• Contains four positive mitzvos and three prohibitions
• Oil for the menorah
• Keeping the menorah lit (nayr tamid)
• Appointment of priests
• Garments for the Kohayn Gadol (High Priest)
Breastplate of Judgment (choshen mishpat)
Forehead plate (tzitz)
• Investiture of Aharon and his sons
• Daily offerings: One lamb in the morning and one lamb at dusk; each with .10 ephah (=tenth of a bushel) of fine flour mingled with .25 hin (=1.25 liters) of beaten olive oil; and accompanied by .25 hin wine libation
• Golden Incense Altar
• Parshat Zachor
Where is Moshe?
Some maintain that Moshe’s name is not mentioned in the entire parsha because he wanted to give his brother all the publicity and respect. He did not want to “steal the thunder” of his brother Aharon when the subject related to Aharon’s domain--the priests, their garments, their rules and their functions. This was a gracious acceptance of the Divine decision to delegate the priesthood to Aharon and his family.
Rabbi Jacob, author of the Turim Code (cited by Rabbi B.S. Jacobson) thinks that it was because Moshe had uttered the words to God “blot me, I pray thee, out of Thy Book” if He would not forgive the Israelites for their sin of the Golden Calf and “a curse, even when uttered with reservations and stipulations, takes effect”.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe observes that a person’s name does not represent his essence; it is his inner self that transcends his name. The Torah’s opening words of this parsha, “You [Moishe]should command”, refer to “his essence that is higher than his name.”
According to the Gaon of Vilna, God was already mourning Moshe’s death, so to speak, because He knew that Moshe’s death on Adar 7th is the time this parsha is read. But Moshe’s influence, though hidden, still permeates because the number of verses in the parsha (101) equals the numerical value of the hidden part of his name. [His name is spelled with the Hebrew letters, meM, shIN, and heA. The value of the letters M+IN+A [40+10+50+1] is 101.
Some have suggested that Moshe’s “absence” may have been a blessing in disguise in that it prompted the Israelites (and us) to pray harder and more sincerely and more directly to God.
“And You Command the Children of Israel to Bring You Pure Oil of Pounded Olives for Lighting to Cause the Lamp to Burn Continually.”
This opening verse of the parsha differs from the pattern used elsewhere. In last week’s parsha Moshe was asked to speak to the children of Israel to bring donations. Here he is commanded.
The more forceful language was necessary, according to a Midrash cited by Nechama Leibowitz, because it was a command that was to be observed now and for all time. When the Holy Temple was destroyed (twice) many years later, numerous commandments associated with it became obsolete. Not so the maintenance of a permanent light/kindling of lights in synagogues and houses of study, the “miniature Temples” we maintain during our Exile.
The Rebbe points out that the Hebrew word for “command” can also mean “connection”. Moshe’s entire essence was bound up with the Israelite nation. He is directed to build the people’s relationship with God.
Nechama Leibowitz cites Midrashim that focus on the inner spiritual meaning of the “nayr tamid” (“everlasting light”) that the Torah commands burn “from evening to morning before God”. The Menorah…
Represents the study of Torah that lights the way, enabling us to avoid obstacles and saving us from failing as we make our way through life
Refers to the Torah commandments we perform that raise us and spiritually refine us
Is symbolic of the influence of our good behavior on others, providing light to others without diminishing its/our own brightness (“nayr mitzvah, v’ Torah ora”— “commandment is a lamp and Torah a light”). There is an increase in lightness in the world as we bask in the good deeds of others, absorbing but not detracting from the source
Provides us with a concrete symbol of God, the source of spiritual illumination and knowledge, but in the time of the Messiah, “God will help us kindle in our souls the light of Torah”
The rules relating to the oil (pure from crushed olives) and when the Menorah is to be lit logically should/could have been presented earlier, in conjunction with the directions for making the Menorah, or later during the dedication of the Mishkan. Perhaps the Torah’s underlying message is that before moving into a new home with new furniture--be it God’s sanctuary or a family’s abode – there need to be commitments to adopt the guiding light of Torah ethics (honesty, integrity, decency) and to be constant/steady in our relationships.
Why the Priestly Garments?
Ramban likens the priestly vestments to clothing worn by royalty. The special garments were designed to enhance the dignity and prestige of the priest and of the priesthood.
