Erasing Moses’ Name from the Torah
ואתה הקרב אליך את אהרן אחיך … מתוך בני ישראל לכהנו לי
Bring near to yourself Aaron your brother…to minister to Me. (Shemot 28:1)
When G-d threatened to destroy the Jewish people following the Sin of the Golden Calf, Moses staunchly defended them, stating: “And now if You would but forgive their sin! – but if not, erase me now from Your book…” (Shemot 32:32)
G-d responded by declaring, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I shall erase from My book.” On the surface, this appears to be a rejection of Moses’ request, as Moses had no part in the Sin of the Golden Calf. In addition, according to Moses’ words, his request to be removed from the Torah was conditional: If G-d refused to forgive the Jewish people, Moses did not wish to be included in the Torah. Since G-d ultimately forgave the Jewish people, there was no longer any need to remove Moses’ name from the Torah at all. Yet, a close reading of this week’s portion shows not one mention of Moses’ name.
The question is why Moses’ name does not appear in Parshat Tetzaveh? If it was a punishment, what was the cause? If not, what purpose did it serve? Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch answers that removing Moses’ name was not a punishment. Rather, it was a sign of praise. The same Moses who received the Torah on Mount Sinai selflessly offered to forfeit his spiritual legacy to help the Jewish people survive. By removing Moses’ name from a portion of the Torah, G-d showed the Jewish people that true dedication means being willing to live by the idea that “it’s not about me.”
Rav Ovadya Yosef zt”l points out that, technically speaking, G-d granted Moses’ request to have his name removed. He notes that in Hebrew, Moses’ request to be removed from G-d’s book מחני נא מספרך can be read as: מחני נא מספר כ “Erase me from Sefer Chaf” (Book 20). Tetzaveh is the 20th portion in the Torah. By removing Moses’ name from Tetzaveh, G-d granted Moses’ request.
The question still remains: Why was Moses’ name omitted specifically from this Torah portion? Rabbi Yissocher Frand explains that Tetzaveh is the portion that discusses the clothing of the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol. In effect, the portion belongs to Aaron, the Kohen Gadol. We are taught, however, that G-d originally intended for Moses to serve as both the leader of the nation and the Kohen Gadol. Only after Moses demurred to the point of incurring G-d’s anger, was Aaron granted this status instead of Moses. (Shemot 4:14-17)
Given this background, the fact that Tetzaveh does not mention Moses at all is extremely significant. Moses could have been Kohen Gadol, yet he was compelled to step aside and allow his brother take over the position. By removing his name from this of all portions, Moses taught that the concept of, “it’s not about me,” applies not only to issues of life and death, but even to those situations in which we have much to lose by stepping aside.
The following story illustrates this concept: A man studying in the Old City of Jerusalem had great difficulty finding a wife. After many years of struggling to find his match, he eventually married and was even blessed with a son. On the day his son was born, the man went to the Western Wall to express his gratitude for the long road he had traveled. As he came up the steps to the Old City, he entered the dining hall of his Yeshiva, hoping to share the good news with his friends.
When he entered the dining hall, he noticed that there was already a party going on – for a much younger man who had just got engaged. Instead of injecting himself into the other celebration, he waited until the end of the event without letting anyone know about his good news. Several days later, someone put two and two together and asked him how he was able to control himself after all he had been through. “It was his simcha,” the man said. “How could I take it away from him?”
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.
Wisdom of the Heart
ואתה תדבר אל כל חכמי לב אשר מלאתיו רוח חכמה ועשו את בגדי אהרן לקדשו לכהנו לי
“You shall speak to all of the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the vestments of Aaron, to sanctify him to minister to Me.” (Shemot 28:3)
Parshat Tetzaveh introduces us to the unique garments which were worn by the Jewish priests during the time that they served in the Tabernacle, and later in the Holy Temple. Because these vestments were so special and holy, they couldn’t simply be made by anybody who possessed the necessary skills and craftsmanship.
G-d specifically instructed Moses to command the wise of heart to make these special garments for Aaron and his sons. However, this is difficult to understand. We as a society are accustomed to associating wisdom with the brain. Why does the Torah emphasize the wisdom in their hearts?
Rabbi Leib Chasman (1867-1931) explains that our understanding of wisdom represents a fundamental flaw in human thinking. From the Torah’s perspective, a wise person is not merely a Harvard professor who is able to intelligently discuss esoteric topics in difficult academic subjects. If his actions don’t reflect his sophisticated intellectual knowledge, the facts and theorems which he has stored in his head, or even developed and proven and named after himself, are essentially meaningless.
