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Torah Sparks

Parashat Tetzaveh (Shabbat Zakhor)
February 23, 2013 – 13 Adar 5773

Annual: Exodus 27:20-30:10 (Etz Hayim p. 485; Hertz p. 339)
Triennial: Exodus 29:19-30:10 (Etz Hayim p. 513; Hertz p. 346)
Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17-19 (Etz Hayim p. 1135; Hertz p. 856)
Haftarah (A): 1 Samuel 15:2-34 (Etz Hayim p. 1282; Hertz p. 996)
Haftarah (S): 1 Samuel 15:1-34 (Etz Hayim p. 1281; Hertz p. 995)

Prepared by Rabbi Joseph Prouser
(Temple Emanuel of North Jersey; Franklin Lakes, NJ)

Much of parashat Tetzaveh describes the golden menorah that was placed in the Tabernacle, along with the procedure for lighting it. It is a precursor to the ner tamid, the eternal light that is displayed and kept illumined in our own sanctuaries.

The priests, including Aaron, the first of their line, are outfitted with sacral vestments and equipped with a gem-encrusted breastplate and the oracular urim and tummim. The names of the vestments have been adopted for the appurtenances of the Torah scroll: me'il, choshen, and so on. The bells often attached to Torah crowns and the fringes on Torah mantles also find their origin and inspiration in the priestly vestments described in our chapter. The significance of the vestments may be summarized by the inscription on the gold "tzitz" worn on the priest's headdress: "Holy to the Lord."

The priests' consecration and ordination is described in graphic and dramatic detail. The occasion is marked with an elaborate sacrificial offering, and the new priests undergo a ritual washing. The priests are anointed with oil. Sacrificial blood is dashed on the altar and placed on the priests' ears, thumbs, big toes, and vestments. The priests eat the flesh of the sacrificial ram, as well as the bread that accompanies the offering. The ordination rites are protracted, conducted over the course of seven days. An expiatory bull is sacrificed each day, and the altar undergoes a daily purification.

The daily sacrificial regimen is prescribed and God offers a consequent assurance that He will dwell among the Israelites. The parashah concludes with instructions about burning incense on the altar.

Theme #1: "Wholly Holy"

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

Derash: Study

"The inscription not only marked the dedication of the High Priest to the service of God, but also crystallized the aim and purpose of that service. It proclaimed the spiritual ideal of which the Sanctuary was the concrete emblem." (Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz)

"'Holy to the Lord' may also refer to Israel, who is explicitly so referred to by this term in Jeremiah 2:3 ('Holy is Israel to the Lord')." (Nahum Sarna, JPS Commentary)

"The words 'Holy to God' could not be engraved on the surface of the Tzitz. The words, 'Holy To God' had to be raised - embossed on the surface of the Tzitz (from behind, as a bas relief – JHP). The inner process had to shine outward from the being of the Kohain Gadol so that he could influence the nation as their role model and teacher." (Rabbi Aron Tendler)

"I need the opportunity to free my mind of sorrow, personal concerns; to see my world through the mirrored reflection of holiness. I need a time of prayer to leap beyond what is limiting in me as a person, to rediscover what is important and what is trivial, to take counsel with what my tradition stresses as the living faith. I need prayer." (Rabbi Albert G. Silverman)

Questions for Discussion

What or who is "Holy to the Lord": The priest, his vestments, his service, the People Israel, the goal of Israelite life and the nation's historic mission? All of these? Why so ambiguous an inscription, so open to interpretation?

To whom was the written message addressed? To the High Priest, that he might maintain the proper attitude and intention in his ritual duties? To the People Israel, to enhance the stature of their cultic leader To refocus devotion to their own spiritual obligations? To God, that He might attend with favor and compassion to the prayerful striving of his priest and Covenant partners?

Rabbi Silverman's comment regarding the need for a "mirrored reflection of holiness" suggests that the priestly "frontlet" (tzitz) remains of urgent relevance to contemporary Jews. Where do you find that holiness? What is "Holy to the Lord" today?

How are we (together with our leaders and teachers) to cultivate what Rabbi Tendler calls the "inner process" of holiness?

Theme #2: "Missing in Action"

?????????? (We focus here not on the content of Parashat Tetzaveh… but on that which is conspicuous by its absence: The name of Moses. Why is Moses missing from our Parashah?)

