify him so he can serve me” (Shemot 28:2-3).
While Ibn Ezra suggest that Aaron’s clothing glorifies the status of the Kohen Gadol since no one else is dressed like him and Sforno considers that Aaron’s clothing, worn for sacred service, honors the Divine, the weightiness of the Kohen Gadol’s overlaid garments also suggest his task of sacred service to the people. The stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes that adorn the shoulder of his ephod and the stones representing the tribes of Israel that are inlaid into the choshen mishpat that rests over his heart are, like the mysterious urim and thummim that are used for discernment, visible reminders of the connection of the Kohen Gadol to the people. Like the tzitz that proclaims his sanctification across his forehead and the pomegranates and bells on the hem of his tunic that chime with each step that he takes, the Kohen Gadol is dressed, head to toe, in the beauty and glory of mindfulness of his functions.
If Tetzaveh ’s description of the elaborate garments of the Kohen Gadol has relevance for us today, millennia after the destruction of the Temple and the disappearance of the magnificent garments that this parsha describes, the Mei haShiloah proposes ways in which we can connect to the function and purpose of the Kohen Gadol: when praying the Ahavah Rabbah there is a repetition of verbs—lehavin, ulehaskel, lishmoa, lilmod, ulelamed, lishmor, vela’asot, ulekayem (to understand, to discern, to hear, to learn, to teach, to guard, to do, and to uphold) that refers to the eight elements of the Kohen Gadol’s clothing. The Mei haShiloah connects each of these words to the corresponding garments of the Kohen Gadol and points out that every one of us has the capacity to engage in sacred service.
May we be filled with the spirit of wisdom. May our work, too, honor G-d, our function as leaders and those we serve.
From Rabbi David Kasher
THE PRIESTS OF PURIM – Parshat Tetzaveh
I have written before about the rabbinic tradition of seeking thematic links between an upcoming holiday and the parsha that regularly precedes it. When the holiday in question also has its own special reading, then all the more so, the commentators assiduously comb the two texts, looking for connections.
Purim would seem to be particularly rich with material for such a project, for it is a holiday based on the events of the Book of Esther, one of the greatest works of Biblical literature. And indeed, the Esther story offers us many strong echoes of earlier narratives from the Torah. So when King Achashverosh wakes up one night, troubled, and discovers that Mordechai has saved his life, and rewards him with royal honors, we think of the Pharaoh’s troubling dreams in Genesis, which only Joseph can interpret, and for which Joseph is swiftly promoted to power. And when we read that Esther must hide her jewishness in order to live in the king’s palace, and then reveal it to save her people, we cannot help but recall Moses’ own hidden identity and how he similarly confronted his past in order to bring salvation to the Children of Israel.
The trouble is, the parsha from the Torah that we most often read before Purim has neither of these strikingly parallel narratives – nor any real narrative at all. Parshat Tetzaveh, instead, contains a detailed listing of the official garments of the High Priest. So we get elaborate descriptions of jewels and turbans, robes and sashes – great reading for a fashion designer, but it’s hard to imagine much of a connection to the Esther story.
And yet, the great Nachmanides does manage to find a link from our parsha to the Book of Esther, and it is not at all an obscure one. Near the beginning of Parshat Tetzaveh, in one of its most poetic phrases, we are given some framing values for the whole purpose of the High Priest’s fineries. Moses is told:
Make sacred clothing for your brother Aaron, for honor and splendor. (Exod. 28:2)
וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ בִגְדֵי־קֹ֖דֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִ֑יךָ לְכָב֖וֹד וּלְתִפְאָֽרֶת
This call to splendor is soon after given specific color codes:
They shall take gold and blue and purple and crimson yarn, and fine linen. (Exod. 28:5)
וְהֵם֙ יִקְח֣וּ אֶת־הַזָּהָ֔ב וְאֶת־הַתְּכֵ֖לֶת וְאֶת־הָֽאַרְגָּמָ֑ן וְאֶת־תּוֹלַ֥עַת הַשָּׁנִ֖י וְאֶת־הַשֵּֽׁש
It is there that Nachmanides recalls a similar visual from the Book of Esther when Mordechai emerges from the King’s palace, having won a legal battle to save his people:
This shade of blue, even today only a king of nations would wear it, and (in Esther 8:1) it is written: “And Mordechai left the king dressed in royal fineries, blue and white, with a great golden crown, and a wrap of fine linen and purple wool,” – and this ‘wrap’ is the robe (me’il), that he wrapped himself in.
והתכלת גם היום לא ירים איש את ידו ללבוש חוץ ממלך גוים, וכתיב (אסתר ח טו) ומרדכי יצא מלפני המלך בלבוש מלכות תכלת וחור ועטרת זהב גדולה ותכריך בוץ וארגמן, והתכריך הוא המעיל שיעטף בו
Mordechai, in other words, is dressed in the distinct royal blue that is first mentioned in the priestly clothing – not to mention the same purple, and even – Nachmanides inserts – Mordechai’s wrap is actually the same kind of robe that the priests wore, the me’il.
So there is some connection Nachmanides sees between Mordechai and the High Priest, at least in the symbolic language of their garb. But what does it mean? How is Mordechai like a priest? In fact, he is primarily a political activist, while the High Priest’s role is purely spiritual, almost completely cut off from social matters; they seem to operate in entirely different realms. We might wonder if this isn’t precisely the point Nachmanides is leading us toward: there is something holy about political action and, conversely, something liberating in the spiritual atonement that the priest offers.
We need not leave our speculations there, however, for Nachmanides offers us one more clue to understanding how these two texts might be connected. He mentions the Book of Esther once more in his commentary on Parshat Teztaveh, this time after the description of the ornate gold and pomegranate trim that the priest has around his robe:
A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all the way around the hem of the robe. They will be on Aaron when he goes in to serve, and the sound will be heard when he comes into the Holy Place, before the Lord, so that when he goes out, he will not die. (Exod. 28:34-35)
פַּעֲמֹ֤ן זָהָב֙ וְרִמּ֔וֹן פַּֽעֲמֹ֥ן זָהָ֖ב וְרִמּ֑וֹן עַל־שׁוּלֵ֥י הַמְּעִ֖יל סָבִֽיב׃ וְהָיָ֥ה עַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֖ן לְשָׁרֵ֑ת וְנִשְׁמַ֣ע ק֠וֹלוֹ בְּבֹא֨וֹ אֶל־הַקֹּ֜דֶשׁ לִפְנֵ֧י ה וּבְצֵאת֖וֹ וְלֹ֥א יָמֽוּת
Oh my. What seemed like mere ornamentation turns out to be a protection against the overwhelming and potentially lethal power of God’s inner sanctuary. These bells are a way of sounding a warning and thereby gaining divine permission to enter and exit. The terror of this work becomes clear, but so, too, does the willingness of these priests of the Lord to undertake the danger on behalf of the people.
And that is where Nachmanides again sees a connection to a scene in the Book of Esther. The bells on the priestly robe, he writes, are meant:
So [the priest] can go in before his Master, as if taking permission, for one who comes into the king’s house is subject to death at the order of the king, as we see with Achashverosh. (in Esther 4:11)
ויכנס לפני אדוניו כאלו ברשות, כי הבא בהיכל מלך פתאום חייב מיתה בטכסיסי המלכות, כענין אחשורוש, אסתר ד יא
The scene to which Nachmanides refers is one in which Mordechai has implored Esther to speak to the king on behalf of her people. But she replies that the risk of such an action is quite high:
All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any person, man or woman, enters the king’s presence in the inner court without having been summoned, there is but one law for him—that he be put to death. Only if the king extends the golden scepter to him may he live. But I have not been summoned to visit the king for the last thirty days. (Esther 4:11)
כָּל־עַבְדֵ֣י הַמֶּ֡לֶךְ וְעַם־מְדִינ֨וֹת הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ יֽוֹדְעִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר כָּל־אִ֣ישׁ וְאִשָּׁ֡ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר יָבֽוֹא־אֶל־הַמֶּלֶךְ֩ אֶל־הֶחָצֵ֨ר הַפְּנִימִ֜ית אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹֽא־יִקָּרֵ֗א אַחַ֤ת דָּתוֹ֙ לְהָמִ֔ית לְ֠בַד מֵאֲשֶׁ֨ר יֽוֹשִׁיט־ל֥וֹ הַמֶּ֛לֶךְ אֶת־שַׁרְבִ֥יט הַזָּהָ֖ב וְחָיָ֑ה וַאֲנִ֗י לֹ֤א נִקְרֵ֙אתי֙ לָב֣וֹא אֶל־הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ זֶ֖ה שְׁלוֹשִׁ֥ים יֽוֹם׃
Just as the High Priest, sanctified though he is, fears death when he walks into the Divine King’s home, so does Esther, intimately familiar though she is with King Achashverosh, still fears the consequences of treading into his personal space without permission.