An expert botanist who is intimately familiar with the characteristics and medicinal properties of every plant and herb in the world, yet nevertheless chooses to recommend and distribute poisonous plants instead of healing ones can hardly be defined, from a Torah perspective, as wise. He is more comparable to a donkey loaded up with a pile of thick tomes on the subject of botany. The knowledge that he has acquired in his brain remains for him an external load which has failed to penetrate into his heart.
The Torah recognizes that the primary criterion for determining wisdom lies in the ability to connect one’s mind, and the information stored therein, with his heart, which guides and determines his actions. It is for this reason that G-d stressed the importance of selecting the truly wise – the wise of heart.
This concept is illustrated by a story which is told about Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher. To his embarrassment, his students once bumped into him in a section of town known for its immoral activities (what they were doing there has yet to be established). Unable to reconcile his current behavior with the lofty philosophical teachings that he espoused during his lectures, his students pressed for an explanation. The legendary philosopher answered them, “When class is in session, I am your great teacher, and I share my pearls of wisdom with the world. At other times, I am not the philosopher with whom you are familiar.”
We live in a society which holds wisdom and its seekers in high esteem. Hopefully, this atmosphere motivates us to pursue education and wisdom, as Judaism clearly places a high value on the importance of study. Yet as we are doing so, it is important to be cognizant of the Torah’s lesson about the true definition of wisdom. As we each pursue our various studies, we can remember this message in Parshat Tetzaveh, which teaches us to make sure that whatever we study penetrates our hearts as well as our minds, positively guiding our actions and interpersonal relationships.
Why Was Aaron Worthy?
ועשית בגדי קודש לאהרון… לכבוד ולתפארת
“You shall make garments of sanctity for Aaron your brother for glory and splendor” (Bamidbar 28:2).
One of the eight priestly garments worn by Aaron the High Priest was the choshen mishpat. This was a breastplate that was not merely a beautiful masterpiece displaying the twelve tribes’ names and precious stones; it also miraculously lit up with answers to the most challenging questions relating to Jewish law and national importance. What made Aaron worthy of being given this distinguished honor? The Midrash Raba (Bamidbar 4:14) says it was due to Aaron’s exemplary character traits. The Talmud (Shabbos 139a) further elaborates that because Aaron would rejoice in his heart over Moses’ success (Bamidbar 4:14), he was honored with wearing the choshen mishpat over his heart.
Rabbi Pam explains that when G-d first appointed Moses as the leader of the Jewish people with the mission of freeing them from slavery in Egypt, Moses repeatedly refused to accept the position. He gave various reasons why he was not the right person for this task, but G-d knew that his main consideration was his older brother, Aaron.
Four decades earlier, when the Egyptian bondage was particularly difficult, Moses had escaped from Egypt after killing an Egyptian taskmaster who had been mercilessly beating a Jewish slave. The onus of leadership during these arduous times fell upon his brother Aaron. When G-d wanted to appoint Moses as the leader, Moses felt that Aaron would be justifiably upset by his brother’s promotion at his own expense. But G-d reassured Moses that Aaron would not be envious at all; rather, he would be elated despite his own loss of status. This, the Talmud explains, is why Aaron’s virtuous heart was worthy of wearing the miraculous choshen mishpat.
To fully comprehend the significance of Aaron’s actions, Rabbi Pam gives a contemporary example. In a political campaign, both contenders have two speeches prepared on election night. Clearly, the winning candidate has an easier time delivering his victory speech than the one making a concession speech. The loser must put on a good face and congratulate the individual he’s been competing with for months. He must put aside his feelings of hurt and rejection, facing the painful realization that the majority of voters rejected him. When he delivers his congratulatory speech, he may seem fine outwardly, but deep down he is resentful and outraged at his opponent’s victory.
When Moses was appointed leader of the Jewish people, Aaron did not simply put on a smile; he felt genuinely happy for his brother and helped him many times. That is why Aaron was privileged to wear the choshen mishpat.
We don’t all run for office, but we are all faced with situations in which others receive recognition and appreciation. Like Aaron, we can gracefully acknowledge that another’s promotion does not negate our own self-worth. Congratulating him or her does not diminish our standing in society but makes us into better people. We can rest assured that G-d notices our willingness to give others their due — and in turn will do the same for us.
Missing From the Book
ועתה אם תשא חטאתם ואם אין מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת
“And now if You would but forgive their sin! — but if not, erase me now from Your book that You have written” (Shemot 32:32)
In this week’s portion, Moses is charged to prepare every detail of the priesthood for his brother Aaron and his descendants. In intricate detail, the sartorial traits of every one of the priestly vestments are explicated, down to the last intertwined threads.