Derash: Study

"Moses is never mentioned in this Parashah. This is unique: he is mentioned in every Parashah from the time he is born (Those parashi-ot in Deuteronomy which do not mention Moses' name are comprised entirely of his speech). The reason is because Moses said, 'Erase me from Your book, which You have written'(Exodus 32:32), and the curse of a Sage, even if conditional, inevitably comes to fruition." (Baal Ha-Turim)

"Each of us has unique talents and abilities that shape our purpose in life. Certainly, we are obligated to use those talents and abilities to help the world around us. At the same time, we are obligated to remember that other people have contributions to make as well – often in the very area in which we have the most to offer. In such cases, it may appear that the other person is stealing our thunder, or worse, undercutting our mission in life. Knowing when to take ourselves out of the picture with quiet dignity, however, is one of the most powerful acts of kindness we can do for another human being." (Rabbi David Ordan)

"In the real world, of course, even as we say all persons are equal, we recognize there are situations in which there are 'firsts among equals.' And surely we can agree that as the Exodus story plays out, the younger Moses clearly tends to outshine the older Aaron. Thus, I like to imagine that the greater luminary Moses is absent only in name from Tetzaveh… Appreciating that he might well eclipse his older sibling at just the moment Aaron most deserves to shine, Moses chooses to absent himself... And while not visible just now, Moses, I feel certain, is proudly cheering his brother on from the wings — celebrating every new height he achieves." (Rabbi Aaron Bisno)

"Moses actually figures… prominently in the beginning of Tetzaveh. The first three paragraphs begin by addressing Moses in the second person, namely: "You shall instruct" (27:20), "You shall bring forward" (28:1), and "You shall instruct" (28:3). This style of imperative is not usual in the Torah, and indeed is even unique, since in proper Hebrew it suffices to say simply "Instruct," (Tsav) or "Speak," (Dabber) etc. It is a general rule in biblical Hebrew that when a personal pronoun precedes an inflected verb in the past or future it serves for emphasis, stressing the person addressed. Thus we see that the expression ve-attah tetsaveh stresses the figure of Moses." (Menachem Ben-Yashar)

"Moshe's situation is like that of every teacher of distinguished students, every assistant to the famous, every parent of accomplished children, every spouse of the prominent. It is a condition of anonymity and self-sacrifice, lending private counsel and encouragement while finding contentment in the quiet knowledge that the goals are being reached." (Rabbi Avraham Fischer)

Questions for Discussion

Does Baal Ha-Turim mean that Moses' words are fulfilled in tribute to his spiritual stature… or as a punishment for his impertinence?

Is Professor Ben-Yashar simply pointing out that Moses is not entirely absent from our parashah? What is the significance of the unusual grammatical forms he identifies? Are we defined more by our various obligations (here, represented by the thrice-emphasized imperative) than by our unique personalities (reflected by our names)? How else is this idea given expression in Scripture and Jewish life?

"Knowing when to take ourselves out of the picture" is an especially critical skill for Jewish religious leaders and educators… as well as their accomplished students. How are our congregations to balance the dual demands of lofty religious and intellectual standards with the empowerment of those with relatively little experience, knowledge, or commitment?

Similarly… how are the demands placed on self-sacrificing teachers, assistants, parents, and spouses to be balanced with their own need for personal fulfillment and achievement? What are the legitimate claims of the gifted on those who would support them? What are the legitimate claims of "lesser" luminaries on those who might eclipse them?

How does our study of Moses' "absence" from Parashat Tetzaveh relate to his analogous exclusion from the Pesach Haggadah? How does it compare to God's "absence" from the Book of Esther… to be read tonight on Purim?

Historic Note

Parashat Tetzaveh, read on February 23, 2013, opens with the prescription of the menorah – the lamp which illumined the Tabernacle – to which we trace the origin of the Ner Tamid, the "Eternal Light" generally found over the Ark in contemporary synagogue sanctuaries. On February 23, 1958, New York City removed the last arc light (street lamps that produce light when electric current flows across the gap between two electrodes) – from Mission and 25th Street.

Halachah L'Maaseh

Before the reading of the Megillah on Purim Eve, it customary to make a donation of three half-dollars (or three halves of the standard unit of currency in countries that do not use the dollar). This charitable act commemorates the half shekels that were donated at this season during the time of the Temple. These funds should be given to the poor, an amount over and above the Purim requirement of Matanot L'Evyonim – gifts to the needy. The three-fold nature of the gift is based on the three references to "terumah" – donation – in the Biblical verses prescribing the practice. When Purim begins on Saturday night, as it does this year, and if – in proper observance of Shabbat – one does not have access to money before Purim evening services, the "half shekel" should be given in the morning, before the daytime Megillah reading. (The custom of Jerusalem is to give the half shekels on Taanit Esther.) While most mitzvot (including the mitzvot of Purim, become obligatory at Bar/Bat Mitzvah, there are authorities who say that this observance – in keeping with the Biblical prescription and historic record – is mandatory only for those twenty years old and over. It is a widespread custom, nevertheless, for parents to make the "half shekel" contributions on behalf of their under-age children. (See Exodus 30:11-16; BT Megillah 13B; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 694:1, Mishnah Berurah 4-5 and Rema ad loc.) Rabbi Chaim Palagi states that one should strive to give the Half Shekel contribution specifically to needy students of Torah (See Sefer Ruach Chaim 694:2).

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