FROM THE TORAH
On Mount Sinai, in last week’s Sedra Terumah, Moses received divine guidance regarding the materials and components of the mikdash (sanctuary), which would be the place of the Eternal’s commanding presence and the repository of His testimony. This week attention is expanded to the priestly presence in this unique edifice.
The Sanctuary and Its Priests
Command (Tetzaveh) the Children of Israel to provide you with pure beaten olive oil for lighting, to kindle a lamp continually (ner tamid). Aaron and his sons shall set it up in the tent of meeting (ohel moed) outside of the dividing curtain (parochet) which is by the testimony (edut). It shall serve from evening until morning before the Eternal from the Children of Israel, an everlasting statute throughout their generations.
Bring near to you, from the Children of Israel, Aaron your brother and his sons—Nadav, Avihu, Elazar, and Ithamar—to make Aaron My priest. Provide for Aaron sacred garments for dignity and for beauty made by those whom I have endowed with inspired skill in order to sanctify Aaron for this service. They shall receive the gold, the yarns of blue, purple and crimson, and the fine linen. The garments shall be a breastplate (choshen), a mantle (ephod), a robe (me’il), a plaited tunic (ketonet tashbetz), a headdress (mitznefet), and a sash (avnet).
They shall use the materials to make the ephod. The fine linen shall be twisted. It shall be the work of a designer. Two shoulder pieces shall be attached to the body of the ephod at its two ends, and the shoulder pieces themselves shall be attached. The designed band upon it shall be as one with the rest of the ephod. Upon two shoham stones engrave the names of the Children of Israel in the order of their birth, six on each of the two stones, resting in settings of plaited gold. Attach them to the two shoulder pieces so that Aaron will wear them on his shoulders for a remembrance of the Children of Israel before the Eternal.
You shall make the choshen of judgment, the work of a designer, like the work of the ephod, made from the same materials. It shall be a handbreadth square and folded. Set in it four rows of different specified stones, three stones in each row. The stones shall be mounted in gold. Engrave the names of the Children of Israel, each one upon one of the stones, for the twelve tribes.
Make two rings of gold and put them upon the two ends of the choshen. Make for the choshen two braided, interwoven chains of pure gold and attach them to the rings. Make two frames of gold and attach the other ends of the two braided, interwoven chains of pure gold to the gold frames. Attach the gold frames to the front of the shoulder pieces of the ephod.
Make another two rings of gold and attach them to the edges of the inner side of the two respective ends of the choshen, facing the ephod. Make another two rings of gold and fasten them to the lower part of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod yet above the design work upon it. Through these two sets of rings, the choshen shall be attached to the ephod by blue thread so that the choshen rests upon the design work of the ephod and is not displaced.
Aaron will thereby carry the names of the Children of Israel upon the choshen of judgment over his heart regularly, for a remembrance before the Eternal when he enters the sanctuary. You shall also place, as part of the choshen of judgment, the urim and the tummim, so that they may be upon Aaron’s heart when he enters before the Eternal, thereby bearing the judgment of the Children of Israel upon his heart whenever he comes before the Eternal.
You shall make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue. In the middle there shall be an opening for the head with the work of a weaver around it so that it does not tear. Around its hem you shall make ornamentation resembling pomegranates of blue, purple and crimson, alternating with actual bells of gold. Aaron shall wear this robe when he officiates, so that the sound may be heard when he enters the sanctuary before the Eternal and when he leaves it. Then he shall not die.
“HOLY TO THE ETERNAL”
You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave upon it, in the manner of seal engravings, “Holy to the Eternal.” Suspend it on a blue thread and let it be on the front of the headdress. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead continually, so as he carries away the sin of the holy things that the Children of Israel consecrate with all of their various sacred donations, it may continually gain favor for them before the Eternal.
GARMENTS FOR AARON AND HIS SONS
You shall make the tunic of plaited fine linen, a headdress of fine linen, and a sash of a weaver’s work. You shall make garments for Aaron’s sons: tunics, sashes, and turbans (migbaot), for dignity and for beauty. Thus shall you clothe Aaron and his sons and anoint them and consecrate them and sanctify them to be My priests. Make for them linen underpants to cover their nakedness, so that when they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to serve in the sanctuary, they do not sin and die—this an everlasting statute for Aaron and his offspring after him.