And though Moses is in charge of setting up the administration and establishing the entire order of service while training his brother and nephews, his name is conspicuously missing from this portion.
Our sages explain the reason for the omission. When G-d threatened to destroy His nation, Moses pleaded with Him: “And now if You would but forgive their sin! — but if not, erase me now from Your book that You have written” (Shemot 32:32). As we all know, Moses’s plea was accepted–the nation was spared. But Moses was not left unscathed. His request of written eradication was fulfilled in one aspect. His name was left out, in a sense erased, from one portion of the Torah: this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh. Thus, Moses’ words were fulfilled in one aspect. But why this portion?
Though this English-language publication is not wont to discuss Hebrew etymological derivations, it is noteworthy to mention a thought I once heard in the name of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. Moses’ plea, “erase me now from Your book,” bears an explanation. The word sifr’chah (your book) can be broken down to two words: sefer chaf, which means the twentieth book. Thus, Moses was removed from this portion of Tetzaveh, the twentieth portion of the Torah.
But why would Moses intone such omission in this, of all the portions of the Torah? Why not omit his name in the portions that declare the tragic outcome of sin or the calamities of insurrection? Wouldn’t that be a better choice for omission? Why did Moses allude to having his name omitted in the week he charges Aaron with all the honor and glory that is afforded the High Priest?
Rav Yitzchak Blaser was once seated at a gathering of the most prominent sages of his generation, that was held in his city of St. Petersburg. Among the Talmudic sages present was Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soleveitchik of Brisk, world renown for his Talmudic genius. Rabbi Soloveitchik presented a Talmudic question that his young son, Reb Chaim, had asked. After posing the question, a flurry of discussion ensued, each of the rabbis offering his own answer to the riddle, while other rabbis refuted them with powerful rebuttals. During the entire repartee, Rabbi Blaser, who had a reputation as a Talmudic genius, sat silently. He did not offer an answer, nor did he voice approval to any of the answers given by the Rabbis.
When Rabbi Soleveitchik ultimately offered his son’s own solution, Rabbi Blaser sat quietly, neither nodding in approval, nor shaking his head in disagreement. It seemed as if he did not comprehend the depth of the insightful discourse. It was as if he was not even there! Bewildered, Reb Yosef Dov began having second thoughts about the renowned Rabbi Blaser. “Is he truly the remarkable scholar that the world had made him out to be?” he wondered.
Later that evening, Rabbi Soloveitchik was in the main synagogue where he got hold of the book “Pri Yitzchok,” a volume filled with Talmudic exegesis authored by none other than Rabbi Blaser himself.
After leafing through the large volume he saw that the afternoon’s entire discourse, his son’s question, the offered and reputed responses, and the final resolution, were all part of a dissertation that Rabbi Blaser had himself published years earlier!
“Now I realize,” thought Rabbi Soleveitchik, “Rabbi Blaser is as much a genius in humility as he is in Talmudic law!”
Our sages tell us that actually Moses was to have been chosen as the Kohen Gadol in addition to the leader of the Jewish nation. It was his unwavering refusal to accept any of those positions that lost him the opportunity to serve as Kohen Gadol. Instead, G-d took it from him and gave it to Aaron.
Many of us would have always harped on the fact. How often do I hear the claims, “I got him that job!”; “I could have been in his position!”; “I started that company! Had I stayed, I would be the one with the stock options!”; “That was really my idea!”
Moses, too, could have injected himself as the one who propelled and engineered Aaron’s thrust to glory — especially after a seemingly tainting experience with the Golden Calf. In his great humility, Moses did just the opposite.
Moses did not want to diminish Aaron’s glory in any way. He wanted the entire spotlight to shine on Aaron and his great service to the Children of Israel. Therefore, in the portion in which Moses charges, guides, and directs the entire process of the priesthood, his name is conspicuously omitted.
One of the greatest attributes of true humility is to let others shine in their own achievement without interfering or announcing your role in their success. The greatest educators, the wisest parents, and most understanding colleagues know when to share the spotlight and when to let another friend, colleague, sibling, or child shine in their success or accomplishment. They know exactly when to be conspicuously or inconspicuously “missing from the book.”
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
Rashi writes (Shemot 27:21) that the Sages determined the amount of oil needed for the menorah to burn from the night until the morning during the lengthy winter nights. This amount of oil was placed in the menorah each night of the year even though there would be leftover oil on the shorter nights. Why would the Rabbis design the process for lighting the menorah in a manner which produced so much waste? (Daas Z’keinim, Paneiach Raza)
“You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aaron your brother, for glory and splendor. And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the vestments of Aaron, to sanctify him to minister Me. These are the vestments that they shall make: a Breastplate, an Ephod, a Robe, a Tunic of a box-like knit, a Turban, and a Sash.” (Shemot 28:1-4)
1) The Kohen Gadol’s (High Priest’s) garments were for “glory and splendor.” Whose glory – the Kohen, the people of Israel, G-d, or all of the above?