She is scared. And she has good reason to be. This King is a whimsical tyrant, whose moods and decisions are entirely unpredictable.
Yet Mordechai doubles down, and encourages her to push past her fears and speak out on behalf of her people:
For if you keep silent during this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, and you, and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis. (Esther 4:14)
כִּ֣י אִם־הַחֲרֵ֣שׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי֮ בָּעֵ֣ת הַזֹּאת֒ רֶ֣וַח וְהַצָּלָ֞ה יַעֲמ֤וֹד לַיְּהוּדִים֙ מִמָּק֣וֹם אַחֵ֔ר וְאַ֥תְּ וּבֵית־אָבִ֖יךְ תֹּאבֵ֑דוּ וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת׃
Mordechai – he who will one day wear the priestly colors himself – is here telling Esther – who is truly the High Priestess of this tale – that she must enter into the inner court of her king, despite her fears, just as the priests of old risked death as they entered into God’s space once a year, on behalf of the people. They did so, unquestioningly, because this was their position; they had been chosen for just such a task. We are given status, Mordechai indicates to Esther, so that we can serve. We are “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:1), and there will come a time when every one of us will be called upon to stand before the King on behalf of the people.
That, perhaps, is the lesson that the priests of Parshat Teztaveh have to lend to the Purim story. Their constancy and commitment, their willingness to sacrifice themselves if necessary, their belief in the inherent sanctity of their task – these are powerful ethics we might well import from our spiritual lives into our politics. We could use a dose of priestly devotion at those times when the fight for justice is most overwhelming, and we are terrified of what might happen next.
What do we do in those moments? We wrap ourselves in honor and splendor, we ring the bell to warn that we are coming, and we walk in to perform the holy work of liberation.
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Shabbat Parashat Tetzaveh
February 20, 2016 – 11 Adar 5776
By: Reb Mimi Feigelson,
Masphiah Ruchanit and
Lecturer of Rabbinic Studies
Who Dwells in your Middle?
Torah Reading: Exodus 27:20 – 30:10
Haftarah Reading: Ezekiel 43:10 – 27
“In my middle” is Fynn’s answer to himself, when he asks “Where is Anna?” (p.180) after she crosses-over (my preferred term for ‘death’). Fynn learned this from Anna, for whom he was a guardian, when she asked, where is the place where she and “Mr. God” meet? “Mr. God goes through my middle and I go through Mr. God’s middle” (p.50), the seven year old theologian explained [Mr. God, this is Anna / Fynn]. It is ‘in the middle’ that our parashah also seemingly begins. Sometimes, as I have found many times in life, the beginning is in somewhere “in the middle.”
Our parashah does not open with the beginning of a chapter. It does not start with a more common format of a verse that exposes us to a mitzvah, namely “And God spoke to Moshe, speak to the children of Israel….” It begins with “And you shall command the children of Israel, that they take / bring to you pure olive oil for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually / eternally (tamid).” I wonder how many writing teachers would send this parashah back to its original writer, asking them to standardize the opening in compliance with many of the other Torah portions. This form of starting in the middle, beginning with ‘And,’ also repeats itself in the opening verse of the next chapter, chapter 28, “And…”
What about light, what about divine light has no beginning or end? While I hear the temptation to draw on notions of waves and particles to respond to this question, I ask us, instead, to sit with the question, rather than run to an answer. Perhaps there are questions that are meant to eternally be questions, and not an invitation for an answer. I do believe that it is our answers that separate us, while our questions are what we share. I ask us to share the question and to sit with the question: What about divine light is eternal and continual? What is embodied in divine light that remains eternal and continuous in our heart and mind and soul?
And what does it mean that this eternal light is positioned on the inside “In the tent of meeting” and yet “without the veil which is before the testimony?” Revealed and concealed simultaneously. What part of our relationship with God is revealed and concealed?
There are another two elements of the eternal light, the Ner Tamid, that holds my attention – what the wicks are made of and who can light the candles of the menorah. The Talmud teaches (Bavli, Shabbat 21a) that the wicks were made from the worn out clothing of the priests. What does it mean that the physical body of this light – the wick – is taken from cloth that concealed the body of the cohen? Imagine we could identify what garment the wick was taken from – what body part did it cover, and what is the symbolic meaning of that body part with which we can interpret our own actions? How do we embrace that potential of holy action in our own lives? How do we garment our naked potential to enable the manifestation of light?
The second element, as noted is the question of who can light the menorah in the temple, who can enhance the divine light? The Rambam Maimonides teaches (the laws of coming to the temple ‘hilkhot bi’at ha’midkash,’ 9:8), that once the cohen prepared the candles any male present could light the candles themselves. On the one hand miraculously the middle candle, that which was aligned with symbolizing the presence of the Shekhinah, was always burning, even in the long nights of the month of Tevet; and on the other hand, it was the source of the renewed light each and every day. A light which was both eternal and renewed, located in a place that is revealed and concealed, and though must be prepared by the cohen (and using no longer fit garments) can be light by an Israelite.
I ask myself what can I learn from two verses that start in the middle, “And…” though situated as the last two verses of chapter 27 itself. What can I understand from a commandment to maintain a pure eternal light that is the fruit of human action wed with divine miraculous and continuous light? What does it mean that the gift of sharing the light, by virtue of igniting the other candles of the menorah is not limited to the cohen, those designated from birth to serve, but rather also available to those who chose to come to a place of service?
I cannot not ask myself why do the first eleven verses of this parshah begin with “And…” and what would it mean to realign our external and internal light with “And” instead of living in the realm of ‘either / or’? How would it change our life if we used “And” instead of ‘but…’ for example?
The word in my middle that allows God to dwell in my middle is the word “And” in English. In the Torah it appears as one letter, Vav. In the Talmud (Bavli, Er’khin 2a) we are challenged again and again by a two word permutation: “l’atu’yei mai?” – to bring in / to include who? I smile when I write these two words, as I know I cried over them when learning for my smikhah (my rabbinic ordination) and I smile since I cannot write them without also hearing my smikhah ?avruta, Rabbi Yonatan Gordis, repeat these two words over and over again. I read them And I write them, And I cry over them, And I hear my ?avruta, And I smile, And I know I’m ‘Home’.
“V’atah t’zaveh,” I read as saying, “And you command” AND as saying “‘And you are commanded,’ you are commanded to find a way to live a life that embraces the notion of And…” My middle, as the Ner Tamid, the eternal light, dwelling in the middle, is compiled from my middle, and God’s middle, and the middle of those who are willing and able to open the clench of their hands to take in something ‘more’ into their lives. I share my middle with those that say to God: “I want and yearn and desire to receive from You alef and bet and gimmel and daled and…” And “I offer You, God, my heh, and vav, and zayin, and chet and tet,” And “I want to share with Your world my kaf, and lamed, and mem and nun” And “I thank You for Your samekh and ayin, and peh and tzaddi” And on And on And on…
I pray to share my middle with you, and I pray that when we sit to our Shabbat table, all those sitting with us are some of those with whom we share our middle.
The middle of the Torah is the word DaRaSH (seek) [Bavli, Kiddushin 31a]. I pray that we continue to seek those to share our middle with.
From Rabbi Jill Hammer
Priestly Garments: Manifesting the Grace You
Written on the Heart
By Dr. Eitan Fishbane
The mitzvot are a path of spiritual practice, a cultivation of religious awareness that may open us to the mystery and urgency of the divine voice. Not only legal obligation, mitzvah is a moment of encounter with the ever-renewing Divine Presence as it reverberates through the generations of the Jewish people.