Rabbi Benno Jacob (cited by Nechama Leibowitz) notes that at the time of Creation, Man figured out for himself how to survive and prosper in the world. But when it came to clothing, it was God Himself who made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, “and He clothed them”. Clothing is not merely a social convention but another step in the creation process that provides Man with a second skin of a “nobler material encasement”. Man became a priest in the temple of Nature. Just as clothing provided by God changed and consecrated Adam and Eve to be the parents of Humankind, the priestly attire He directed Moshe to make provided a deliberate distinction between the elevated sacred and the worldly secular.
R’ Yitzchak Arma views donning garments as symbolically vesting oneself with good moral qualities. Priests need special clothing (i.e., special efforts to improve their character and ethics) if they are to do their job properly.
The Three Categories of Priestly Garments are:
1. The High Priest's uniform, which he wears all year round. These consist of eight garments, called the "golden garments."
2. The clothing worn by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. These are four garments called the "white garments."
3. The uniform of the ordinary priests, consisting of four garments
The Golden Garments
The eight garments worn by the High Priest all year round are as follows:
The garments are described as follows: "And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe and a tunic of checkered pattern, a turban and a belt. And they shall make the sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, to serve me." (Ex. 28:4).
"And you shall make a crown of pure gold" (ibid. 36). "And make for them linen pants." (ibid. 42).
The White Garments
Regarding the High Priest's service on the Day of Atonement, the Torah states: "He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and he shall have the linen pants upon his flesh, and he shall be girded with a linen belt, and with the linen turban he shall be attired." (Lev. 16:4).
The four garments worn by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement are the tunic, pants, the turban and the belt. These garments are made from white flax; hence their designation "the white garments." They must be woven, as mentioned above, and each thread used must be six-ply, woven from six individual strands of fabric.
The High Priest had two tunics which he wore on the Day of Atonement, one for the morning service and the other for the evening.
After the conclusion of the Day of Atonement, the High Priest never again wears these same white garments. They are hidden in the place where he removes them: "And Aaron shall come into the Tent of Meeting, and he shall take off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and he shall leave them there." (ibid. v. 23)
The four garments worn by the ordinary priests all year round are the same as the "white garments" worn by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement: tunic, pants, hat, and belt. Referring to these priests, the verse states "And for Aaron's sons you shall make for them tunics, and you shall make for them belts, and you shall make for them hats... and make for them linen pants... "(Ex. 28:40-42). These garments are to be made from flax, and they, too, must be created from threads consisting of six individual strands.
The Ayphod (Apron)
The shape is not described. Rashi’s view is that it was a half-cape as wide as a body, reaching from below the elbows to the heel, with a belt and two shoulder straps long enough to reach just over the shoulder. At the end of the shoulder straps (attached on one side to the ayphod) were two shoham (sardonyx) stones placed in gold settings, each engraved with six names of the children of Israel.
The ayphod itself was made from:
Gold thread (gold beaten into thin sheets then cut into fine threads)
Turquoise, purple and crimson wool
Twisted fine linen
It was professionally made in patterned brocade. Similarly, a decorative belt was woven professionally into a single piece out of gold thread; turquoise, purple and crimson wool; and twisted fine linen. The shoulder straps were woven separately then connected. Cables or chains of pure gold that were braided (or twisted like rope) were attached to the shoham stones settings and connected to the choshen (decision breastplate) on the other side.
The Choshen (Decision Breastplate)
Like the ayphod, the choshen was made of gold thread; turquoise, purple and crimson wool; and twisted fine linen. This piece of cloth was 1’x 1’ when folded over to form a bag or pouch. The front was set with four rows of three precious stones each, with a name of one the children of Israel engraved on each of the stones (with Yosef instead of his two sons). A golden ring was made for each corner. The cables connected the choshen’s top rings to the shoham stone settings. A turquoise band connected the lower rings to rings on the ayphod so that the choshen would be held firmly in place.
The Urim v’Tumim (lightings and perfections--believed to be a parchment with God’s name on it) --was placed in the fold of the choshen, positioned over Aharon’s heart. Some opinions are that the Urim v’Tumim is the choshen.
The Torah gives us neither description nor information about the purpose of the Urim v’Tumim. There must have been an oral tradition handed down in every generation from High Priest to High Priest. The times its use is recorded are rare. Moshe had no need for consulting it. Yehoshua was to inquire of it whether the nation should go to nonobligatory wars of discretion. Also, he was somehow able to read the message that the person who stole booty from Jericho (in violation of God’s ban) came from the tribe of Yehuda. King Saul asked it to identify the person who had eaten during battle and was, therefore, subject to a curse. King David was answered in the affirmative for two inquiries. The Urim v’Tumim may have disappeared as early as the Babylonian exile (586 B.C.E.) then was briefly reinstated by Ezra and Nechemia (around 350 B.C.E.).