2) The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106b) teaches that G-d “desires the heart.” The Kohen was outfitted in extremely ornate garments. Was there not a fear that wearing them would develop false pride within him, thus tainting the purity of his service?
3) In the time of Adam and Eve, the need for clothing was the result of a lost sense of innocence. Why then would there be such an emphasis on garments in such a holy site as the Tabernacle?
When describing the clothing that the kohen (priest) and kohen gadol (high priest) wore, the verse says, “You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for splendor” (Shemot 28:2). One of these garments, the ephod, was hemmed with a series of pomegranates and bells. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (known as the Chofetz Chaim) writes that the bells on the hem of the kohen gadol’s ephod made noise, symbolizing the importance of speaking words of Torah. The pomegranates made no sound and thus represented the importance of remaining silent when appropriate. Why might a pomegranate specifically be used to symbolize silence?
G-d told Moses (Shemot 28:3) to instruct the wise-hearted people to make garments for Aaron’s use in the Temple service. As we are accustomed to associating wisdom with the brain, what could the Torah be implying by emphasizing that the wisdom was in their hearts? (Ohr Yahel by Rabbi Leib Chasman)
After Moses witnessed Aaron’s actions during the Sin of the Golden Calf, he doubted whether Aaron was truly worthy to serve as Kohen Gadol. G-d, however, understood that Aaron’s true intentions were to delay the Jewish people from sinning until Moses returned. Thus, by commanding Moses to “Bring near to yourself…Aaron your brother…to serve Me,” G-d was informing Moses that he had misunderstood his brother’s actions, and that, indeed, no one was more suited to serve as Kohen Gadol than Aaron. (see Medrash Rabbah, Shemot 28:1) (Note: The Torah recounts the Sin of the Golden Calf after this week’s portion, even though it occurred first chronologically. See Rashi, Shemot 31:8)
1) Even if Aaron was merely pretending to join the Jewish people in creating the Golden Calf, why was it acceptable for him to participate in this sinful act at all?
2) As G-d is all-knowing, He was aware of Aaron’s intentions. Why did G-d not simply tell Moses to return to the Jewish people before putting Aaron in a situation in which Moses would incorrectly suspect him of doing wrong?
The Talmud (Arachin 16) says that each of the garments worn by the High Priest atoned for common sins; in fact, every aspect, every detail of the garment atones for a different aspect of the sin. The Me’il (poncho) was made out of sky blue wool and had 72 golden bells alternating with colorful pomegranates (made out of fabric) hanging from the bottom hem. These bells tinkled as the High Priest entered the Temple. The Me’il atoned for the sin of speaking badly about other people (lashon hara).
- The bells were required to ring when the High Priest entered the Temple. If they didn’t, it was a capital offense. What connection could chiming bells have with not speaking badly about others?
- The Me’il had a thick woven border around the neckline. It was forbidden to tear this sewn lip of the Me’il. What could tearing the lip symbolize that the Torah should forbid it?
- The Tzitzit (fringes) was another priestly garment that contained blue strings; the blue of the Tzitzit was to remind us of the blue sky, which would remind us of G-d. But unlike the Tzitzit, the Me’il was the only priestly garment completely woven out of blue. What might the blue of the Me’il represent?
How can the Torah command us (Devarim 25:19) not to forget Amalek’s wicked actions when it also commands us to wipe out their memory, something which cannot be accomplished while trying to remember them?
Q: The Baal HaTurim (Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, 1270-ca 1340) notes that from the birth of Moses in Parshat Shemot until his death in the final parsha of the Torah – V’Zot HaBracha – this week’s parsha is the only one in which his name isn’t mentioned even a single time. He explains that this is because in next week’s parsha, Moses beseeched G-d to forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf. He requested (Shemot 32:32) that if G-d wouldn’t forgive them, then his name should also be erased from the entire Torah. Although G-d ultimately accepted his prayers and forgave the Jewish people, we have a maxim that a conditional curse of a righteous person will be fulfilled even if the condition itself doesn’t come to pass, so G-d partially implemented his request by removing him from one entire parsha. Why was his name specifically left out of this parsha as opposed to any other?
