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Torah Sparks

March 7, 2009 – 11 Adar 5769

Annual: Ex. 27:20 – 30:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 503; Hertz p. 339)
Triennial: Ex. 28:31 – 29:18 (Etz Hayim p. 508; Hertz p. 342)
Haftarah: I Samuel 15:2 – 34 (Etz Hayim, p. 1282; Hertz p. 996)

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 ceremony for ordaining the priests. It concludes with instructions for making the altar where incense will be burned in the mishkan.

1. “Ding-Dong” “Who's There?”

Aaron shall wear it while officiating, so that the sound of it is heard when he comes into the sanctuary before the Lord and when he goes out – that he may not die. (Exodus 28:35)

  1. So that he does not sneak in on Me like a thief in the night. From this we learn good manners: One should not simply walk unannounced into someone else’s home, in case he is doing something that requires privacy. (Bechor Shor (Rabbi Yosef of Orleans), 1140-1190, France)
  2. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai said: The man who enters his own house or, needless to say, the house of his fellow man, unexpectedly, the Holy One hates, and I too do not exactly love him.

    Rav said: Do not enter your city or even your own home unexpectedly.

    When Rabbi Yohanan was about to go in to inquire about the welfare of Rabbi Hanina, he would first clear his throat, in keeping with “So that the sound of it is heard when he comes in.” (Vayikra Rabbah 21:8)
  3. “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!” (B’midbar 24:5). Because he saw that their doors were not directed one opposite the other. (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  4. “As Balaam looked up and saw Israel encamped upon him” (B’midbar 24:2). What did he see? He saw that their tent openings were not facing each other, so that they could not peek into each other’s tents. Admiring their modesty and decency, Balaam declared, “People such as these deserve to have the shechina rest upon them.” (Bava Batra 60a)

Sparks for Discussion

We would all agree that it is wrong to snoop or invade the privacy of our neighbors -- even if we can’t always resist the temptation to do so -- but what about family members? Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai says that we must respect the privacy of those who live in our own home. Do you agree? Are there limits? Should spouses read each other’s email? Should a parent knock on a child’s door and wait to be invited in? Do parents have the right or even the responsibility to monitor their child’s on-line activity, to read her diary, or to search his room for drugs?

What responsibility does a person have to guard her or his own privacy? Today it’s hard to avoid hearing people’s cell phone conversations or seeing others’ embarrassing moments posted online. How do you keep your private life private?

2. Let's Hear It for Those Stiff-Necked People

You shall make a frontlet (tzitz) of pure gold and engrave on it the seal inscription “Holy to the Lord.” (Exodus 28:36)

  1. Just as the sacrifices make atonement, so also the priestly vestments make atonement... The frontlet makes atonement for impudence [or brazenness]. It is written concerning the frontlet, “It shall be on Aaron’s forehead” and it is written concerning brazenness, “You had the forehead of a street woman [prostitute], you refused to be ashamed.” (Jeremiah 3:3) (Zevahim 88b)
  2. The wearing of the tzitz by the high priest atoned for impudence... Yet, even though this is one of the most despicable qualities, the tzitz had written on it, “Holy to the Lord.” This teaches us that there are times when we need this quality – provided that it is for the Lord. (Rabbi Baruch Epstein, 1860-1942, Russia)
  3. Hatam Sofer says that the reason why the tzitz carried the inscription, “Holy to the Lord,” is because, as our sages tell us, the high priest wore the tzitz to atone for impudence. The Torah hinted to us that there are occasions when we are permitted to act with impudence for holy purposes. There is a hint to this in the verse (Shemot 20:4): “What is in the heavens” – in matters of Heaven, in those matters relating to holiness, “above” – we are permitted to use conceit, but “on the earth” – in material matters, “below” – we must act modestly. (Olat Hodesh (Rabbi Eliezer Flekeleos), d. 1826, Prague)
  4. Inflexibility, stubbornness is an essential characteristic for the highest degree of moral perfection, and it can lead equally easily to moral debasement. . . . Armed with the noblest, most resistant of metals, the forehead of the high priest has to bear the truth “Holy to the Lord” as a protest against every misconception or lie that would disturb the purity of the sanctuary. This gives to stubbornness, obstinacy, inflexibility – the firmness of character which keeps itself in opposition to lies, delusions, and false opinions – the consecration of the noblest purpose. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)
  5. A controversy for Heaven’s sake will have lasting value, but a controversy not for Heaven’s sake will not endure. What is an example of a controversy for Heaven’s sake? The debates of Hillel and Shammai. What is an example of a controversy not for Heaven’s sake? The rebellion of Korah and his associates. (Pirkei Avot 5:19)

Sparks for Discussion

Jewish sources generally praise modesty, humility, and the willingness to compromise. Still, our commentators insist that there are times when refusing to bend is to be praised. Under what circumstances? On what issues are you unwilling to compromise? How do you know when stubbornness is “Holy to the Lord” and when it is just ego?

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