As the hasidic mystics have taught, every person is a living Torah, an embodiment of the word and light of God. According to ancient rabbinic midrash, it was through the Torah that God created the world, and later mystics adapted this idea to suggest that the Torah is the very energy and life-force of Divinity as it fills the world and the human self. Each person is imbued with the divine spirit of Torah; the words that we speak and the actions we undertake are all manifestations of Torah, mitzvot in motion.
We stand this week just a short distance from the grand revelation of Sinai. We have heard the legislations of parashat Mishpatim, the detailed mapping of individual and communal life. In parashat Tetzavveh, as could be said in different ways about parashat Terumah, the Torah is taken into the heart of each individual Jew; the mitzvot received as a people through divine revelation are now absorbed into the depths of the human self in all its singularity and preciousness.
At a literal level, our parashah begins with the imperative to construct the forms of priestly service with precision, to fashion the devotional trappings of the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting):
וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה ׀ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃
You shall instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. (Exod. 27:20)
But read figuratively through the lens of spiritual direction, this opening verse seeks to cultivate the growth of the individual person into a living embodiment of mitzvah, a vessel for the divine light.
Such is the teaching found in a playful and bold reading by the Sefat Emet, the late nineteenth century hasidic master, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger: the statement “atah tetzavvehet benei Yisrael” (“You shall ‘instruct’ the Israelites”) may be read as the transformation of the people, each of them, into a living mitzvah. Make them, the people of Israel, into mitzvot in the world—tetzaveh et benei Yisrael. Guide each Jew toward the embodiment and ensoulment of the mitzvot; help them become mitzvot themselves.
What does this mean? How does a person become a living mitzvah? Perhaps it is in those moments of greater spiritual awareness, the affirmation of the pervasive presence of the sacred in the world. Or perhaps it is in a posture of love and compassion toward the others that we encounter on a daily basis. When we “become mitzvot” in this way, we contribute meaningfully to the building of the sacred “lighting” (ma’or) mentioned in this opening verse, the luminous presence of God in our world. That is the dramatic act of לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד—raising up the eternal flame of divine wonder and mystery. We bring light into the world when we become instruments of the ahavah rabbah of Divinity—the great and unending love that God sends into our hearts through the mitzvah of Ḥesed, kindness and compassion toward our fellow human beings. Not just to our family, friends, and intimate partners, but to all who cry out to us—whether that cry be audible or silent.
This, I suggest, is how we might read another striking verse from our parashah—lines that depict the ornate and dramatic features of the priestly service bestowed upon Aaron:
וְנָשָׂ֣א אַ֠הֲרֹן אֶת־שְׁמ֨וֹת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בְּחֹ֧שֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּ֛ט עַל־לִבּ֖וֹ בְּבֹא֣וֹ אֶל־הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ לְזִכָּרֹ֥ן לִפְנֵֽי־ה’תָּמִֽיד׃
Aaron shall carry the names of the children of Israel on the breastplate of mishpat over his heart, when he enters the sanctuary (bevo’o el hakodesh), for remembrance (lezikaron) before the LORD always. (Exod. 28:12)
In its original biblical context, this ritual practice is both evocative and mysterious. Aaron the priest is called upon to bring the people “with him” symbolically into the sacred zone; his task is to carry them upon his heart so that when he approaches God he fully represents the people. Applying a figurative spiritual reading to this already rich devotional ritual, let us interpret Aaron here as a model for our own individual journey to the sacred, our cultivation of a spiritual practice infused with the moral urgency of ḥesed and mishpat—kindness or compassion, and justice. We must hold that marker of justice and goodness on our hearts always: the ḥoshen mishpat (“the breastplate of judgment,” perhaps the breastplate of justice) should be kept close, and “the names of the children of Israel”—or, far better, of all people who suffer and need our love and compassion—should be symbolically inscribed upon our hearts. We must carry that vision of justice and love whenever we seek to approach the sacred (be-vo’o el hakodesh). Remember them to God (lezikaron lifnei YHVH tamid): always hold the pain of others in your mind as you approach the holy, for human goodness and love must never be removed from spiritual practice. That remembering, that zikaron, brings us before God (lifnei YHVH)—to become aware of the brokenness and to seek its redemption.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
FEBRUARY 10, 2011
A sweet scent before God
This Shabbat morning, during our Torah study at my shul, we’ll be discussing ideas which flow out of one verse in our Torah portion. What appears below are a variety of teachings and questions, some of which I plan to offer during that discussion. Enjoy — and if you have other teachings to give over on this subject, please feel free to share!
תעשה לה לריח ניחח אשה ליי / You shall make of it an offering of fire for a pleasing odor to Adonai (Exodus 29:41)
Classical commentators note that the phrase reiach nikhoach, a pleasing odor, is used to describe offerings from the cheap to the costly, as an indication that God is gladdened by simple offerings as much as by fancy ones. Fire reduces all of them to ashes; after a sacrifice has been given and burnt, all that matters is its acceptance by God, not how expensive it was or wasn’t. What matters is that one reached out to God, and that reaching-out is always accepted.
The Hebrew word קרבן (korban), usually translated as “sacrifice” or “offering,” comes from a root meaning to draw near. Other peoples of the ancient Near East made sacrifices to propitiate their gods; the startling shift in ancient Israelite tradition was that sacrifices were understood not as a way of “paying God off,” but as a mode of drawing-near to God. In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the daily offerings of lambs, of flour mixed with oil, and of wine: “an offering by fire for a pleasing odor to Adonai.” The scent may or may not be pleasing to us (though for the carnivores among us, the idea of the scent of roasting lamb may evoke some mouth-watering) but Torah tells us that it was pleasing to God.
In the world of kabbalah, smell is regarded as the loftiest and most transcendent of the senses, the critical connection-point between body and soul. The Ari — Rabbi Isaac Luria, one of the great founders of kabbalah — taught that the sense of smell is connected with the month of Adar (in which Purim takes place), perhaps because both of Purim’s heroes have a connection to scent. Esther’s real name was Hadassah, which means myrtle, and the Talmud drashes the name Mordechai into mar dror, flowing myrrh. This year we have two months of Adar, and we’re in the first one now. What are the scents of this season for you?
Today our strongest religious connection to scent may come at havdalah, the short-and-sweet ceremony of wine, fire, and spice with which we sanctify the passage out of Shabbat. We pass around b’samim, fragrant spices, in order to spiritually revive ourselves so that we don’t fall into despair when the “extra soul” which has been ours during Shabbat departs for the workweek. What are the evocative scents of your religious life? Sweet wine, havdalah spices, matzah balls cooking in the kitchen, the etrog when it first emerges from its case at Sukkot-time — or something else entirely…?
My friend Bella Bogart offers an insight in the name of Rav Tzadok HaCohein of Lublin (of blessed memory) as taught by David Twersky. Rav Tzadok was writing about the ketoret (incense) offered on the golden altar in days of old, and noted that one of its ingredients had a terrible scent. Why would we include something bad-smelling in our incense when the goal is to create that reiach nichoach, that sweet fragrance for God? The symbolism, he wrote, is that we are demonstrating that “even if a Jew has a ‘bad odor’ — is not acting like he is supposed to — he still has a place in the Temple of God.” Even someone who dosn’t always do the right thing, that person is still welcome in our community and welcome to relate to God.
And what can we make now of this idea of reiach nichoach, offerings which have a pleasing scent to Adonai? My friend Hazzan Abbe Lyons points out that one option is to look at this idea from an environmental point of view. Emissions can be more or less pleasing (to God and to us.) What do we emit into the world? These offerings, Torah tells us, were made at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, the place where the community came together. What are we emitting when we come together — in the world of action and physicality (automobile exhaust, power burned to keep our synagogue warm and bright), in the worlds of emotion and intellect and spirit?
In a sense, anything we “give off” — emotional energy, spiritual energy — is perceived and received by God. When are our emotional emissions pleasing to the Holy Blessed One? It’s easy to imagine that joy is an emotion which is pleasing to God (after all, Psalm 100:2 says עודו את–יי בשמחה / ivdu et H’ b’simcha, “serve God with joy”), but how might our other emotions be received by God? Can we imagine times when anger might be pleasing to God — righteous indignation; anger which burns pure and clean — and also times when God might not find our anger “sweet”?
