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Torah Sparks

February 19 2005 - 10 Adar I 5765

Annual: Ex. 27:20 - 30:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 503; Hertz p. 339)
Triennial: Ex. 27:20 - 28:30 (Etz Hayim p. 503; Hertz p. 339)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 43:10 - 27 (Etz Hayim, p. 520; Hertz p. 350)

Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan
Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


Parshat Tetzaveh continues the description of the Tabernacle and all of the items associated with it. The people of Israel are commanded to prepare olive oil for the special lamp that was to stand in the Tabernacle. This oil would be used to kindle a "Ner Tamid," a regular lamp.

The parshah continues with a description of the special garments that the Kohanim, the priests, were to wear when serving in the Tabernacle. They included a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a sash, a fringed tunic and a headdress, which conveyed a mood of "dignity and adornment," to the priests. Finally, the Parshah describes the installation of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood.

What is most mysterious about Parshat Tetzaveh is what it fails to say. It is the only Torah portion from the beginning of Exodus until the end of the Torah that does not explicitly mention Moses by name. Why is Moses absent from this Parshah? Some sages suggest that when God threatened to destroy the Jewish people for worshipping the golden calf, Moses said, 'if so erase me from your book.' God doesn't take lightly to words spoken rashly - God removed Moses from one parshah! It seems especially appropriate that Moses' yahrtzeit (7th of Adar) always occurs in the week when we read the only Parshah from which he is absent!

Theme #1: The Ner Tamid, Then and Now

"You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly ("Ner Tamid"). Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over the Ark of the Pact [to burn] from evening until morning before the Lord. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout all the ages." (Exodus 27:20-21)

Derash: Study

  • "The Lord called thy name a leafy olive tree" (Jeremiah 11:16). R. Joshua ben Levi taught: Why is Israel said to be like the olive tree? To tell you that even as the leaves of an olive tree fall neither during the summer season nor during the rainy season, so Israel will never cease to be, neither in this world nor in the world-to-come. (Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 53b)
  • Rabbi Aha said, Israel is likened to an olive tree: "A leafy olive tree fair with goodly fruit" (Jeremiah 11:16). And the Holy One is likened to a lamp: "The lamp of the Lord is the spirit of man" (Proverbs 20:27). What use is made of olive oil? It is put into a lamp, and then the two together give light as though they were one. Hence the Holy One will say to Israel: My children, since My light is your light and your light is My light, let us go together -- you and I -- and give light to Zion: "Arise, give light, for thy light has come" (Isaiah. 60:1). (Pesikta D'Rav Kahana 21:4)
  • "Beaten for light" When a person crushes his evil inclination he becomes a fitting receptacle for light; He holds within himself the pure light of the divine presence. (Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov)
  • Every Jew must light within his own heart a "Ner Tamid," a lamp to the Lord. But this light does not need to stand only in the Tent of Meeting - in the synagogue and the house of study - but even "Outside the curtain," in the streets of the city, in the work place and anyplace where people are concerned about interpersonal relations. (Pardes Yosef, Rabbi Joseph Patznovsky)

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why does the Torah make a point of emphasizing the use of olive oil in kindling the Ner Tamid? When is this commandment supposed to be fulfilled?
  2. Why do you think Parshat Tetzaveh opens with this short passage (it is made up of only two verses)? Parshat Terumah, the previous Torah portion, contains a description of the structure and the furnishings of the Tabernacle including the Menorah. Shouldn't the commandment to prepare oil for the Menorah have been included in the previous Torah portion?
  3. We usually translate the Hebrew expression, "Ner Tamid," as the eternal light. Why? How is this understanding of the expression different from the description in the Torah? When does the Torah say the "Ner Tamid" should be lit?
  4. How do the sages interpret the significance of olive oil? What does it symbolize?
  5. We often talk about the Jewish people becoming a light unto the nations of the world. What can we learn from the olive oil about this special role that we are supposed to fulfill?
  6. The evil inclination is the predatory and greedy aspect of human nature. The sages tell us that while the evil inclination can cause havoc and destruction in the world it is a necessary part of human nature. What happens to the evil inclination when we "crush it?" What is the connection between human physical instincts and spirituality?
  7. How can we light a "Ner Tamid" within ourselves?