The robe to be worn under the ayphod was made completely out of turquoise wool. It had an opening for the head in the middle; it was woven by a professional weaver; and it was not to be torn. Opinions differ as to whether it had sleeves or was sleeveless. On the bottom edge were pomegranate-shaped hollow spheres made of turquoise, purple and crimson wool and alternating gold bells. The sound of bells reminded the Kohayn Gadol where he was and alerted others outside to the Kohayn Gadol’s entry into the Sanctuary.
This Forehead-plate made of pure gold and inscribed with the Hebrew words “Holy to God” was about 1.5 inches wide and extended from ear to ear, according to the Talmud. Twisted threads inserted in small holes in both ends of the plate were tied to a third thread that went through the hole in the middle of the plate and over the turban and then tied to the other two threads in the back.
These four garments were worn by all the priests. As to whether they were the same as those worn by the Kohayn Gadol is a lively discussion among scholars:
o Kutanos (tunics) made of linen
o Mitznephes (turban) made of linen
o Avnayt (sash)
o Migbaos (pants) reaching from the waist to the knees
The Investiture Ceremony
Sacrificial foods prepared: matza bread, flat cakes, and wafers mixed with or dipped in oil
Sacrificial animals prepared: one young bull and two rams
Priests immerse in Mikvah and then clothed in sacred vestments
Oil for anointing poured on Aharon’s head
Bull is brought: Aharon and sons lean their hands on its head; the bull is slaughtered, and its blood put on the four protrusions of the Altar and the remainder is spilled on the Altar’s foundation. Its innards are burned as a chattas (decontamination/sin) offering
First ram is slaughtered after Aharon and his sons placed their hands on its head; the ram is slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled on the sides of the Altar; the ram is cut into pieces, washed and placed on the Altar to be a burnt offering (olah)
The second ram is slaughtered, and its blood placed on the priests’ extremities (right ear lobes, right thumbs and right big toes) to purify them; the remaining blood is sprinkled on all sides of the Altar
Blood from the Altar is collected, mixed with anointing oil, sprinkled on Aaron and on his sons and on their garments
A wave offering in the hands of Aharon and his sons--horizontal and vertical motion--consisting of fat parts of the ram and its right hind leg; one matza cake, one bread and one flat bread all are burned on the altar
The breast of the ram offering is similarly waved
The breast and the hind leg of future peace offerings (shlamem) brought by the Israelites will belong to Aharon and his offspring
Aharon and sons’ cooking the rest of the ram and eating its meat with remaining breads brings them atonement and completes their installation
Priests are to slaughter a bull each day for seven days and sprinkle its blood on the Altar as a way of purifying and sanctifying it
Burning of Korban (animal offering) serves as a “Pleasing Fragrance” to God
But does God really need our offerings? How are we to understand this anthropomorphism (attribution of human characteristics to God)?
Smell is the most powerful of our senses, the one that is anticipatory. The brain processes information delivered through our other senses--sight, sound, taste and touch --by mental identification first, which in turn triggers an emotional response. But our sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 times more sensitive than any other of our senses. Touch and taste travel through the body via neurons and the spinal cord before reaching the brain. The olfactory response, however, is immediate: specialized odor receptor neurons (in the nose) detect and transmit information to olfactory bulbs (at the back of the nose) directly to the brain. Something suspicious is referred to as “not smelling right”. “Smelling” something in the air means sensing something before it happens.
A korban is an offering that expresses our remorse for sinning or our desire to cement our relationship with God. Perhaps what is meant by the reference to olfactory is that God senses our sincerity and concomitant commitment to change for the better before we make the change. Or this may be a projection of the hoped-for pleasant reaction we humans expect from one another when presenting a conciliatory or friendly gift.