A: Rashi writes (Shemot 4:14) that Moses was originally intended to serve as the Kohen Gadol. The position was only taken away from him and transferred to his brother Aaron as a punishment for misplaced humility in repeatedly attempting to evade G-d’s appointment of him as the redeemer of the Jewish people. Parshat Tetzaveh deals almost exclusively with the garments and inauguration procedure for the Kohen Gadol. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
OILY TO RISE
“You shall command the B’nei Yisrael and have them bring you clear olive oil, [made from olives that were] crushed for lighting, to keep the lamp burning constantly.” Shemot 27:20
Crushed for Lighting – He would crush the olives in a mortar and not grind them in a mill so that it would not contain sediment. After extracting the first droplet he would put them into a mill and grind them. This second oil is unfit for the menorah but may be used for meal offerings. Rashi
Crushed for Lighting – The Hebrew word for crushed is “Katit” which has a numerical equivalent of 830. This corresponds to the number of years that the First  and Second  Temples existed and the Menorah was lit. – Baal HaTurim (Rabbi Yaakov ben Rabbi Asher)
As Rashi points out, only the oil for the lighting of the menorah had to be crushed. For meal offerings it could be ground. The menorah symbolizes Torah and the message therein is that to experience success in Torah study, one cannot adopt an easy route. He must be prepared to crush himself under the burden of Torah and strive to extract every last drop of truth, or he will not savor the sweet taste of accomplishment.
ONE OF US
“And now take unto you your brother, Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Children of Israel, to serve Me [as kohanim].” Shemot 28:1
From Among The Children Of Israel – What is added by the words, “from among the Children of Israel”? Isn’t it obvious that Aaron was Jewish as well? Thanks to his involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf, Aaron was the subject of G-d’s wrath and deemed unfit for priesthood. It was only due to the people’s need and his association with Moses that he was appointed to the priesthood. – Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz)
From Among The Children Of Israel – Why was Aaron chosen for the priesthood and not Moses, his brother who was greater in prophecy? A leader who will serve as a model of how to serve G-d and bear the sins of the nation must be someone who can relate to them, and they to him. Moses was in a class of his own, able to ascend to heaven and converse with the angels. Great as he was, Aaron was in many ways, more a man of the people, and therefore the better choice for priesthood. – Otzar HaTorah
The Mishnah in Avot [1:14] tells us that Aaron spent a good deal of time promoting peace among the people and that he was very beloved by all for this. He was also the leader of the nation during all the years that Moses spent in political asylum in Midian. He witnessed their hardships first-hand, and related to them on a more personal level than Moses. In order to effectively persuade people to change, a leader must prove to his followers that he understands their struggles, as well.
DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL
“And you shall speak to all who are wise in heart…and have them make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him to serve Me…They shall take the gold, the greenish-blue wool, the dark red wool the crimson wool, and the fine twined linen.” Shemot 28:3-5
They shall take the gold – They shall select from the choicest of all that the people donated for use in making the Priestly vestments. – HeEmek Davar
They shall take the gold – Until this point, all of the instructions were given directly to Moses instructing him to take a particular action – “You shall make,” and “You shall do,” etc. In this instance, however, he was asked to tell the artisans to do the work of collecting the donations and crafting them into garments by themselves, without requiring them to take a careful reckoning of each donation as it came in. They were expected and trusted to carry out their mission faithfully without misusing the funds for personal benefit, and they proved themselves completely trustworthy in this respect. – Nachmanides
Chasam Sofer explains the reason that the Almighty insisted that no accounting be made with the public funds, because the rule is that blessing [i.e. increase] does not occur to something that is carefully counted. Since there existed a very real possibility that there would not be sufficient donations to cover their needs, the Almighty wanted to allow for the possibility of miraculously adding to the shortfall, something He wouldn’t do if the materials had already been counted and tallied. Therefore, He insisted that they accept all donations without keeping an exact reckoning, so that there would be sufficient material. In the end, this ploy was not necessary, since the people donated far in excess of what was needed and had to be dissuaded from continuing to donate.
These are the garments that they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod [apron], a robe, a checkered tunic, a turban and a sash. Have them make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, and for his sons, to serve Me.” Shemot 28:4
These eight garments all served to bring atonement for sins of the Jewish people – Talmud, Tractate Zevachim 88b
- Tunic– Atoned for murder. This is hinted to by the actions of Joseph’s brothers who dipped his tunic into blood and claimed that he was murdered.
- Linen Pants– Atoned for sexual immorality. They covered the private areas of the Kohen’s body
- Turban– Atoned for haughtiness. They sat on the highest part of the Kohen’s body and therefore, represent pride and haughtiness.
- Sash– Atoned for immoral thoughts. It was tied just beneath the heart, the repository for thoughts.
- Breastplate– Atoned for inaccurate decisions rendered by the Rabbinic Courts. It was called, “Breastplate of Judgment.”