SANCTIFICATION OF AARON AND HIS SONS
This is what you shall do for them to sanctify them to serve as My priests. Bring for an offering unleavened bread, unleavened loaves mingled with oil, unleavened wafers covered with oil—all of fine wheat flour—in a single basket, along with one young bull and two unblemished rams. Bring as an offering Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and wash them with water.
Clothe Aaron with the tunic, the robe of the ephod, the ephod, the choshen, and gird him with the designed band of the ephod. Put the headdress on his head and the holy crown (nezer hakodesh) upon the headdress, and anoint him by pouring the anointing oil (shemen hamishcha) over his head.
Clothe Aaron’s sons with tunics, gird them with the sash of Aaron and his sons, and place the turban upon their heads. Thus shall the priesthood be theirs, for an everlasting statute.
You shall consecrate Aaron and his sons.
Offer the bull before the tent of meeting, and let Aaron and his sons place their hands upon the head of the bull. Slaughter the bull there before the Eternal. With your finger put some of the blood of the bull upon the horns of the altar, and pour the rest of the blood upon the base of the altar. Make the altar smoke with the fat covering the entrails, the lobe over the liver, the two kidneys, and the fat over them. Burn its flesh, its skin, and its fecal matter, in fire outside of the camp—it is a sin offering.
On the head of one of the rams shall Aaron and his sons place their hands. Slaughter the ram and dash its blood around the altar. Cut the ram into pieces, wash its entrails and its legs, and put them on the ram’s pieces and on its head, and make all of the ram smoke on the altar—it is a burnt offering for the Eternal, a sweet savor, a fire offering to the Eternal.
On the head of the other ram shall Aaron and his sons place their hands. Slaughter the ram and place some of its blood upon the tip of the right ear of Aaron and upon the tip of the right ear of his sons, upon the thumb of their right hand, and upon the great toe of their right foot, and dash the rest of the blood around the altar. Sprinkle some of the blood which is upon the altar and some of the anointing oil upon Aaron and his garments and upon his sons and their garments. Thereby shall Aaron and his sons and their garments become sanctified.
As this is the ram of consecration, place its fat, fat tail, the fat that covers its entrails, the lobe of its liver, its two kidneys and the fat which is upon them, and its right thigh, together with a single loaf of bread, a single loaf of oiled bread, and a single wafer, from the basket of unleavened bread, which are before the Eternal, upon the hands of Aaron and upon the hands of his sons, and you shall wave them as a wave offering before the Eternal. Then take the items from their hands and make them smoke upon the altar on top of the burnt offering, for a sweet savor before the Eternal, a fire offering to the Eternal.
Wave the breast of the ram of consecration, which is Aaron’s, as a wave offering before the Eternal, and it shall become your portion. You shall sanctify the breast of the wave offering and the thigh gift which was waved and which was dedicated, from the ram of consecration, from that which belongs to Aaron and his sons. It shall be Aaron’s and his sons’ from the Children of Israel to the Eternal for an everlasting statute: terumah (a dedicated gift) from their offerings of well-being.
Aaron’s sacred garments shall become his sons’ after him to be anointed in them and to be consecrated in them. The priestly son who succeeds him, who would enter the tent of meeting to serve in the sanctuary, shall wear them for seven days.
You shall cook the meat of the ram of consecration in a holy place. At the entrance of the tent of meeting, Aaron and his sons shall eat it together with the bread that is in the basket, that through which atonement was made and they were consecrated to become sanctified. No outsider may eat them, for they are holy. If any of the meat of consecration or the bread should be left over by the morning, burn what is left over, for it is holy. You shall do all that I have commanded you for their consecration for seven days as well as for the bull of sin offering for each day.
For seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and sanctify it. The altar shall become most holy, so that whatever touches the altar becomes holy.
Upon the altar each day you shall offer two year-old lambs, one in the morning and one at dusk. The offerings shall be accompanied by a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil, and a drink offering of a quarter of a hin of wine, for a sweet savor, a fire offering to the Eternal. The burnt offering shall be for your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting, before the Eternal, “where I will meet with you, to speak with you there” (Exodus 29:42). My profound presence shall sanctify that place. I shall sanctify the tent of meeting and the altar, and I shall sanctify Aaron and his sons to serve as My priests. I shall be present in the midst of the Children of Israel to be their God, for it is I, the Eternal, who brought them out from the land of Egypt in order to establish My presence in their midst.
