Ritual Wisdom

Ritual Wisdom 2-15-19

This week’s Torah reading is Tetzaveh. Yesterday (February 12, 2019) was the 7th day in the month of Adar. Moshe, the first leader of the Jewish people, passed away on the 7th of Adar. There is a connection between the two.

From the beginning of the Book of Shemot (Exodus) through the books of Vayikra and Bamidbar, Moshe’s name is found in every Torah reading. The only exception is this week’s reading, Tetzaveh.

Our sages explain this with the following reasons: Torah reading Tetzaveh discusses the Kohanim (Priests) and their service in the Holy Temple. The reading describes the special garments that the Kohen and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) wore in the Temple.

Originally, G-d intended Moshe to be the High Priest. However, at the burning bush Moshe refused to be G-d’s messenger to speak to Pharaoh, stating “I am slow of speech.” G-d chose Aaron to speak to Pharaoh instead; and as a result, G-d also chose Aaron to be the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).

Since the Kehunah (Priesthood) was taken from Moshe, Moshe’s does not appear in this reading which deals with the requirements for the Kohanim (priests).

Another reason: After the sin of the Golden Calf, when Moshe prayed that G-d forgive the Jewish people for that sin, he declared that if G-d will not forgive them then Moshe’s name should be erased from the Torah. Although G-d did forgive the sin, Moshe’s words were fulfilled in a lesser way. He was “erased” from one reading – Tetzaveh.

The reason that his name was erased from this reading is that Tetzaveh is read in the week of the 7th of Adar, when Moshe passed away. It also alludes to his passing.

Our rabbis make us aware about an important lesson which we can learn from this.

A person must be very careful what they say, for words may have an everlasting effect. One must never say anything negative about themselves, even to prove a point; (such as, “If what I say is not true… something bad should happen to me…”).

Although Moshe asked G-d to forgive the Jewish people or else “erase my name from Your Book,” his name was indeed “erased” even though the Jewish people were forgiven.

Our Rabbis observe that in the first verse of the Torah reading we find a hint to the three Temples. The numerical value of the words “beaten” (Katit), which the Torah uses to describe the process of producing the oil for the Menorah, totals, 830  (20+400+10+400=830). This alludes to the First Temple which stood 410 years and the second Temple which lasted 420 years (totaling 830 years).

The words, “the light burned continuously (Ner Tamid),” relates to the third Temple which will be built by Moshiach and in which the Menorah will truly burn continuously. May it be speedily in our days.

In this week’s Torah reading, Tetzaveh, the Torah continues describing the articles required for the service of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

Last week’s Torah reading, Terumah, dealt with the items needed to construct the Mishkan and its contents. This reading deals with the oil required for the Menorah (candelabra); The clothing that the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) and the regular Priest (Kohen) wore while serving in the Mishkan and Holy Temple. At the end of the Parsha the Torah describes the measurements of the golden altar in the Mishkan.

Torah reading Tetzaveh begins; “And you [Moshe] shall command the children of Israel that they take to you pure olive oil, beaten for the light [of the menorah].”

Our sages explain that only the finest quality oil could be used for the seven lamps of the menorah. Therefore, only the first drop of oil squeezed out of each olive was used for the menorah.

The prophet Jeremiah compares the people of Israel to an olive; “A fresh olive, a fruit of beautiful shape did G-d call your name” (Jeremiah 11:15).

Our sages explain the parallel between the olive and the people of Israel as follows: The olive produces its oil only after being squeezed and pressed.

The same with the Jewish people; who, although they have continuously been exiled from place to place, suffered ill treatment and been squeezed at the hands of other nations, yet, have produced outstanding Torah scholars and great intellectuals in every field.

Another comparison: Mixed with other liquids, oil will eventually separate and rise to the top. So too, the Jewish people. No matter how hard the nations have tried to make us assimilate, the Jewish people have survived as a nation and as a people.

The lights of the Menorah which were kindled each day represent the Torah, as it is stated, “Torah is light“. The Torah illuminates the darkness of the world and guides a person in the right path.

Just as the seven lights in the Menorah had to be lit every day, so, too, must every Jew light up each of the seven days of the week with the study of Torah and the observance of good deeds.

Even a little light,” say our sages, “pushes away much darkness.” Our mission in life is to illuminate our sphere of influence with the light of G-dliness and morality.

Last weeks Torah reading, Terumah, and this week’s reading, Tetzaveh, are about the Mishkan – the Temple which the Jewish people built in the desert.

While last week’s reading deals with the construction of the Temple and its contents, this week’s reading describes the garments which the Kohanim (priests) and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) wore.

A standard priest wore four garments when serving in the Temple, while the High Priest wore eight garments.

The holy Aron (ark) stood in the Holy of Holies. On top of the ark were the golden Cherubim from where G-d’s voice would come when He spoke to Moshe. Only the High Priest was allowed to go in there and only once a year, on Yom Kipur, to perform the service of Yom Kippur.

A heretic said to the Talmudic sage Rabbi Meir, “How is it possible that your G-d, Who fills heaven and earth, spoke to Moshe from such a small space, between the two Cherubim, which were on top of the ark?”

Rabbi Meir replied, “Bring me a magnifying mirror.” The heretic looked into the mirror and saw how big his reflection appeared. Then Rabbi Meir said to him, “Now bring me a reducing mirror.” This time the heretic saw that his reflection was very small.

Rabbi Meir said to him, “If you, who are flesh and blood, can have your size changed merely depending in which mirror you look, how much more so can G-d Who created the world! When He wishes, He fills the heaven and earth; and when He wants, He speaks to Moshe from between the two Cherubim upon the ark.”

The Midrash tells the following story: A ship full of heathens was sailing on the sea, when a storm broke out. The heathens prayed to their idols for mercy, but to no avail.   They turned to a poor Jewish lad who was on board, “Pray to your G-d that we may be saved.”   The lad cried out to G-d and the sea became calm.

When the heathens came to dry land, they went down to purchase supplies. They asked the Jewish lad, “Don’t you wish to buy anything?” The poor boy, who didn’t have any money, replied, “What a question to ask an unfortunate poor stranger like me!”

“You call yourself an unfortunate poor lad? We are the unfortunate ones! Some of us are here, while our G-ds are in Babylon or in Rome; and even those who have their idols with them realize that they are of no help. But you, wherever you go, your G-d is with you! YOU are the fortunate one!”










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