The Golden Incense Altar
Located inside the Tabernacle, about halfway between the Altar of burnt offerings (in the courtyard) and the Holy of holies
2’ long x 2’ wide x 4’ tall
Made of acacia wood coated with pure gold
One “horn” (protrusion) in each of four corners
Golden rimmed edge around the top surface
Four gold rings for transportation by inserting in them two staves of gold-plated acacia wood
Incense (sweet spices) burned on it in the morning after menorah lamps are cleaned and in the afternoon before the lamps are relit
Re-consecration achieved annually on Yom Kippur when the high priest pours on it blood from the atonement offering
On the Need for Incense
Rabbi J. H. Hertz notes that incense has a symbolic importance as a metaphor for fervent and contrite prayer. According to the Sages the four Hebrew letters in the word for incense, Ketoret, stand for Holiness, Purity, Pity and Hope (Kedusha, taharah, rachamim, and tikvah, respectively).
The incense helped neutralize the bad smells of blood and of the burning animal parts.
Rabbi Gunther Plaut observes that smell is the keenest of the five senses for evoking past experiences and memories. The use of the phrase “a sweet odor before God” points to the importance of the olfactory in the Man-God relationship. Too, the smoke created by the incense burning shrouds the Divine presence in a cloud of mystery, reminding us that God is hidden and unable to be seen.
The description of this Altar and the smoke created by the burning incense logically belongs in parshat Terumah where the structure and contents of the Mishkan are delineated. Rabbi Menachem Leibtag suggests that the Torah’s decision to wait until now was intentional and has thematic significance. At Mt. Sinai there existed a cloud cover and a physical separation between God and the Israelites. The Mishkan was a mobile Mt. Sinai designed to keep that awesome experience alive in the hearts and minds of the Israelites during their desert trek. The location of this Altar and its placement near the Holy of Holies is discussed here because of the nation’s and the High Priest’s need for a physical buffer. Once the elements for a relationship with God are in place (i.e., the Mishkan and the kohanim are “open for business”) we need a cloud barrier to…
• Make us conscious of how different and separate from God we really are
• Remind us that we need to properly prepare ourselves
• Prepare us to keep our distance
• Alert us to the limits of our encounter with the Divine
The Rebbe takes an opposite approach. The Hebrew word for incense suggests “connection.” (Its root is the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew word kesher, meaning “knot” or “connection”.) The offering of the incense was the final connection between Man and God, extending the closeness that developed from both the bringing of animal offerings and from His very presence in the Mishkan.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks provides an insightful analysis of the attitude towards national leadership. In Judaism, monarchy has little to no religious role to play. The religious leadership is divided between the prophet and the priest, each with a different and distinctive function. Neither has a monopoly.
Are born into their role
Wear an “official” uniform
Are exclusively male
Follow a set role that does not change over time
Are considered holy, set apart from the general population, having to eat meals in a state of purity and avoiding contact with the dead
Maintain religious boundaries, being involved in matters of purity and holiness
Roles are substitutable by other priests
Constitute the religious Establishment
Prophets, on the other hand…
Are selected by God and are often charismatic
Wear no official uniform
May be women
Have roles that change with the circumstances
May come from any social class, live among the people and speak in a language they understand
Concern themselves with righteousness, justice, love and compassion between people
Give warnings, not religious rulings
Constitute an anti-Establishment force, critical of the governing authorities
The Tanach records that at times the priests (who were ideally meant to be the guardians of the sacred) were corrupt. They…
Ignored the faith
Engaged in politics
Felt superior to the masses that they treated with disdain.
It was at these times that the prophets played critical roles in communicating Divine displeasure, urging the people to abandon their sinful ways: to repent; and to return to live the ethical and moral life prescribed by the Torah.
Rabbi Sacks concludes that Judaism’s leadership needs to continue to be counterpoint, a musical form in which melodic lines establish harmony while retaining individuality. The dynamic, clashing perspectives of the king (power), priest (religion) and prophet (social critic) provided a leadership system of checks and balances. Today we have the Jewish government and the religious establishment, but where are the badly-needed prophets?
Encountering God Face to Face
In his fascinating analysis of the Torah, Rabbi David Fohrman illustrates that a bird’s eye view of the Mishkan (and using a little imagination) yields a schematic representation of a human face.
The Ark in the Holy of Holies is the top of the head, the brain. And it is our mental and intellectual capabilities that are needed for the study of the Ten Commandments tablets/Torah that resides in the Ark.
On the other side of the curtain that separates the Holy from the Holy of Holies are the Menorah (to the left) and the Table (to the right) which together resemble a pair of eyes. The Showbread on the Table was seen on the table for an entire week until it was changed. The Menorah provided the light that facilitated sight and seeing.