THE INCENSE ALTAR
You shall make an altar of acacia wood for the burning of incense. It shall be one cubit square and two cubits in height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. Overlay all of it with pure gold, and make around it a border of gold. Make for it two rings of gold under the border on two of its sides to house the poles by which it is carried. The poles shall be of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Put the altar in front of the dividing curtain, which is by the ark of the testimony, before the propitiatory, which is over the testimony and is where I shall meet with you. Aaron shall burn the incense of spices upon it every morning when he trims the lamps and every day at dusk when he kindles the lamps, before the Eternal, throughout your generations. Do not offer upon it unauthorized incense or a burnt offering or a meal offering, and do not pour a drink offering upon it. Once in the year, throughout your generations, Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns from the blood of the sin offering of atonement. It is most holy to the Eternal.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Tetzaveh
In the three chapters which precede this Haftarah,
the prophet is shown by “the Eternal” (cf. Ezekiel 40:1),
“in visions of God” (cf. Ezekiel 40:2),
the measurements of the buildings and sections
that should comprise the rebuilt Temple.
Now you, O son of man, make known to the House of Israel the measurements, all of the details, of the design of the Temple, so that it may begin as the people feel ashamed of their sins. It shall be built on the top of the mountain, all of which is most holy.
The measurements of the altar shall be a cubit square with a rim surrounding it of a handbreadth. Its height shall be 10 cubits: from the ground to the lower ledge two cubits, from the lower ledge to the upper ledge four cubits, and from the upper ledge to the hearth on top another four cubits. The breadth of each of the ledges shall be a cubit. The hearth itself shall be 12 cubits square. From the hearth upward there shall be four horns. The ledge shall be 14 cubits square. Its steps shall face east.
Then he said to me: O son of man, thus says the Lord God. These are the laws of the altar for the burnt offering and the dashing of blood against it. Give to the Levitical priests who are of the seed of Tzadok, who are close to Me, a bull of the herd for a sin offering. Place some of its blood upon the altar’s four corners and upon the four sides of the ledge and upon the border around it; thereby shall you purify it from sin and make expiation for it. Burn the bull of sin offering at its appointed place in the Temple outside of the sanctuary.
On the second day, you shall offer an unblemished male goat to purify the altar from sin as you did with the bull. Then offer a pure bull of the herd and a pure ram of the flock before the Eternal, and let the priests cast salt upon them, for a burnt offering to the Eternal. Do this for seven days, making expiation for the altar, purifying it, and consecrating it.
Then, from the eighth day onward, the priests shall execute your burnt offerings and your peace offerings upon the altar, and I shall accept you—affirms the Lord God.
FROM THE MIDRASH
Exodus Rabbah 36:2
The Ner Tamid: Israel’s Response to Divine Light
“Command the Children of Israel
to provide you with pure beaten olive oil for lighting,
to kindle a lamp continually.”
Not because I need the lights,
rather that you should cast light for Me
as I have cast light for you.
Why? In order to raise you before all of the nations, so that they should say: Israel casts light for the One who casts light for all!
To what may this be compared? To two who walk together: one can see and one cannot. The seeing one says to the non-seeing one: Come, let me guide you home, and so does the seeing one guide him. When they come to the non-seeing one’s unlit house, the seeing one says to him: Please light a candle for me to provide me light, so that you should not feel that I did you a favor to guide you home! (Let one favor annul the other!)
The seeing one is the Holy One, blessed be He, of whom it was said, “These seven, the eyes of the Eternal (cf. Zechariah 3:9), they go about over the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:10). The non-seeing one is Israel, as was said, “We grope for the wall like those with no vision…like those with no eyes, we stumble at noon as in the night…” (Isaiah 59:10). The Holy One, blessed be He, guided Israel on the way and gave them light, as was said, “The Eternal goes before them by day…to guide them…and by night…to give them light…” (Exodus 13:21).
Rabbi David Luria (19th cent. Russia): “Even when they made for themselves a molten calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up from Egypt,’ and committed great blasphemies, You in Your great mercy did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud did not depart from them by day to guide them on the way, nor the pillar of fire at night, to illumine the path for them to follow.” (Nehemiah 9:18-19)
Then, when they arrived “home” to build the tabernacle, He called to Moses and said to him, “Let them provide you with pure beaten olive oil for lighting, to kindle a lamp….” Israel responded, “But You will light my candle!” (Psalms 18:29) yet You say that we should light for You?! Thus He explains to them: In order to set you up, so that you can cast light for Me as I cast light for you! (Let one favor annul the other!) Thus, one of the beautiful trees by which He named Israel: “Verdant olive tree, lovely, full of beautiful fruit!” (Jeremiah 11:16)
Tanchuma Tetzaveh 7
Our Merit is Our Light
“Aaron and his sons shall set up the ner tamid
in the tent of meeting (ohel moed)
outside of the dividing curtain (parochet)
which is by the testimony (edut).”