Hazzan Shoshana Brown offers the idea of linking the word “reiach” to its cousin “ruach” (spirit) since they share the same root. That root appears in Exodus 5:21, where the word “reycheynu” is used to refer to the reputation of people. When the Israelite foremen are complaining to Moshe about being made to look bad before Pharaoh, what they’re really saying is “you have made us ‘smelly’ in Pharaoh’s eyes!” What might it mean to make ourselves sweet to God’s supernal sense of smell? Because reiach and ruach share a root, Hazzan Brown also offers, we can think now in terms of offering a ruach nichoach — a pleasing spiritedness — towards God in our prayer and our song.
My colleague David Rachmiel suggests that if we each imagine coming home to a glorious scent — a pie or challah baking in the oven; grandmother’s chicken soup, or dad’s most fabulous recipe — we can begin to get a glimpse of what these offerings might have been like for God. In burning those offerings, once upon a time, we were creating “home” for God. What can we do in our lives now to create a “home” where God can dwell?
From Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Tetzaveh 5774: “Leadership Always For and Sometimes Within”
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Varying modes of leadership are important to identify, especially in moments of emerging need.
For a community, these transitions can include urgent financial decisions, membership growth/shrinkage, strategic professional transitions, etc. For a nation, they can include popular revolution, dramatic economic shift, international relations, and more. But in any and every setting in which a specific leadership-style is healthy and effective, it is perhaps only so in that specific moment and circumstance. The very same approach might be unhealthy in another time, another place and, in fact, many factors determine whether or not a certain leadership methodology is appropriate.
We read in Parashat Tetzaveh of the clothing for the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol. Aaron was the very first in this line, his clothing both fabulous and complicated, burdensome and ornate. The instructions for the priestly clothing are intricate, including a gold headband which read “Holy to God” and a robe with pomegranate-shaped bells which sounded out with any movement. Aaron was a human being like any other, but could not move around inconspicuously. He and his descendants were servants of God, chosen from birth for a role that designated them different. We might imagine that they were hyper-aware of how they were seen by others. They were from the people, but not “of the people” in important ways.
They were not the same as their community – they stood apart.
Parashat Tetzaveh is unique in that it the only Torah Portion following Moses’ birth in which his name does not appear. Some suggest this is due to his initial reticence at the burning bush to be God’s emissary to Pharaoh, which thereby charged Aaron with a new role of Priest. The focus of the Parashah on Aaron’s clothing could, according to this reasoning, offend Moses, and so Moses’ name is not mentioned, out of a sensitivity to his feelings. Their distinct roles, different models of authority and service, were, perhaps, a source of tension to which the Torah’s text is sensitive.
But there is another interpretation, one which suggests that Moses’ textual absence is due to the challenge he poses to God in a later moment. Incensed at the Israelites for the sin of the golden calf, God commands Moses to “step aside” to allow God to destroy the Israelites and begin again with Moses. Moses steps into the breach and refuses to allow God to act, saying “You may not do this, and if You do, erase me from Your book!” God relents, but the threat has an effect and Moses’ name is removed from this week’s Torah portion. Moses’ interconnected-ness with his people is powerfully demonstrated in his willingness to take a difficult stand in a tense situation, acting in the best interests of the people.
He is one of them, not separate, as Aaron and the priests seem to be.
Aaron is a necessary part of a community. Sometimes a religious leader must stand separate, as a symbolic exemplar, wearing her sacred purpose on her sleeve (or forehead). Sometimes a religious leader must be indistinguishable from his community, willing to be anonymous in the service of a shared cause.
It is a true ongoing test of a leader to stand always for and sometimes within their community, judging each moment and determining an appropriate response, acting with devotion and temerity, even and especially when it is uncomfortable.
From the Maqam Project</strong>
From American Jewish World Service
Now that the Exodus narrative is over, the gripping accounts of our ancestors that pervaded the first two books of the Torah fade into distant memory and we begin reading the detailed guidelines for the construction and use of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. While initially many of these details seem extraneous or irrelevant, they contain within them deep wisdom and insight into our lives and moral obligations as Jews.
The korban tamid, the continual offering, described in Parashat Tetzaveh, is a compelling example of the deep symbolic meaning that can be found in the details of ritual. Before the episode of the Golden Calf, God gives the commandment to offer the tamid: “Now this is what you shall offer upon the altar—two yearling lambs each day, regularly. […] It shall be a continual burnt-offering throughout your generations at the door of the tent of meeting before God, where I will meet with you, to speak there to you.”1
On the surface, it appears that the korban tamid was a simple, perfunctory sacrifice, offered twice daily. Several commentators, however, suggest that the ritual contains important spiritual lessons. The Abarbanel, a 15th-century Portuguese Torah scholar, explains that we offer the tamid twice daily to correspond to the dual physical and spiritual freedoms which God provided2 by freeing us from slavery in Egypt, and engaging us in an eternal covenant at the revelation at Sinai.
The Maharal, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, a prominent 16th-century mystic and Torah scholar, brings a remarkable anecdote in the introduction to his ethical work, the Netivot Olam, which looks at the tamid from another perspective:
Shimon ben Pazzai comes and says there is a verse that is even more significant and more meaningful and more inclusive than either of these two verses [referring to the Shma, and the commandment to love your neighbor]. What is the verse? ”And the one lamb you shall make in the morning.”3
In this text, the Rabbis are debating which is the most fundamental sentence in the Torah. The first two suggestions—the Shma and the ‘love one’s neighbor’—are predictable and appropriate possibilities. The third option, “and the one lamb you shall make in the morning,” refers to the korban tamid. This seems strange. What is the allure of this passuk that it could be the most important sentence in the Torah?
The Maharal, in elaborating on this ostensibly bizarre choice, suggests that this quote speaks to the need for consistent commitment and constant engagement in Jewish life. The korban tamid is so important because, as a sacrifice conducted every single day, it symbolizes our unwavering commitment to living a life replete with Yiddishkeit, without which other commandments become meaningless or irrelevant.
According to this perspective, a living Judaism cannot be limited to sporadic rites or cultural practice; it must be something that infuses our daily lives. Though not everyone’s Judaism needs to be identical (indeed, one of the glories of Judaism is the divergence of our expressions), any expression of Judaism should be perpetual. We need our tamid—an involvement that, in its own way, is shown daily.
While this message is personally relevant to me in the realm of traditional ritual observance, I believe that it issues a call in the realm of ethical mitzvot, as well. The Torah commands us to help people in need, to protect the widow and the defenseless and to empower the most marginalized. The tamid reminds us that these actions cannot be intermittent initiatives, but must instead be persistent features of our Jewish lives and identity. Every day we must strive to perfect this world, in the kingdom of Shadai [God].4
Just over a year ago I travelled with AJWS and a group of rabbinical students to El Salvador. As I reflect on that experience, I recall the countless commitments I made as the trip concluded. While I did a fine job honoring those particular commitments, the urge to renew, or perhaps deepen, my commitments quickly dissipated. The challenge is to find the constant inspiration and motivation to foster perpetual involvement.
In the absence of the daily korban tamid, what can remind and encourage us to achieve a constant and consistent commitment to the ethical obligations of Judaism? Parashat Tetzaveh begins with another “tamid” (constant) which can serve in this role. The ner tamid,5 the eternal light, which still shines above the Holy Ark in our synagogues today, is a reliable reminder of our Ultimate responsibilities. In particular, this visual symbol can help us remember our responsibilities to respond to injustices in the developing world, which are sadly so often “out of sight, out of mind.” As we read the holy words of this parashah, it is our task to find our tamid—the eternal reminder of our Eternal calling.
From Rav Kook
Tetzaveh: Raising a Constant Flame
Not just any oil was suitable for use in the Temple Menorah. The Torah stipulates that the oil be particularly refined, made from hand-crushed olives, so that it will “raise up a constant flame” (Ex. 27:20).
Why does the Torah use this unusual phrase, “to raise up the flame”? Why not say simply “to kindle the flame”?
Proper Oil and Wicks
The Sages explained that this phrase indicates that the lights of the Menorah must burn easily and naturally, necessitating that only the finest oil and wicks be used. The oil must be pure, produced from types of oil that are easily absorbed, and the wicks must be made from a material that burns smoothly. With such high quality oil and wicks, the flame will “raise itself up” and will not need to be fiddled with.