In the center and below is the “nose” -- the incense altar on which sweet- smelling incense was burned daily.
Outside the Tabernacle in the courtyard was the Altar for offerings and its ramp that together resemble a “mouth”. Some of the offerings that were brought on it were eaten.
The Priestly Blessing chanted by Aharon and the kohanim mentions God’s “face” twice. The Mishkan may be viewed as a kind of conceptual Divine Face in the world.
God commanded the Israelites to build a Tabernacle so that He could exist among them. In Hebrew, God is sometimes referred to as Makom (place) because “He is the place of the universe (i.e., where it exists), but the universe is not His place(environment)”. He is separate (kadosh, kadosh, kadosh), and outside of time and space. He is the surrounding infinite force that fills and influences the universe but His source and “location” is both unknowable and incomprehensible. (Imagine if the pieces on the board game Monopoly were human they would not be able to prove the existence of Parker Brothers, the game’s creator, even though they know or believe that Parker created it and see Parker’s name prominently displayed on the board because Parker “lives” in a different realm outside the Board.)
A person is defined by a sense of self that derives from the mind which is connected to, but is more than, the physical brain. The mind’s thinking, feeling, consciousness of self may be conceptualized as a kind of “cloud” above and around our head that directs, interacts with and drives our brain. In the Mishkan a divine cloud announcing God’s Presence hovered over the Ark, the vessel in the Holy of Holies that represents the top of the head/ brain.
Rabbi Fohrman hypothesizes that God’s dictum really was to “make me a face, and I will dwell among you” meaning that we human beings are (conceptually) spiritual beings like God and created in His image. God, an entirely separate spiritual Being, is telling us that He will connect with the universe in the same way that our spirit/mind seamlessly connects with our physical brain and body. Though outside time and space God, has the ability also to be in space and time. We don’t understand it and how it happens, but it does-- just like we know but do not understand how our human spirit inhabits our physical being.
When the Israelites were in Refidim, they complained about the lack of water. God instructs Moshe to round up some of the Elders, take his staff, and go to Chorev (Mt. Sinai) where He would be. Moshe was to hit the rock and water would begin to flow.
Rabbi Leibtag points out that since the rock was not in Refidim (where they were encamped) but at Mt. Sinai, the entire nation would need to travel to Mt. Sinai to get the water. It’s likely than only those who still had the strength (even after suffering life-threatening thirst in the hot desert) to make the trip went to Mt. Sinai to bring back water to the weak and tired (women, children and aged) who could not make the trip and stayed in Refidim.
Though unprovoked, the nomadic Amalek people launch a surprise attack “…on the stragglers in your rear, while you were famished and weary…” Instead of abiding by accepted rules of combat as embodied in the modern-day Geneva Conventions combat rules (men fight men; armies fight armies) Amalek capitalized on the Israelites’ disadvantage and attacked the weak and unprotected who remained in Refidim. It was because of this unethical behavior (“v’lo yarey Elokim”), states Rabbi Leibtag, that God conducts an eternal battle with them and commands us to eradicate the remembrance of Amalek (zecher Amalek). [Note: the Hebrew letters for zecher can also be pronounced as zachar, a male. Then the meaning would be that we are obligated to destroy all the males of Amalek, i.e., to eradicate the primary doers of evil.]
Throughout Tanach, Amalek is presented as a nomadic tribe with no god and no land that roams the desert looking for easy prey. They were the first foes encountered by the Israelites after their liberation from Egypt and, as such, became the prototype for all future enemies of Israel. They set the precedent that encouraged others to hate and to attack Israel. “Their primary goal appears to be the denial of Israel’s right to exist. At any time of Israel’s weakness, they swoop in and attack.” Our obligation is to eradicate the remembrance of that nation and its descendants.
Others maintain that this commandment is broader: Amalek can also be viewed as the personification of Evil that needs to be defeated wherever it is found.
Rabbi Moshe Gottesman thinks that Amalek’s sin was in creating doubt in the mind of the Israelites. Interestingly, the gematria (numerical value) of Amalek is the same as that of safek, the Hebrew word for doubt.
The Torah commands us to remember what Amalek did and “how he met you (korcha) along the way…” The Hebrew word korcha can also be interpreted to mean “he cooled you off”. The Rebbe explains that Amalek represents coolness. It is the force within us that…
Cools off our excitement and enthusiasm
Deadens our sensitivity to the Divine influence in our lives
We are directed to combat these internal negative energies and forces.