“Outside of the parochet” so that you should not be misled into thinking that He needs its light if the menorah (cf. Exodus 25:31-40) itself were placed on the inner side of the parochet near the ark (aron) (cf. Exodus 25:10-16). (In the aron was the edut, cf. Exodus 25:16, thus determining the divine orientation, as it were.) So it was placed outside of the parochet in order to show you that He does not need the light of flesh and blood!
Moreover, it is common practice for a human king to have a bed and a table (shulchan) (cf. Exodus 25:23-30), to the left of which he would place a lamp (presumably to allow him to comfortably extend his right hand and possibly because most human kings are righthanded). But, as we read, in the Temple the menorah was placed on the right of the shulchan: “Locate both the table and the menorah outside of the dividing curtain, the table on the north side (from the divine perspective inside the parochet, on His left side, as it were) and the menorah opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle (on His right side, as it were).” (Exodus 26:35)
These placements teach you that He does not need your light. But what is needed is your merit: to cast light upon you for the world to come, when darkness comes to the nations of the world, as was said, “For darkness shall cover the earth and a heavy cloud, the nations, but let the Eternal shine upon you, and upon you let His glory appear!” (Isaiah 60:2)
Exodus Rabbah 37:1,4
Aaron, not Moses, shall be the High Priest
When the Holy One, blessed be He, sought to appoint a supervisor over the work of the tabernacle, he made Moses the manager of the judges and the rest of the operation. So when He was considering the appointment of a High Priest, Moses thought that he would be made High Priest, too. When the Holy One, blessed be He, told Moses to appoint a High Priest, Moses asked, “Master of the universe, from which tribe should I appoint the High Priest?” “From the tribe of Levi,” He said. Moses was thrilled: “That is my tribe!”
But then the Holy One, blessed be He, said:
“Bring near to you, from the Children of Israel,
Aaron your brother…to make Aaron My priest.”
When the Holy One, blessed be He, said those words to Moses, Moses took them as a rejection. But God said to him: The Torah belonged to Me, and I gave it to you, for if it were not for the Torah, I would have destroyed My world!
Compare this to a sage who was married to his wife for ten years without her bearing a child. It was his wish to find a second wife who would bear him a child. He did this by asking his current wife, whom he loved and respected, to bring in the second wife: “Although, under the circumstances of infertility, I am permitted to marry another without your permission, I would take an additional wife only if you would show her your own humility while, at the same time, it is your choice to make!”
Thus spoke the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moses: I could choose your brother as High Priest without your permission, but I want him to observe your humility even as you are superior to him!
Mirkin Commentary: How can God say to Moses, “If it were not for the Torah, I would have destroyed My world!?” This is an independent derash on Psalms 119:92, “If Your Torah had not been my delight, I would have perished in my exertion!” Instead of the psalmist, the speaker is God: If not for the Torah, which is My delight, I would have made perish that which I created in My exertion! See Genesis 31:42, where Jacob, in speaking to Laban, equates “my exertion” with “the labor of my hands.” See also Proverbs 8:30, where “wisdom” (Torah) is called God’s delight.
Exodus Rabbah 38:4
Atonement through Words
“You shall cook the meat of the ram…in a holy place…
Aaron and his sons shall eat it
together with the bread that is in the basket,
at the entrance of the tent of meeting,
that through which atonement was made
and they were consecrated to become sanctified,
and no outsider may eat them, for they are holy.”
Israel asks: Master of the universe, when the priests sin, they bring an offering, and atonement is granted them; when the anointed one sins, he brings an offering and atonement is granted him. But what of us?
“If all the congregation of Israel sins…
then the congregation shall offer
a young bull for the sin…
and a priest shall make atonement for them…”
But we are poor and therefore are unable to bring an offering!
“I wash my hands in innocence;
so will I go around Your altar, O Eternal,
to sound the voice…”
I might have expected,
“to offer bulls and rams,”
but instead it teaches us,
“to sound the voice!”