For Sabbath lights, the Sages similarly required that the oil come from a substance that is absorbed easily, and the wicks be made from a material that burns smoothly. ‘Those wicks and oils that the Sages disqualified from use on the Sabbath may also not be used in the Temple’ (Shabbat 21a).
Elevating Body and Soul
Rav Kook explained that there is a deeper significance to this rule. The goal of the Sabbath is to perfect the individual, and the requirement for easily lit wicks and oil contains an important lesson about the path to spiritual growth.
If the body is overwhelmingly drawn toward physical pleasures, the intellect will not succeed in guiding it. One may become skilled in some craft, or gain proficiency in certain areas of wisdom, but wisdom will not reside in the heart. The overriding attraction to material pursuits will interfere with the illumination of the intellect.
Our body is like a wick. It must be refined so that it does not resist the light, but rather works together with the soul. Only then it will be illuminated easily and evenly. This is the essence of the Sabbath: a day set aside for harmonious living, so that we may naturally grow in holiness and true service of God.
The oil is a metaphor for the human intellect. The mind also needs guidance; not every intellectual pursuit leads to ethical and spiritual growth. Cases abound of brilliant individuals who led amoral, even corrupt lives. Just as the oil of the Menorah must be of a type that is readily absorbed by the wick, so too, we should immerse ourselves in a wisdom which provides practical guidance toward proper living. Such is the wisdom of Israel — the Torah.
Lights of the Individual and the Nation
The Sabbath day promotes the spiritual growth of the individual. But what about the spiritual growth of the nation? What if the nation seeks to amass wealth and power, regardless of any injustices perpetrated along the way? Unfortunately, this is a common phenomenon: the individual aspires to justice and goodness, while his country ruthlessly pursues its objectives.
The heritage of the Jewish people, however, is different. Our national aspirations are at one with our individual aspirations. Both are rooted in God’s law from Sinai. Both the individual and the nation pursue the same goals of justice and kindness. This is the significance of the association made between the Sabbath lights and the Temple Menorah, connecting the aspirations of the individual and the nation. Both Sabbath and Temple lights require oil and wicks that burn smoothly and easily. The Torah of the nation, like that of the individual, must guide its actions effectively, and not be limited to abstract philosophical inquiry.
Raising Itself Up
The Sages further explained that flame needs to be constant, a light that “raises itself up.” What does this mean? Our impetus for seeking justice and good should be based on intrinsic, natural motives. This is accomplished by purifying the body through the sanctity of practical mitzvot, and the mind through the light of Torah study. Then we do not require artificial assistance to avoid evil. Our enlightened conscience will naturally lead us to the proper path.
(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III, p. 57 on Shabbat 21a.)
Copyright © 2013 by Chanan Morrison
From Rabbi David Ingber
Dressing for Me: Going Beyond Yom Kippur
Tetzaveh: The High Priest’s Golden Crown
Perhaps most striking of the special garments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was the Tzitz. This was a gold plate worn over the forehead, engraved with the words, “Holy to God.” What was the significance of this priestly crown?
Rav Kook wrote that the Tzitz, fashioned out of pure gold, reflected the highest spiritual riches. The crown’s placement on the forehead — the location of the ratzon, our inner will for good and holiness — symbolized the Kohen’s aspirations for the most elevated good, as revealed within his inner soul.
The Talmud teaches that the Tzitz encircled the forehead from one ear to the other. What do the ears have to do with the Tzitz?
Two Types of Listening
The ear is, of course, an organ to hear and listen. One ear is directed above — a receptivity to the shining light of elevated thought. The Tzitz extended from the ear to the forehead, indicating that it transmitted this receptivity to his inner will. In short, it symbolized the Kohen’s aspirations to actualize the highest goals, implementing them in life, traits and deeds.
The other ear is for a different type of listening — an awareness of the physical world below. This sensitivity allowed the physical world to acquire a new inner content, a content which cannot be attained in the spiritual realm alone. Here the spiritual is enriched by insight into the material world, its actions and emotions.
The Tzitz thus connected both types of listening — elevated thoughts from above, as well as understanding the physical world below. It provided a channel that linked these two realms, uniting a world with all of its disparate parts.
In this way, the Kohen Gadol became whole and integrated, aware how the physical can extend and enrich the spiritual realm. He could then serve as a unifying force for the people, who share this yearning for complete unity.
This ability corresponds to the essence of the mission of the kohanim. They are a conduit, connecting the Jewish people to God, and God to the Jewish people. The Talmud describes them as sheluchei dedan — our representatives, as they bring Israel’s offerings to God. Yet they are also sheluchei deRachamana — God’s emissaries, bringing God’s blessings and Torah to Israel.
The placement of the Tzitz, encompassing both ears, indicated that the Kohen Gadol was not troubled by a disconnect between his spiritual and physical sides. A conduit between man and God, he needed to be attuned to the spiritual, while still in touch with the material world.
(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, Shabbat 6:72, p. 113)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
From Rav DovBer Pinson
Week’s Energy for Parshas Tetzavah
Garments of Honor and Beauty
Following the instruction to build the Sanctuary, Moshe/Moses is now told to instruct the Kohanim, the Priests, and his brother Aaron, the high priest who all served in the sanctuary, to properly attire themselves.
The Torah reading begins with the words “And you (Moshe) shall command the children of Israel… And bring near to yourself your brother Aaron, and his sons with him… You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and beauty. (27:20-21. 28:1-2)
Garments, at their most basic, are a utilitarian object – covering nakedness, providing warmth and protecting oneself, internally protecting from shame, and externally, protecting from the elements.
Besides the utilitarian objective of garments, there are also other forms of garments. There are higher garments that indicate position, such as a uniform, which reflect what a person does, and there are garments that we don upon ourselves on special occasions in celebration, such as a wedding gown.
At their highest state, garments can be an expression of one’s innermost self. These are garments of “honor and beauty”, reflecting the truth of its wearer, and worn in self honor. Such were the garments of the priests and the high priests of the temple.
There are also ‘garments’ that are not physical clothing, rather expressions of our inner self, such as thought, speech or deed. While thought is still inner and not revealed, it is already an expression of self. Speech is also still attached to the person, yet reaching outward to express the innermost self of the speaker. And of course, the actions of a person serve as a physical expression or manifestation of themselves as well.
While garments, both material and as expressions of self, often serve as a form of concealment, when worn as a means of self expression, they can be truly revealing and offer a glimpse into a person’s innermost psyche.
A Hebrew word for garment is ‘Beged’, which can be read as ‘Bagad’ – treason or betrayal, and another term for clothing is ‘Levush’ – which can be reversed to spell ‘shvil’ – a passageway. Garments can serve to conceal or to reveal.
The Energy of the Week:Garments of Honor and BeautyThis week’s Torah reading imbues us with the energy of ‘honor and beauty’ garments. The ability to express ourselves through our dress, speech and mannerisms, in a way that is true to our inner self.
Garments are our interface with reality.
When our “garments”, our interface, reflect self-honor and express our inner beauty, then they are no longer “deceitful” garments, rather, they reveal what is occurring within us on a deeper level and allow us to connect to others on a more profound level as well.
This week we are given the energy to properly align our expressions with our truest self.
When we dress in a way that reflects our truth, and speak or behave in an aligned manner – we are able to express ourselves properly and form true and honest relationships.
From Rabbi Avram Davis
From Melissa Carpenter
Tetzavveh: Holy Flower
You will make a flower of pure gold, and you will engrave on it a relief carving like a seal: Holy to God. You will place it upon a cord of sky-blue and it will be upon the turban; in front of the face of the turban it will be. (Exodus/Shemot 28:36-7)
tzitz = a flower, blossoms, buds; a sprouting, a visible protrusion, a glint; a “plate” tied to the high priest’s turban.
Last week’s instructions for making the menorah (lamp-stand) for the inner sanctum included ornamentation with almond flowers shaped out of gold. This week’s Torah portion, Tetzavveh (“you will command”), gives instructions for the elaborate garments of the priests. The high priest wears several unique items, including a tzitz tied to the front of his turban.
