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Torah Sparks

Parashat Tetzaveh (Shabbat Zakhor)
February 27, 2010 – 13 Adar 5770

Annual (Ex. 27:20-30:10): Etz Hayim p. 485; Hertz p. 339
Triennial (Ex. 29:19-30:10): Etz Hayim p. 513; Hertz p. 346
Maftir (Deut. 25:17-19): Etz Hayim p. 1135; Hertz p. 856
Haftarah (1 Samuel 15:1[S] or 15:2 [A] – 15:34): Etz Hayim p. 1279; Hertz p. 995

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, NJ

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 gives instructions for making the special vestments for Aaron, who is the kohen gadol – the high priest – and his sons, also 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 priests. It concludes with instructions for making the altar for burning incense in the Mishkan.

1. Leadership Development

Slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear and on the ridges of his sons’ right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet; and dash the rest of the blood against every side of the altar round about. (Exodus 29:20)

  1. Why was this necessary? Our masters said: The ear that heard at Mount Sinai: “I” and “You shall have no other gods besides Me” and after 40 days listened to the voice of the people when they said: “Come, make us a god” requires atonement. The feet that ascended Mount Sinai and after 40 days ran to make the calf require atonement. (Midrash Ha-Bi’ur)
  2. This was after the same manner as the making of the covenant in Exodus 24:6-8. The ears represent “we shall hear” and the hands and feet “we shall do.” (Rabbi Levi ben Gershom, 1288-1344, Provence)
  3. The ear was touched with the blood, that it might be consecrated to hear the word of God; the hand, to perform the duties connected with the priesthood; and the foot, to walk the path of righteousness. In a “kingdom of priests,” the consecration of ear, hand, and foot should be extended to every member of that kingdom. (Hertz Chumash)
  4. These three, the ear, the hand, and the foot, are what the kohen and every leader must have: an ear to hear the cries of the Jews, to know and understand their needs and requirements; hands, not only to accept the offering due the priests, but also to bestow a blessing on whoever needs it; and feet that hasten to run and help whoever is in need. (Itturei Torah (Rabbi Aharon Yaakov Greenberg), 1900-1963, Poland and Israel)
  5. When Rabbi Hayyim Soloveitchik, one of the twentieth century’s greatest Talmud scholars, was asked what a rabbi’s function is, he replied: “To redress the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor.” (Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, cited in Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, p. 371)

Sparks for Discussion

Our commentators offer several explanations for why the ordination of the priests included marking their ears, hands, and feet. Can you think of others? Do you think the qualities described are necessary for modern Jewish religious leadership? Are they sufficient? Imagine you were a member of your shul’s search committee for a rabbi, cantor or other religious leader. What qualities do you consider essential in today’s spiritual leadership? How would you define a religious leader’s principal functions?

2. God Is in This Place

I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I the Lord am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them. I am the Lord their God. (Exodus 29:45-56)

  1. Literally “among the Israelites.” This is an allusion to the fact that the tribes will be arranged in all four directions, with the camp of the Levites in the middle and the camp of the Shekhinah – that is, the Tabernacle – in the midst of the camp of the Levites. (Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, 1092-1167, Spain)
  2. “I will abide among the Israelites” to accept their service with favor and to hearken to their prayers. “And I will be their God” to direct their affairs without an intermediary. And they will not need fear the heavenly signs, for they will be more honored before Me than the heavens whose conduct is directed through (the angels) that move them. And as a result (of all this) their eternity is ensured. (Rabbi Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno, 1475-1550, Italy)
  3. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: The Holy Blessed One established a condition with Israel when they were in Egypt that He would not bring them out of there unless they would make the Mishkan for Him and cause His Shekhinah to dwell among them... And when the Mishkan was erected and the Shekhinah descended and dwelt among them, at that hour all the conditions were fulfilled. (Pesikta Rabbati)
  4. And this presence of the Glory of God in the Temple is itself only the proof of His presence in the nation of which He desires to be God, i.e., the Decider of their destiny and the Leader of their actions. And the special presence of God in the nation will remain no mere abstract idea, but they will experience this special proximity of God. The whole tenor of their internal and external lives will prove to them this nearness of God, as God Himself has said, that wherever He wishes that His Name be remembered, i.e., wherever He wishes that one should recognize and acknowledge that God is there, there will He come to us and bless us. It is in the blessing of our material existence that we are to be conscious of the presence of God. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)
  5. The explanation “that I might abide among them” refers to the Jewish people, and implies that it is the duty of each and every one of the Children of Israel to make a sanctuary within his own heart, a place in which the Holy Presence may dwell. If all the Jews build such a tabernacle within their hearts, then He will dwell within the heart of each and every one of them. (Rabbi Moses Alshikh, 1508-1600, Israel)
  6. “Where does God exist?” [Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk] asked several of his followers. “Everywhere,” the surprised disciples responded. “No,” the rebbe answered. “God exists only where man lets him in.” (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, p. 286)

Sparks for Discussion

What does “I will abide among the Israelites” mean? Is God contained within the Mishkan, the Temple, or any other place? How do you think the presence of the Mishkan in the center of the camp affected those who saw it? Are there places – your shul, the Kotel, an unspoiled spot in nature – where you feel God’s presence most intensely? According to Pesikta Rabbati, building a physical symbol of God’s presence was a condition for the redemption from Egypt. Does God need us as much as we need God?

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