This is what the prophet meant:
“Take with you words
and return to the Eternal;
say to Him:
forgive all iniquity
and take what is good;
so will we offer
the words of our lips
instead of bulls!”
Words are what I seek,
says the Eternal,
and I will pardon all of your sins.
“Words” are words of Torah,
as was said:
“These are the words which Moses spoke…”
But we don’t know the words of Torah!
Then weep and pray before Me,
and I will accept it.
When your ancestors were enslaved in Egypt
and had not yet heard the words of Torah,
did I not redeem them through their prayer?
“The Children of Israel sighed from oppression,
and they cried out!”
And such is the meaning of God’s instruction to Moses
concerning the sanctification of the priests:
“This is the thing that you shall do for them
to sanctify them to serve as My priests.”
“This is the word which you shall provide for them…!”
Tanchuma Tsav 14
The Transcendent Value of Torah
“May it please You to prosper Zion:
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem!
Then You will delight in sacrifices of righteousness,
burnt offering and whole…”
That is to say: If Israel do not provide the burnt offering before the Holy One, blessed be He, then Zion and Jerusalem will not be rebuilt. For it is because of the merit of Israel’s burnt offering that they would be rebuilt as they were called, “sacrifices of righteousness!” Moreover “You will delight” in them, and for that reason:
“The Eternal speaks to Moses, saying,
‘Command Aaron and his sons:
This is the Torah (instruction) of the burnt offering…’”
The Holy One, blessed be He, was saying to Moses: Because the burnt offering is precious to Me, command Aaron and his sons to be careful to offer it to Me. But why did He say, “This is the Torah of the burnt offering…?” He meant not simply “instruction,” that is, the rules, but the review and study of the “Torah,” the “Torah” itself, that applies to the burnt offering as well. See how precious the study of Torah is to the Holy One, blessed be He, such that one is obligated to devote his wealth to the teaching of Torah for himself and for his children, that through Moses He commanded Aaron and his sons to say to the Children of Israel that they should engage in the study of Torah! This means that although they would actually be providing the burnt offering, they would also be engaged in the study of it, so that they would earn both the merit of the offering itself and the merit of studying its Torah.
Thus Rabbi Samuel bar Abba taught that the Holy One, blessed be He, was saying to Israel: Although the Temple will be destroyed and the offerings suspended, preserve your knowledge of how to perform them by studying their Torah, and to the extent that you do, I shall ascribe to you the merit of actually performing the sacrifices. You may understand this from His response to Ezekiel when the Holy One, blessed be He, has shown the prophet the design of the Temple (cf. Ezekiel 40:1-43:9). Then He instructs Ezekiel:
“Now you, O son of man, make known to the House of Israel
the measurements, all of the details, of the design of the Temple,
so that it may begin as the people feel ashamed of their sins.”
Said Ezekiel to the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, here we are in exile, dwelling in the land of our adversaries, yet You would have me make known to Israel the design of the Temple “and inscribe it before their eyes so that they retain all of its design and follow all of its laws” (Ezekiel 43:11), but can they actually “execute them” (ibid.)? Let them be until they come up from exile, and then I will go to them and make all of it known to them!
Said the Holy One, blessed be He, in response to Ezekiel: Just because My children are relegated to exile, should the building of My House be put off? Learning its Torah is as great as its actual construction, so go and make it known to them that they should read and learn its design in the Torah, and for the merit they earn by so reading its Torah I shall ascribe it to them as if they had engaged in the actual building of the Temple!
In this vein Rabbi Asya taught: Why does the Torah curriculum for children in elementary school begin with the Book of Leviticus? Because all of the offerings are contained in it, and, like the offerings, children are still pure, not yet knowing the taste of sin, the Holy One, blessed be He, ordained that they commence their study of the Torah with the portions regarding offerings; in other words, let the pure come and engage in the study of purities. Accordingly I ascribe it to them as if they were actually making these offerings to Me.
He has thereby made known to you that even though the Temple has been destroyed and the offerings are not being made currently, were it not for the children who learn the portions regarding the offerings, the world would not stand. Happy is the one who engages in Torah and devotes his wealth to teaching Torah to his child, for by virtue of the wealth he devotes to learning he merits life in the world to come, as was said, “It is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20), “your life” in the world to come and “the length of your days” for a long life in this world, so know thereby that so is “it” (ibid.)!
Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman