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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT TETZAVEH
February 16, 2008 – 10 Adar I 5768

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 Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Moses is told to instruct the Israelites to prepare olive oil for lighting the ner tamid, the “eternal light” in the mishkan.

God then gives instructions for making the special vestments for Aaron, the kohen gadol (high priest), and his sons, the ordinary priests. Aaron’s vestments would include the ephod (a long vest or apron), breastplate, robe, sash, tunic, and a headdress with a golden plate inscribed “Holy to the Lord.” The ordinary priests were to wear tunics, sashes, and turbans.

The parashah continues with instructions for the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests. It concludes with instructions for making the altar for burning incense in the mishkan.

Torah and the Infield Fly Rule

You shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve Me as priests: Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, Eleazar and Itamar, the sons of Aaron. (Exodus 28:1)

  1. Not to make him important, nor to exalt him, but to draw him near to you. The leader of the nation must not be above the people, but close to them, within the people. (B’nei Yissachar [Zvi Elimelekh, Rabbi of Dinov, 1795-1851, Poland])
  2. God appointed Aaron, and not Moses, to the office of high priest because the work of bringing the people, including sinners, closer to God required a leader who would be closer to the people than Moses was. As a result of the high moral level he had attained, Moses was too far removed from the people, and just as it is useless to engage a great Talmudic scholar to teach a small child who has yet to learn the Hebrew alphabet, so Moses would not have made a good high priest for the children of Israel. (Ohel Yaakov [Rabbi Joseph ben Wolf Kranz, known as the Maggid of Dubno, 1740-1804, Poland])
  3. When the Torah says here from among the Israelites we have a hint about why Moses was not chosen to be the high priest. The reason is that the high priest performs the Temple service on behalf of the people and carries upon himself the sins of the people. As such, he must be from among the people; he must be involved with them and know their weaknesses and faults, their needs and their worries. A man who is above the material needs of the people, who is above their fleshly desires and feelings, cannot attain such a position. The position could not go to a Moses who had gone up to heaven, where he had not eaten or drunk or had any of the other petty needs of man, but to Aaron, who sought to make peace between each man and his fellow and between man and wife. Aaron was chosen because he was “from among the Israelites.” (MeiOtzar HaTorah)
  4. Rabbi Meir of Premislan remarked: It is known that Moses and Aaron had different ways in their contacts with people. Moses our teacher had a great tendency for solitude, as it is written: Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. (Exodus 33:7) Aaron his brother, on the other hand, was very involved with people, loving peace and pursuing peace. That is why Adonai here says to Moses: You shall bring forward your brother Aaron to you. Bring close to yourself the good attribute of your brother Aaron, who is involved with other people at all times. As a true leader, you have to live among the people every day, and must not set up any division between yourself and the people. (Cited in The Torah’s Seventy Faces: Commentaries on the Weekly Sidrah, compiled by Simcha Raz, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins)
  5. White-maned Dr. Solomon Schechter, the seminary’s president, took special pains with the shy scholar [Rabbi Louis Finkelstein]. Walking with him on the street one day, Dr. Schechter stopped at a newsstand to read the latest World Series scores. “Can you play baseball?” he asked. “No,” admitted Finkelstein. “Remember this,” said the old man. “Unless you can play baseball, you'll never get to be a rabbi in America.” (“A Trumpet For All Israel,” Time Magazine, October 15, 1951)

Sparks for Discussion

There is a midrashic tradition that Moses believed that he should have been appointed high priest, rather than his brother. Why do you think that God chose Aaron? What do these commentators see as the essential qualities of a religious leader? Do you agree?

Is this still true today? What is the role of a rabbi? A cantor? What qualities do our clergy need? How do you think your rabbi or cantor would answer these questions?

Clothes Make the Priest

Make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron, for dignity and adornment. Next you shall instruct all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron’s vestments, for consecrating him to serve Me as priest. (Exodus 28:2-3)

  1. [F]or consecrating him to serve Me as priest. To sanctify him in order to induct him into the priesthood by means of the garments so that he will be a priest to Me. (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. If one serves as a priest without the full priestly vestments, his service is disqualified. At the time their vestments are upon them their priesthood is upon them. If their vestments are not upon them, their priesthood is not upon them. (Talmud Zevahim 17a)
  3. Now the garments ordained were evidently external ones and the text is concerned to relate how the artisans performed the work. But in reality they symbolized inner vestments. The priests were to invest themselves with noble qualities that are the vestments of the soul. These vestments the artisans did not make. But God commanded Moses to make these holy garments, that is to instruct them in the improvement of their souls and their characters so that their inner selves should be clothed in majesty and splendor. (Malbim [Rabbi Meir Yehuda Leibush ben Yehiel Michal, 1809-1880, Russia])
  4. There are two ways in which garments set a person apart from others: (they affect one’s 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 [Rabbi Abraham Samuel Benjamin Schreiber, 1815-1875, Hungary])

Sparks for Discussion

The K’tav Sofer points out that the clothes we wear speak both to ourselves and to others. Today, we wear tallit and tefillin only during morning services, but during Rabbinic times Jews wore tzitzit and tefillin all day. Beyond fulfilling specific mitzvot, what do you think was the reason for this practice?

Do you ever go out in public wearing something that identifies you as a Jew – a kipah, a Star of David necklace, a t-shirt with Hebrew words or the logo of a Jewish organization? Do you think that strangers who see this perceive or treat you differently? Do you behave differently? Do you think it is a good thing for Jews to identify themselves in public by what they wear?


 
 
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