- Ephod [Apron]– Atoned for idolatrous worship. Idolatry is rare in that not only the action, but the thoughts too, are punishable. The word “Ephod” in Aramaic is “Du Af” – twofold anger.
- Robe– Atoned for Lashon Hara [evil speech]. It had bells on the bottom which made noise. Their noise was in place of the noise of evil speech.
- Gold Forehead Plate– Atoned for brazen behavior.
Symbolically, a garment represents the idea of looking good before others. The Kohen Gadol [High Priest] represented the people before the Almighty and everything about him had to be flattering and spiritually uplifting. His clothing, which carried so many spiritual undertones, was an essential part of his makeup. So much so, that he was not permitted to perform the Temple service without the full complement of garments.
“You shall make a breastplate of judgment, the work of a craftsman in the same manner you made the Ephod; of gold, turquoise wool, dark red wool, crimson wool and fine twined linen, shall you make it.” Shemot 28:15
Breastplate Of Judgment – Called this, because it atoned for erroneous decisions of justice, or because it provided clear rulings for the nation. [Into the Choshen (Breastplate) was inserted a slip of parchment containing the Ineffable Name of G-d. When a question of national import was posed to the Choshen, this Name would cause the letters inscribed on the stones of the Choshen to light up and when read correctly, it provided clear and lucid answers.] – Rashi
Breastplate Of Judgment – The gematria [numerical equivalence] of the words, “Choshen Mishpat” (Breastplate of Judgment) is 787, which is the same as the words, “Zeh Mechaper Al Kilkul HaDin” [This shall atone for perversion of justice]. – Tzel HoEidah
The idea that the Breastplate was needed in part to provide a measure of atonement for a court’s errors, provides a powerful reminder of the need for honesty in all our dealings. A court, no matter how scrupulous, is prone to error by virtue of its human component. Yet, best efforts notwithstanding, their failures required atonement by none less than the High Priest! How much more so, must we endeavor to act with great care to avoid dishonesty in any and all forms.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
“The fourth row [of the Breastplate contained] tarshish [chrysolite], shoham [onyx], and yoshpeh [jasper]. They shall be placed in gold settings in their fullness.” Shemot 28:20
Yoshpeh – The word yoshpeh has a numerical equivalent of 396 and corresponds to the numerical value of the words “Binyamin ben Yaakov” [Benjamin the son of Jacob]. The name Yoshpeh can be split into two words, “yesh-peh” [there is a mouth], alluding to the idea that Benjamin was the only son of Jacob who did not cause his father pain through his words. Joseph, on the other hand, spoke negatively of his brothers, and his brothers used their mouths to plot against him and deceive their father. Benjamin was the only one who had a mouth and did not misuse it. – Baal HaTurim (Rabbi Yaakov ben Rabbi Asher)
Placed in gold settings – The precious stones were to be placed in gold settings, and the writing was to be engraved upon the inlaid stones. – Rabbeinu Bachya
Rabbeinu Bachya adds that this arrangement demonstrates the superiority of Torah over all other precious items, for the rule is that the less prestigious item serves as a base for that which is more prestigious. In the breastplate, the gold served as a setting for the precious stones, which served as a base for the holy words that were inscribed upon them. This is because the holy words of Torah take preeminence over even the most precious stones known to man.
EVERY SINGLE DAY
“And this is what you shall offer upon the altar: two lambs within their first year, each day, continually. Offer the first lamb in the morning and offer the second lamb in the afternoon.” Shemot 29:38, 39
This offering was brought every single day of the year and was a festive event in the Temple. Numerous kohanim (Jewish priests) were involved in this offering and as the service proceeded, the Levites, accompanied by music, sang the Song of the day, and upon its conclusion, everyone bowed. – Rabbenu Bachya
The First Lamb – The verse uses the definitive term, “Ha’Echad” [the first] when speaking of the morning offering because the numerical equivalence of the word is 18. This corresponds to the number of blessings in the Shmoneh Esrei (The Amidah Prayer), which was instituted in place of the daily offerings. – Baal HaTurim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, 1270-ca 1340)
Each Day, Continually – The opening and closing lines of the Rema’s commentary to Shulchan Aruch are:
- “I have set G-d before me always[tamid]…” – Psalms 16:8
- “All the days of a poor man are bad; but a good-hearted person feasts always [tamid].” – Proverbs 15:15
This teaches us that every Jew must always carry in his heart these two “T’midim” [daily offerings]: The fear of G-d born out of setting G-d before oneself always, and the joy ever-present in the life of a good-hearted person, confident in G-d’s salvation.