The noun tzitz and its plural, tzitzim, appear only 12 times in the entire Hebrew Bible. The first three times, tzitz refers to whatever is on the front of the high priest Aaron’s turban (Exodus 28:36 and 39:30, Leviticus 8:9). The next appearance of tzitz probably means “blossoms”, though theoretically I suppose Aaron’s staff could magically bloom with a plate:
On the next day, Moses came into the Tent of the Covenant, and behold, the staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted; and it produced sprouts, and it blossomed “tzitz”, and it bore almonds. (Numbers/Bamidbar 17:23)
After that, tzitz clearly refers to buds or flowers. The four appearances of the plural, tzitzim, in the description of the temple King Solomon built (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35) all refer to ornamental motifs carved into wood. Some interior walls have wood-carvings of gourd-shapes and bud-cases of “tzitzim”, while other wood-encased walls and two pairs of doors have wood-carvings of cherubim and palm-tree ornaments and bud-cases of “tzitztim”.
And when the word tzitz appears in the poetry of prophets, it means “flowers”. For example:
All flesh is grass
and all its loyalty is like “tzitz” of the field …
Grass withers, “tzitz” fall
but the word of our God lives forever.
Isaiah/Yeshayahu 40:6, 8)
So why do many translations call the tzitz on the high priest’s forehead a “plate”? Probably because of the way Flavius Josephus (a first-century Jewish historian who settled in Rome and wrote in Greek) described the high priest’s turban he saw after the sack of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Josephus wrote that the turban was encircled with a gold crown that resembled a poppy flower, except that over the forehead there was a “golden plate” inscribed with the name of God.
Whatever the headdress from the Second Temple looked like, the instructions God gives Moses in Exodus, in this week’s Torah portion, seem to call for a gold medallion shaped like a flower. The words “Holy to God” (using the most sacred four-letter name of God—see my blog from October, “Lech Lecha: Names of God” ) are to be carved in relief on the gold flower, like the symbol of identity carved on a seal or signet ring.
This is a powerful symbol. Medieval commentary viewed the tzitz as a constant atonement for the unavoidable impurity of animal sacrifices to God, but I believe it means more than that. It reminds the high priest wearing it, and everyone who sees him, and perhaps even God (c.f. 20th-century rabbi Elie Munk), that the purpose of the Israelite people is to be “holy”, i.e. to set themselves apart for God, to dedicate themselves to God.
This dedication must be their core identity; thus the words are carved into the gold flower-medallion the way an identity seal is carved. And gold, in the Torah, is the most precious metal, reserved for the most sacred items in the sanctuary.
A flower is both a beautiful creation delighting our eyes, and the source of seeds for new life. And the word for “God” engraved on the gold flower is the four-letter name of God, a permutation of the verb “to be” or “to become”.
So the shape of a flower and the letters of God’s name both signify becoming. We bring flowers for the dead not only to honor them with beauty, but to open our own hearts to the hope for new life. Flowers fall, as Isaiah says; but the spirit of God goes on creating, and plants that blossom go on to bear fruit.
May we all walk through life as if we wear an invisible tzitz, and dedicate ourselves to life despite death, to change rather than stagnation, to growth instead of destruction. May we all do the holy work of consciously becoming and creating.
From Melissa Carpenter
The Sound of Ringing
A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the tunic, all around. And it must be on Aharon (for him) to wait on (God) , and its sound will be heard when he comes into to the sacred space before God and when he goes out, and then he will not die. (Exodus 28:34-35; Tetzavveh)
pa-amon = a bell, something that strikes
The high priest’s costume, as prescribed in this week’s Torah portion, Tetzavveh, is elaborate, splendid, and magical, from the golden forehead-piece engraved with the words meaning “Holy for God”, all the way down to the hem of the long turquoise tunic, on which are sewn alternating bells of gold and pomegranates of blue, purple, and red wool. The mere sight of the high priest in this magnificent garb would inspire the community with the proper awe and reverence. And wearing these unique objects would remind the high priest that he is dedicated to continuous service of God, and must act accordingly.
But not just any set of grand clothes and accessories will do. Each item prescribed for the high priest can have other meanings and functions. When I reread the Torah portion this week, I was fascinated by the bells, the only item that is intended to be heard as well as seen.
Why are bells required on Aaron’s hem? The Torah says only that their sound must be heard when he goes in and out of the sacred space. It does not specify who must hear the ringing.
One theory is that the other priests must hear, so they will know when the high priest is in the sanctuary, and they can leave him in privacy until he comes out again. According to Rabbi Elie Munk, the high priest needed to be alone in this area to serve God properly.
According to Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, the whole community needed to hear the high priest approaching and departing from God’s presence, so they would be heartened and reassured to know he was once again acting on their behalf.
Another theory is that God must hear the bells ring. The verse in the Torah implies that the ringing somehow protects the high priest from death in the presence of God. Devotees of other religions rang bells in order to ward off unfriendly spirits, so the ancient Israelites might have associated bells with magical protection against dangerous gods. If one reads the Torah literally, God comes across as an anthropomorphic character who is easily angered and inflicts deadly plagues on thousands without a second thought. Yet this God is the one who tells Moses how the high priest’s gear must be made, including the detail about the bells around the hem. Maybe the sound of bells is intended to remind God that whatever personal shortcomings the high priest has, his life is nevertheless important to the community.
Rashi said that the high priest would die if he entered the Sanctuary without wearing every one of the holy items specified, including the bells. Serving God is serious business, and the priests had to follow all the rules; any lapse was punishable by death.
But I think the verse does not threaten death for omitting any one of a long list of required items. I think the death threat specifies that the sound of the bells around the high priest’s hem must be heard, or else.
This means that merely wearing a tunic with bells sewn around the bottom is not enough. After all, the bells will chime only when the high priest is walking. The word for bell,
pa-amon, comes from the same root as the word pa-am, which means knocking, beating, striking, or striding. If the high priest stands still, the bells will not be heard. If he tiptoes carefully in and out of the sanctuary, the sound will be too faint to hear. He has to stride in and out for the ringing to be heard.
Perhaps the instruction about the sound of the bells means that in order to do the highest service to God, one must not be timid. One must enter the sacred space of prayer, or any other spiritual practice, boldly and openly. Let the sound of your practice be heard. Make your service to the divine a part of your regular life, so that you can stride right in. Otherwise, your impulse to reach toward God will fade and die.
From Donna Maimes
Shall command the children of Israel, that they bring to you pure olive oil crushed for the light,to raise an everlasting flame.
I have a tendency to get engaged with the beginning…fixate on that…in this case the oil. To extract the oil, i.e. the essence, takes extraordinary pressure and care. If we look at the contemporary process, the gathering is aggressive utilizing machines that shake the trees causing the olives to drop to the ground. The olives are then taken to a mill where they are first ground and then crushed under great pressure forcing the mash to release the liquids (oil and water), next filtered to remove sediment and finally the olive oil is separated from the water that is produced during the process. One of the things that I find most amazing about the olive is that is contains two factors, oil and water, that are virtually impossible to emulsify.
I recall learning this parsha years ago and a long conversation about the nature of the creation of the oil, and, ultimately, the properties of the oil and the parallels that between the oil and b’nai Israel. In the beginning the oil is invisible, captured by the fruit, must be extracted and ultimately separated. Ultimately, the oil is the other, no matter how aggressively your attempt to blend the oil with water or other elements, it ultimately “escapes” and floats to the top. Not only does oil also has the ability to float on water, but to also burn while in and on the water….isn’t this ultimately our goal as Jews to keep burning and bringing some sort of light and illumination even while spread across the world. When submerged and blended to, to remain true and separate and to keep burning and creating some sort of light in the world?
From Rabbi Shefa Gold
~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~
(You Shall Command)
Exodus 27:20 – 30:10
Tetzaveh describes the inside of the Mishkan, the implements and clothing of the Priests, and finally, the ceremony of Priestly consecration.
WHEN I WAS A CHILD ATTENDING SYNAGOGUE I was fascinated by the ner tamid, the “Eternal Light,” that hung above the ark. No matter if I was bored or sad or confused, the ner tamid filled me with hopefulness and curiosity. Everything changes; everyone dies; yet here was a light that would shine on regardless of circumstances. No matter what storms of doubt I suffered, this small light was constant. Through winds of change, through the tumultuous rains of my shifting experience, the ner tamid did not falter or flicker. I took refuge in this light and found it within me. Tetzaveh begins by blessing us with the light of eternity. We learn that this light, which is consciousness itself, requires our daily attention.
