Weekly Reading Insights

Tetzaveh 5763


Overview of the Weekly Reading: Tetzaveh
To be read on 13 Adar Alef 5763 (Feb.15)

Torah: Ex. 27:20-30:10;
Haftorah: Ezekiel 43:10-27 (details about the altars and kohanim)
Stats: Tetzaveh 8th Reading out of 11 in Exodus and 20th overall, contains 4 positive mitzvot and 3 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 179 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 33rd out of 54 in overall length.

The Jews are commanded to bring oil for illuminating the constantly burning lamp of the tabernacle. Next are listed the instructions for making the priestly vestments of the priests and high priest. The priests, Aharon and his sons, were consecrated and installed into their holy positions through a series of sacrifices, sprinklings, ritual immersions, and garbing themselves in their priestly clothing. This procedure was repeated seven times along with sanctifying the altar. G-d commanded regarding the continual burnt offering and gave instructions for the building and offerings of the incense altar.


"You shall command the Children of Israel that they bring to you pure olive oil…." (27:20)

Why was it necessary for the oil to be brought to Moses if Aaron was the one who would be kindling the menora? Oil alludes to the inner goodness hidden within every Jew, even the most simple. To arouse this inner quality, the Jew must connect himself to "Moses" -- to the leader of the Jewish people in every generation -- who, in turn, elevates it to the higher level of "pounded, for the lighting...a light to burn always."

(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim)

"…pounded, for the lighting." (27:20)

It is precisely the "pounding" of the harshness of the exile that will bring us to the "light" -- the light of Moshiach and the Messianic Era, as our Sages commented, "It is only when the olive is crushed that the oil can emerge." At Mount Sinai, it was primarily the revealed part of Torah that was revealed by G-d. Our present exile, however, prepares us for the revelation of the inner dimension of Torah, symbolized by oil, that will be taught by Moshiach in the Era of Redemption.

(Peninei HaGeula)




Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

Concerning Aaron, the Torah writes: "As for you (Moses), bring close Aaron your brother etc." (28,1) Here the Torah expresses a mystical dimension of the verse in Leviticus 16, 17: "No man shall be inside the tent." This is a reference to original Adam. Aaron, as High Priest, symbolized the rehabilitation of man who had become distant from G-d as a result of Adam's sin.

The original "jewelry" had been taken from Man due to the powerful impact of Adam's sin. At that time Man's original vestments were exchanged from "kutanot ohr" (spelled with an aleph), garments made of light, for "kutanot ohr" (spelled with an ayin), garments made of hide (Genesis 3,21). The Torah, in our portion, orders that Kutanot, tunics, be made for Aaron's sons (28,40) who had to be dressed in sacred vestments. They put on holy anointing oil, on their bodies before they dressed in the sacred vestments.

By following this procedure, the priests ceased being "Zarim" strangers or "outsiders," before putting on garments which could not be worn by non-priests. When Adam became a Zar, outside, this was due to the pollutant with which the serpent had infected him. It was this pollutant from which he had to be purified.

Aaron was the human being through whom this rehabilitation of Man was achieved. He had to be separate to sanctify his body. He thereafter dressed in the sacred vestments which conferred upon him "honor and glory", the very kind of visible distinction that Adam enjoyed while dressed in garments made of light. The pollutant present in Man because of the serpent's infection was converted into something positive by means of the breastplate Aaron wore on his heart. The ineffable name of G-d was engraved on the stones of the breastplate. The names of the 12 tribes as well as the names of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were engraved between the 12 gemstones set in it. The latter represented the Merkava (holy chariot), whereas the former represented the twelve possible ways of arranging the letters of the ineffable Name.

While Aaron and his sons were thus sanctified, the people were sanctified by restrictions in their diet as outlined in Leviticus chapter 11. This was parallel to G-d telling Adam in the Garden of Eden that Man was allowed to eat from all the tress in that garden except from the tree of knowledge.
Concepts such as tameh, pigul and notar [various types of disqualifications of sacrificial matter] all derive from the tree of knowledge from which Adam ate.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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(W:20-63 Tetzaveh)

Tetzaveh continues the instructions about the Mishkan, the traveling sanctuary that the Jewish people used while they were in the desert (and during the first 400 years in the land). Great scholars of the Torah understood that the depiction of the Mishkan and its instruments is also a description of the soul and its strengths. Just as the purpose of the Mishkan was as a dwelling place for G-d on this plane, so also the body is a dwelling place for a portion of G-d here below, that which we call the soul. By understanding the Mishkan, we acquire insight how most effectively to fulfill our spiritual purpose.

In the Mishkan were two altars: a larger one of copper in the outer section, meant for the animal offerings, and a smaller one of gold in the innermost partition, for the spice offerings. Only a specific spice offering was permitted on the inner altar, and, furthermore, the priest at the time of the incense offering was required to remain inside and totally alone. The altar is associated with the service of the heart from which our love of G-d is based. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains how the two different altars and their different purposes reflect the different levels of love within man. More specifically, there are some things that require of a person a more superficial interaction, less intense emotional involvement, and some that need the full flaming enthusiasm of the total strength of the soul.

No matter how much we focus on "spiritual power", some things do not change. The body is a gift from G-d. A person has to eat and drink, sleep and rest, care for their body and take the time for a stroll in the fresh air. This is by no means "being seduced by the desires of the world". Rather, a person has to see these actions as part of his spiritual service, as the verse says, "In all of our ways we should know Him" (Proverbs 3:6). This is holy work. And therefore you might think that we have to invest our all in it.

The Torah addresses this concern, and says the organs and the fats, representing our physical needs, are only offered on the external altar. This teaches us that our physical needs and our worldly concerns should be dealt with only in the external level of the heart, without going nuts over it.

The inner heart, true enthusiasm and total investment, has to be saved for more important things, the study of Torah, prayer and the pure service of the commandments. The Torah warns us that the inner altar should not be used for the "daily" offerings. The inner altar is used only for the spice offering, something that is consumed completely and is elevated to holiness, with little or no waste left behind. And the Torah adds even more. At the time that the spice offering was being made, the one who offered it needed to be alone in the tent, he and G-d alone. This is the most important point. What is appropriate for the inner heart has to be done for the Almighty only, without any other motivations, without any fanfare or publicity. It is only in this way that the offering will be fully accepted and the Divine Presence will be able to dwell in us.


Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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