EVERYWHERE YOU ARE
“I will dwell among the Children of Israel, and I will be their G-d.” Shemot 29:45
Dwell among the Children of Israel – To accept their Divine service with favor and to receive their prayers.
I will be their G-d – I will attend to their needs personally without an intermediary, and they will be more prominent to Me than all the heavens whose affairs are dictated through intermediaries. It is this personal oversight of the Almighty that is at the root of the eternal nature of the Jewish people. – Sforno (Rabbi Ovadia Sforno)
I will dwell…be their G-d – Had the Jewish people not sinned with the Golden Calf, the Almighty would have dwelled among us for eternity. Following that terrible sin which contaminated them to such a great extent, He would only do so for limited periods of time. The first Temple lasted 410 years and the second 420. In total, they existed for 830 years, which is the numerical value of the word “v’shachanti” [I will dwell]. Nevertheless, the verse reassures us that even when I am not in your presence, I will still always “be their G-d.” – Shach Al HaTorah
Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin) explains that the words, “I will dwell among the Children of Israel,” indicate that the Almighty will not limit His presence among us only to the Holy Temple, where it is clearly visible and evident in its manifestation, but He will also dwell among us wherever there is a gathering of Jews, even though it may not be as evident.
INCENSE FOR INCENSE
“You shall make an altar to burn incense. Make it out of Acacia wood.” Shemot 30:1
The Incense Altar was one of the vessels of the Tabernacle along with the Menorah, Table, Ark etc. If so, why is it first mentioned here toward the end of this Parshah which deals primarily with the clothing and structure of the Tabernacle, and not earlier in Parshat Terumah which details the vessels of the Tabernacle?
The Tabernacle provided an optimal setting for G-d to rest His Divine Presence among His nation. This, however, created a hazard in that His close proximity would limit His tolerance for those who disobeyed His commands. G-d, therefore, provided the Incense Altar and its daily service to shelter the nation from this potential danger. Consequently, only once the means of bringing His Presence to rest among the people was provided, did it become necessary to provide the antidote to the problem that accompanied it. – Nachmanides
The Incense Altar was different in its purpose than that of all the other vessels of the Tabernacle. Their function was to summon the Divine Presence to rest among the people whereas the Incense Altar’s function was to give glory to the Divine Presence once it appeared. Thus, it only served a useful function after the Tabernacle was completed and need only be mentioned at the close of the entire Tabernacle discussion. – Sforno (Rabbi Ovadia Sforno)
The Incense Altar created a pleasing aroma and generated tremendous joy and satisfaction for the Almighty and the people. The people however, could not fully partake of its myriad benefits as long as they were sullied by their sins. As mentioned above, the garments of the High Priest were designed to erase their most grievous sins and therefore instructions for the Incense Altar were withheld until after the instructions for the priestly garb were conveyed. – Mei Shiloach
Hey, I Never Knew That
The Torah automatically conveys the status of kohen to a kohen’s sons. In addition, a kohen gadol (high priest) would bequeath his position to his son, as would most leaders and appointees of the Jewish people. An exception to this rule is the kohen who is anointed to go to war with the Jewish army, whose son does not automatically take over when his father dies or retires. This law is derived by the Talmud (Yoma 73a) from a verse in the Torah portion this week (Shemot 29:30). Why is this kohen an exception to the rule? Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook explains that inheritance of a position shows natural continuity and perpetuation of a role. The kohen appointed to go to war serves in a position that the Torah does not want to perpetuate and does not want to continue—war. We pray for a time when there will be no wars and there will be only peace (Isaiah 2:4), therefore the law of continuity and inheritance does not apply to this role (Olat Re’iah).
One of the items worn by the High Priest was the tzitz, the gold forehead-plate, inscribed with the words, “Holy unto G-d.” The Talmud (Sukkah 5a) discusses the exact location of these words. Rabbi Elazar Ben Rav Yossi is quoted as saying, “I saw the tzitz of the High Priest in Rome and ‘Holy unto G-d’ was written on one line.” There are numerous places in the Talmud where rabbis are cited has having seen various Temple items in Rome. Josephus Flavius (The Jewish War, 7:158) writes the following: “Vespasian decided to erect a Temple of Peace. This was very speedily completed and in a style surpassing all human conception. For, besides having prodigious resources of wealth on which to draw, he also embellished it with ancient masterworks of painting and sculpture; indeed into that shrine were accumulated and stored all objects for the sight of which men had once wandered over the whole world… Here too, he laid up the vessels of gold from the Temple of the Jews, on which he prided himself” [emphasis added]. Ironically, Vespasian’s “Temple of Peace” was the place where the spoils of his wars were displayed, including the treasures of our Temple, and was, very likely, the place where our sages saw these holy objects.