As Tetzaveh goes on to describe the vestments of the priests – the ephod, breastplate, robes and crown – we see that all the same colors and materials that went into building the Mishkan now adorn our bodies. Each of us is clothed in the garments of the Holy Indwelling, reminding us again that God has made Her home within us. We are blessed with wisdom of the heart, and from that wisdom fl ows forms of expression and creativity that radiate beauty and honor.
TETZAVEH DESCRIBES THE CEREMONY OF CONSECRATION, as we become priest and priestess in service to Shekhina, the Indwelling Presence of the Divine in our lives. In honor of our devotion to this sacred work we wear fine linens of luminous gold, shining blue, royal purple and passionate scarlet, and precious jewels engraved with the sacred names of our beloveds. Blue pomegranates and golden bells adorn the hem of our robes, and every detail is meant to remind us that this beauty has a purpose.
Across our foreheads each of us carries an inscription that hangs down from the crown of our priesthood. It says, “Kadosh Le-YudHayVovHay” (Holy for God) who is, was and will be the Ground of Being. When we get distracted or confused, it is possible to look at the forehead of a friend and see their lives inscribed for Holiness and remember what we too are working for, and why we are alive.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
TEZTAVEH OFFERS US the spiritual challenge of consecration to the priesthood. We are called to be a “nation of priests,” and a “light unto the nations,” and are given the opportunity to take that priesthood upon ourselves consciously and dedicate our lives to serving the One, the Whole, the Holy.
Within that challenge, the first requirement is a daily practice of tending the ner tamid, the light of consciousness. This is the steady practice of awareness that underlies all other practice. Slowly, I begin to identify not with the self that is continually changing, but with the one who is paying attention to all these changes. When the flame of awareness is burning steadily within me, it illuminates the act of perception, rather than just the object being perceived. At this point, I can begin to discern the lenses through which my perception becomes distorted; I can realize when a passing mind-state has colored my reality.
THE CHALLENGE LIES IN GLIMPSING the pure light of consciousness and seeing that light refracted into the ten thousand colors of our subjective experience. That experience of reality and its drama of mortality is so interesting, so compelling, so seductive that it blinds us to the light of the eternal shining through it all. It is only through the dailiness of practice – the repeated touch of the eternal, the persistent effort of the heart, the frequent affirmations of a wider expanse – that we can begin to free ourselves from the trance of our particular drama and enter into the holiness of conscious presence that crowns this world.
AS PRIESTS AND ARTISTS OF THE HOLY, we are commanded to honor that holiness by awakening the wisdom of the heart. The wisdom of the heart manifests in our love of beauty, because the function of the beautiful is so central to the life of holiness. Beauty has the power to send us to the Source. That same beauty can also trap us at the surface if we are not conscious of its power and purpose. We can consciously use the elements of this world (color, texture, fragrance, sound, light, movement) to open the doors to all the worlds.
The danger lies in falling in love with the forms themselves, worshiping the words, the ritual, the idea, the artistry, rather than what all those forms are pointing us towards. Our spiritual challenge is to adorn and surround ourselves with a beauty that will inspire us to see the whole world as a mirror for God’s Holiness.
For Guidelines For Practice please click link to website.
Tetzaveh: Beyond the Holy
One Line or Two?
One of the most impressive of the special vestments worn by the High Priest was the tzitz, a pure gold plate placed across the forehead. Engraved on the tzitz was the phrase, “Holy to God”.
According to Talmudic tradition, these words were split into two lines. God’s name appeared on the top line, and underneath was written “Holy to”. In contradiction to this tradition, however, Rabbi Eliezer testified that he had seen the tzitz among the plundered Temple articles in Rome — and the engraving was made on a single line (Shabbat 63b).
Why should the phrase “Holy to God” be split into two lines? And if that was the way the inscription was supposed to be engraved, why did the actual tzitz used in the Temple bear the entire phrase on one line?
The Realm of “Kodesh Kodashim”
We are accustomed to viewing the world as being divided into two realms: kodesh and chol, the holy and the profane. We are deeply aware of this dichotomy, and the friction between them, in all levels of existence: in our actions, feelings, thoughts, areas of study, and so on. The conflict between sacred and secular exists both in our private lives and in the public sphere.
There is, however, a third realm, even higher than kodesh. This is the level of “kodesh kodashim”, the ‘holy of holies’. This is the very source of holiness, and it is based on both kodesh and “chol”. While the realms of kodesh and chol appear to us as competing and contradictory, in fact, each one complements and supports the other. The holy gives meaning to the profane. Without it, the world of chol is lost, without direction or purpose. And the profane gives strength and substance to the holy. Without it, the kodesh has nothing to refine and elevate.
The lofty realm of “kodesh kodashim” is attained by the complementary interactions of kodesh and chol. This level reveals the common source of elevated holiness that resides in both “kodesh” and chol. In fact, “kodesh kodashim” is so much higher than the other two realms, that, when viewed from such heights, the differences between the holy and the profane disappear.
The Oral tradition states that God’s name was engraved on a separate line above the words, “Holy to”. In other words, God’s name belongs to the exalted world of “kodesh kodashim”. Since it reflects a vision far beyond the apparent contradictions of holy and profane, it could not be written on the same line as “Holy to”.
Distinguishing Between Kodesh and Chol
This elevated outlook is, however, only theoretical. In our world, it is crucial that we distinguish between kodesh and chol. Humanity’s moral development depends on havdalah, a clear awareness and distinction between what is sacred and what is not.
Furthermore, if we do not separate these two areas, and ensure that each one maintains its independence, both kodesh and chol will suffer. Lack of clear boundaries between them greatly hinders human advance. For example, academic analysis and dissection of Torah subjects leaves them lifeless and dismembered. Religious authority over secular areas of study, on the other hand, can obstruct scientific progress (think of Galileo’s struggles with the Church). Therefore, in practice it was necessary to lower God’s name on the “tzitz” to share the same level as “Holy to”. In this way, the holy is set apart from the profane.
Still, the potential to perceive the inner unity of kodesh and chol was — at least theoretically — engraved on the High Priest’s forehead-plate, raising his thoughts to the unified reality of “kodesh kodashim”, where God’s name is inscribed above and beyond the kodesh.
(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, p. 114; Ma’amerei HaRe’iyah pp. 400-407)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Vestments of Beauty 2008
Parashat Tetzaveh floods us with instructions for making sacral vestments for Aaron and his sons: breastpiece, ephod, robe, fringed tunic, headdress, and sash.
Every year I’m amazed by the richness of the sartorial detail. Fine linen. Gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarn. In those days these materials were precious. Even the colors feel significant: the rich sparkle of gold, tkhelet blue like the sky, purple suggesting royalty, crimson like the visible life-force that flows through our veins.
These garments, Torah tells us, should be made by those in whom God has placed hokhmah, wisdom or skill. Hokhmah is an important word. Joseph, who can interpret dreams, is described as having hokhmah; so is Bezalel, chief builder of the mishkan, who can shape reality with the work of his hands. Hokhmah has something to do with making visions manifest. That’s the quality Torah calls for in those who make these holy garments for Aaron and his sons.
The vestments matter because they’re a sign of service. Aaron and his sons will dedicate their lives to serving God; in return, their community enfolds them in these beautiful garments, made to reflect their innate kavod, honor, and tif’aret, beauty.
Today there are no priests, and no temple in which to serve. Instead each of us serves God in the temple of our own hearts, offering words and intentions instead of bulls and sheep. What would it mean to dress ourselves in garments like these?
The Chernobyler rebbe taught that our bodies are themselves garments for the spark of godliness that animates each of us. Deep down, can we know ourselves to be cut from the same cloth as the blue of the sky, the purple of twilight, the liquid gold of setting sun? How can we bring all the glory, all the splendor, all the honor of our being into living in a way that keeps us mindful of our Source?
I want to single out one other piece of High Priestly garb: the jeweled breastplate bearing the names of all the tribes of Israel. Names remind us of the people they represent. Imagine wearing the names of everyone in your family on your chest: the ones you love, the ones who maybe drive you a little crazy, siblings and distant cousins alike. Imagine carrying those names with you on every journey inward into prayer. What would that feel like?