Theme #2: The Priestly Garments - Do Clothes Make the Man?

Make holy vestments for your brother Aaron for dignity and adornment. (Exodus 28:2)

Derash: Study

  • "Make holy vestments" - They are referred to this way because (those who wore them) served in a holy place. Also, because "the nation shall not sanctify itself with their garments." The garments of Aaron are all mentioned that he shall be adorned by them and no Israelite is allowed to wear garments such as these. (Abraham Ibn Ezra)
  • "Make holy vestments for your brother Aaron for dignity and adornment." There are two ways in which garments set a person apart from others: (they affect ones attitude) toward oneself and toward others. Toward oneself - He wears these garments so that he should not forget his special position and so he should not mix with others and imitate their practices. This was Israel's unique merit in Egypt, that they did not change their clothing (to imitate the Egyptians.) As a result of this the people remained separate and apart from others and did not mix with the other nations. And toward others - By wearing unique garments others would recognize the special standing of the priests as well… (K'tav Sofer)
  • For dignity and adornment as befits the exalted office. Maimonides points out that this attire was worn not for the self-glorification of the High Priest but solely because it was divinely commanded. (Nachum Sarna)
  • In virtually all traditional religions such garments are of great importance, often signaling the status of the wearer as representative of the community (hence Aharon's breast plate in this chapter). An additional function stressed in our account is that the garments somehow reflect God himself, through the use of certain colors and/or materials. The term "glory" is used to indicate their function - a key term in the book, and always applied to God, never to Moshe, for instance - signals what is at stake. (Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses, A New Translation)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does the Torah mean when it says that the priestly garments were for glory and adornment? How are these two terms different from one another? What types of garments do people wear today that is meant to create a certain impression on the people who see them?
  2. What can a uniform or a particular kind of dress tell about a person? Do uniforms help you identify people and their occupations? What information tells us about the Kohanim and their role in society?
  3. Ibn Ezra believes that the priestly garments serve a double purpose? How are they different from the explanation offered by the K'tav Sofer? What are they? Does dressing up affect your feelings about yourself and the people around you?
  4. Do you think the priestly garments were meant to raise the status of the priest or to glorify God? Which? Why?
  5. Should there be standards of dress for attending synagogue services? If so, what should they be? Write your own set of standards to be given out to Bar and Bat Mitzvah families prior to this event for them to share with their guests. How should the Bar or Bat Mitzvah dress? Should Rabbis dress in a unique fashion so that their dress creates a deeper impression on people?


  • K'tav Sofer - 1815 - 1871 Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamim Sofer, the son of the Chatam Sofer, one of the great luminaries of Hungarian Jewry. His most important work is called the K'tav Sofer, a commentary on the Torah.
  • Nachum Sarna - A leading twentieth century Bible scholar and author of The JPS Torah Commentary on Genesis and Exodus.
  • Everett Fox - A translator of the Bible known for his unique approach to Biblical Hebrew based on the writings of Martin Buber and Franz Rosensweig.
  • Abraham Ibn Ezra - 1089 - 1167 Spanish poet, grammarian and Biblical commentator.
  • Rabbi Moshe Leib Sassov - 745 - 1807, a Hassidic rebbe, was a student of Shmuel Shmelke Horowitz, Dov Baer the Maggid of Mezhirech, and Elimelekh of Lyzhansk. He was known for his love of all Jews, and for his great acts of charity.
  • Rabbi Joseph Patznovsky - A well known rabbinic scholar in the Polish city of Ludz just prior to World War ll and the Holocaust.
  • Pesikta D'Rav Kahana - A fifth century collection of homilies on scriptural potions associated with special Sabbath and Holidays.

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