Word of the Week
“These are the clothes that you shall make… מצנפת—mitznefet…” (Shemot 28:4). Rashi translates mitznefet as a type of domed cap that covers the head, synonymous with the word מגבעת—migba’at, which Onkelos translates as כובע—kova—hat and was worn by the high priest and by other priests. According to Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Vessels of the Temple, 8:19) the mitznefet was a turban made of a strip of linen about 24 feet in length. Rabbi Avraham ben David (ibid. 8:1) maintains that the hat of the high priest only was a turban, but that of a regular priest was a conical hat. According to Josephus Flavius the turban was first wound, then sewn together and covered with linen to hide the seams. (Antiquities 3:7:3, The Living Torah, Shemot 28:39-40).
Twelve precious stones that are placed on the breastplate of the High Priest are found in the Torah portion this week. One is ספיר — sapir (Shemot 28:18). Some identify the sapir as sapphire, based on the Greek Septuagint’s translation, sappheiros. Other sources claim that the sapir of the Torah is a clear gemstone, either crystal or diamond (Radak, Sefer Hashorashim). The Ibn Ezra (Shemot 24:10) maintains that it is a translucent red stone, and some say that it was lapis-lazuli, a blue gemstone (Aryeh Kaplan, Living Torah, ad loc.). The Sages (Sifri, Parshat Beha’alotcha 43) maintain that the Tablets of the Law were made of sapir, and the Zohar (2:272:1) states that the staff of Moses was also made of sapir.
Rabbi Menashe Klein was asked if the celebratory meal for a brit milah (circumcision) should specifically be a meat meal. He responded that certainly a meat meal is most appropriate for the brit. He cites Rabeinu Bachya (Kad Hakemach, Milah) who writes that it is correct to have a meal after the brit as did Abraham after circumcising Isaac, and that since the parents are giving their child to G-d at the brit, it is similar to the offering of a sacrifice in the Temple. In the Torah portion this week we are told that there is a commandment to eat of the offering that one brings to the Temple (Shemot 29:33) and therefore, writes Rabeinu Bachya, that mitzvah is fulfilled by eating a meal after the brit. Rabbi Klein concludes that since the meal is compared to eating a sacrifice it should specifically be a meat meal, like the Temple offerings (Responsa Mishneh Halachot 14:272). Other authorities justify the common custom to serve a dairy meal at a brit because it is usually served as breakfast (Maharam Schik Y.D. 366), while others allow a dairy meal in any case (Shnei Luchot Habrit, Shevet Halevi, Teshuvot Vehanhagot).
The Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh Deah 265:12) states that it is customary to serve a festive meal after a circumcision (brit milah). Various sources are cited for this custom; some (Gaon of Vilna, ad loc.) refer to Abraham preparing a feast after circumcising Isaac, and some (Be’er Hagolah, ad loc.) refer to the statement in the Talmud (Shabbat 130a) that the Jews will always perform this mitzvah with joy. Rabbeinu Bachya (Bereshit 17:13) cites a verse in the Torah portion this week as the source for this custom. The verse (Shemot 29:33) states that the kohen-priests are obligated to eat the offerings, and since the brit is compared to offering a sacrifice, the fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating the offering is accomplished by eating a festive meal after the brit.
Parsha at a Glance
G-d commanded the Jewish people to use only pure olive oil for the menorah of the Mishkan (Sanctuary).
He also instructed that special garments be designed for Aaron and his four sons to wear while fulfilling their responsibilities in the Mishkan. All kohanim would wear four garments, while Aaron, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), would don an additional four garments.
The Torah describes the priestly clothing in great detail. The ephod was worn over the tunic and robe, and was similar to an apron. The chosen mishpat (the breastplate of judgment) was folded in half, and contained the urim v’tumim (a parchment) bearing G-d’s Ineffable Name. Its twelve stones bore the names of the twelve tribes, and the individual letters would light up in order to transmit G-d’s rulings to the people. The robe extended from the neck to the ground, and its hem was decorated with bells and pomegranates. The head-plate was a pure gold band, worn over the Kohen Gadol’s headdress. A tunic, belted with a very long sash, and pants completed the clothing worn by all kohanim.
The Torah then details the inauguration ceremony, performed by the kohanim. It involved many sacrifices, including the two daily tamid offerings. G-d promised to rest His presence among the Jewish people.
The parsha ends with instructions regarding the building of the Altar on which incense was offered each morning at the time when the Kohen Gadol cleaned the menorah. It was also used once a year for the Yom Kippur sacrifice.