None of us can know what it was like to be a priest in the Temple, to be tasked with making offerings on behalf of the community as Aaron and his sons did. But this week’s Torah portion gives us a chance to enfold ourselves in garments of our imaginations, so that we might know ourselves to be holy, and beautiful, and able to effect change; so those qualities will infuse our lives in everything that we do.
From Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
Five Cities of Refuge
Why can’t they just use high-grade virgin olive oil? What’s the big deal with grinding and beating the olives? It’s because you just can’t get the real clear and pure stuff until they pound the hell out of it (or you).
We have a classic rabbinic teaching drawn from Psalm 51:19: “The offering to God is a contrite spirit…” The rabbis teach that the ultimate sacrifice is our smug expectation that we can do it alone, that we are in control of our own destiny. Suffering reminds us that we are not and, in so doing, purifies us. The teaching is not asceticism, nor offered as apologia or theodicy for the “thousand natural shocks flesh is heir to,” but as a statement about the human condition. Anguish is simply a necessary precondition for the purification of the fuel (read: consciousness) required for the Tabernacle. To be sure, it is of little comfort to the bereaved and the price is never worth it. But the learning is sacred. Indeed, we are only broken if we refuse to teach others what we have learned, if we refuse to share the intense purity of the light in which we now behold life. The fuel for this light is purified by whatever is the opposite of arrogance.
From Rabbi Victor Gross
Each Shobbos I await the Divine imperative of the Sedrah. What is the action directive that awaits me that comes forth from Sinai? I prep by study and by today I’m just finished with the words and await the voice or the sound that hopefully will be the result of a mind-heart dialogue.
Well, sometimes one can’t get by the first pasuk of the sedra. That word, “Command” gets me every time. I don’t like being told what to do. I would prefer to think of command in the light of an insight the last Lubavitcher Rebbe makes when he connects tetzaveh-command to the word tzava-connection. My essence should command to be connected to the people.
Rabbi Asher Horowitz taught that tezaveh is an acronym of “tza’aks hadal takshiv,v’toshe’ah” ” the painful cry of the poor will be heard and they will be helped.’
There is so much impoverishment today: the struggle to stay in a house, the loss of retirement, jobs, the loss of health care benefits etc. etc. etc.
So, let’s all hear the cry of impoverishment- spiritual and material and know that the Divine imperative is telling us not to wait for God to provide or the government but our own loving heart should respond and offer help.
Rabbi James Stone Goodman
O holy Shabbes Inspiration Tetzaveh
E half flat F G
Every Shabbat has a maqam, a musical figure, associated with it.
You asked me why Moses our teacher
was not present in the story this week.
He is present, I said, but hidden —
the you in the first line [Ex.27:20]
Now you shall command the children of Israel
then he recedes to where he lives
— the heart of the story
the quiet center.
For all the qualities we could remember him for —
we remember him for humility.
Not for his accomplishments
humility we remember him for.
Moses our teacher is an empty vessel, I said,
plenty of room for God.
He also leaves room for his students
he recedes so creativity happens
there is no place empty of God
the vessel cannot be too empty
but it can be too full.
No room for God in a vessel too full,
So he does not come into the Land, I said,
and he does not preside over the sanctuary –
two activities of expressed leadership.
He presides elsewhere
the spiritual center
none of our story could have happened
We know this, I said,
we know the difference between
what is rooted
and what is derivative
what is source
what is appearance
what is heart
what is bone.
James Stone Goodman
United States of America
Reb Mimi Feigelson
How Can I Remember What I Can’t Forget?
The Shabbat before Purim is most famous for its name – Shabbat Zachor – the Shabbat of remembering. A month before Nissan we begin to read four additional Torah sections to prepare us for Pesach and all that the festival entails (yes, once Purim is over, Pesach cleaning begins…). Till this day, even though we no longer observe the laws of ritual holiness, we still read the section regarding the red heifer in two weeks time. But this coming Shabbat stands out in its proximity to Purim – Shabbat Zachor will always be the Shabbat prior to Purim.
Tradition teaches us that Haman was an offspring of Amalek, and therefore, we are asked to remember – Zachor – that there is an ongoing force that pursues and challenges us as we journey through life.
As goalposts for this journey I would like to juxtapose a well-known Mishna and our special Torah reading.
The Mishna, in the name of Akavia ben Mehalalel, offers us the following, to prevent us from getting spiritually lost: “Know where you come from and know to where you are going” (Avot/Teachings of the Fathers 3, 1)
Our special Torah reading asks of us: “Zachor / Remember what Amalek did to you on the way… do not forget” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 25: 17 -19).
I hope how you hear this echoing a similar narrative, when in the last verse of parashat Miketz, we are told: “Nevertheless, the chief butler did not remember Yoseph and he forgot him” (Breishit/Genesis 40:23)
Seemingly, we need to say that there is a difference between remembering and not forgetting, for otherwise the Torah would not make a point of reiterating this distinction!
Among the many questions we need to be thinking about are the following:
What is the relationship between “remembering” and “forgetting”?
Is it possible to forget but remember? Remember but forget?
Is the difference in details versus essence?
Is there an active element that is different when facilitating memory versus forgetfulness?
Does one of them impact oneself, while the second one impacts the other?
The Mishna in Avot offers a way to begin to unpack these questions. Could it be that in the parallel between the verses in the Torah and the sequence of the Mishna we are being taught that we come from what we remember and we go to that which we don’t forget!
While there is an active element in both remembering and not forgetting I would like to pose a reading that Zachor / Remember is the legacy that we are born into – where we come from – telling us that we are born with memories, we are born with a story, a history; A story of our family, a different story of our people, and yet another story of the world that we were born into. In Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s tale “The Seven Beggers” each one of the seven beggars tells us how far back they remember – one remembers when his umbilical cord was cut, the other remembers learning Torah in his mothers’ womb, the third when his body was being formed, the next when the seed was planted within the egg, all the way back till the last remembers before the seed was even created in his fathers’ mind. We come into the world, so it appears, with memories to uncover.
This is the journey of our life – uncovering our stories / our memories, and creating new ones to transmit.
‘Remembering’ is our inheritance. ‘Not forgetting’ is our legacy.
What we actively assure that we don’t forget are the deeds and actions of our life. What is it that we create with the inheritance instilled in us? How do we actualize the gifts that were bestowed? What life choices do we make to uncover all the gifts that we are? This is the tale of our legacy that we are commanded to not forget.
The story of Amalek, the voice of doubt, as our mystics have interpreted the notion of Amalek, is pursuing us as we exit our moments of Mitzrayim / our limitations, inhibitions and contracted consciousness. It is the voice that “asher kar’cha baderech” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 25: 18) – the voice that ‘cools us off’ (karcha derived from kar – cold) – chills our passion, says “no you can’t, no you can’t”. It is the voice that says, ‘everything is a coincidence, thus has no intrinsic value’ (karcha derived from mikreh – coincidence). ‘Amalek’ is the voice that tells us – you may have an inheritance, but you will never succeed in creating a legacy.
Purim is an example of how a legacy is created. It bids us to hold on to a vision of redemption while in exile. It inspires holding on to a belief in a hidden and concealed God. It unfolds as life where so much is unknown. This is the response to the Amalek / Hamman.
Shabbat Zachor foreshadows Purim as our guide to understanding the essence of the day, the seizing of life as it manifests itself. This is also why the Zohar (the mystical Book of Splendor) tells us that Purim is the most holy day of the year, one that surpasses even Yom Kippur. It is a day that reveals not who we aren’t or could’ve been, but rather, who we are becoming and how we manifest in the world.
This Shabbat asks of us to sit in the space of: “Know where you come from and know to where you are going”. Its special Torah reading begins with the word ‘Zachor’ / remember, and concludes with the words ‘Lo Tishkach’ / do not forget. It is an invitation to remember that preparing for leaving our internal Mitzrayim / Egypt begins with remembering where we come from / what we have inherited from our past, and promising not to forget our ability to create where we are going to – the ultimate enactment of our legacy!
Reb Mimi Feigelson is the Mashpiah Ruchanit (Spiritual Mentor) and Lecturer of Rabbinic Literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (formerly the U.J.), Los Angeles. She is an Orthodox – Israeli Rabbi and an international Chassidut teacher and story teller.
( http://www.zieglerpodcasts.com )
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