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Parashat Tetzaveh

Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Rachel bat Sarah, Mrs. Shelly Rahmey, from her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Parashat Tetzaveh

The Kohen Gadol

Last week’s parasha discussed the Mishkan, and this week, Parashat Tetzaveh goes into depth about the mitzvot pertaining to the Mishkan.

The parasha also discusses the kohanim, specifically the kohen gadol and his special garments. Hashem said to Moshe, “Now you bring near to yourself your brother and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel — Aharon, Nadab and Abihu, Elazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aharon — to minister to Me. You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aharon your brother, for honor and glory. 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 Aharon, to sanctify him to minister to Me (28:1).” Hashem selected Aharon, his four sons, and their descendants to be the kohanim to serve in the Bet Hamikdash and to serve as kohanim up until today.

The Torah then goes to great lengths to meticulously describe every detail of every article of the kohen gadol’s clothing. We must know that the Torah doesn’t waste a single letter, let alone paragraphs of information. If the Torah spends so much time discussing the kohen gadol’s clothing, there must be many important lessons to learn.

The passuk says that the vestments were to be made “for honor and glory.” There’s a contemporary phrase dress for success.” Clothing has a major impact on us. We expect to see an important person like the president or a king dressed in very proper or royal clothing, and if we don’t, this can lower our respect for that leader. In fact, the Ramban teaches that the kohanim’s garments were intended to honor the kohanim, for they were similar to royal garb. Sforno comments the purpose behind this was so that the tribes of Israel would revere the kohen gadol as the teacher of the nation. It was also to show the Jewish people that one who serves Hashem must look like royalty, since he is serving the greatest King of all.

Honor and Glory

Though garments are important, we also learn that materialistic things mean nothing, and that true value comes from within. There is a story about a man who was invited to a very fancy party. This man was not incredibly sophisticated and was not used to wearing elegant clothing. He came to the party wearing a nice but very informal outfit.

When he arrived at the party, he was stopped by the guards at the entrance who told him that he could not enter the building because of his “inappropriate clothing.” The man wasn’t upset, and he went back to his house to put on the best suit he owned, and he returned to the party, where he was then let in without any problems.

During the party, when they all sat for a seated dinner, the man suddenly stood up, lifted his plate with the most exquisite catered food, and poured it all over himself, effectively ruining his nice suit. His friends at the table asked him why he did such a thing and he told them, “Since I was not invited but my suit was, I thought it was logical to give it the food.”

As we discussed, Parashat Tetzaveh details the garments of the kohen gadol, giving much relevance to their beauty. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks says that in order to understand why the Torah gives so much importance to Aharon’s garments, we need to pay attention to the piece at the of the whole description, “You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aharon your brother, for honor and glory.”

The Torah is teaching us that there are two different ways to relate to the external image of a human being. One is giving importance to the “glory” or beauty in a materialistic way, and the other one is understanding that “glory” should be at the service of “kavod—honor.” So if one gives importance to kavod, for example, and he buys a nice suit for Shabbat or for celebrating a friend’s wedding, in those cases, he’s using beauty as a means to give kavod to other people or to G-d, and it serves a higher purpose. But if one gives importance to glory or beauty just for the sake of materialism, like buying a new suit to try to fit in a social class, the suit doesn’t serve any value, and actually helps a person to disrespect his own dignity. This is a beautiful message that teaches us how to balance beauty and dignity, and how to establish the priorities in our lives.

The Only Parasha

Parashat Tetzaveh is the only parasha where Moshe Rabbenu’s name is not mentioned. This is because in next week’s parasha, Ki Tissa, Hashem wanted to destroy B’nei Yisrael for worshiping the golden calf. Moshe said to Hashem, “Erase me from the Torah if you will destroy Am Yisrael!” Because of Moshe’s words, Hashem took his name out of this week’s parasha. The Torah wants to teach us that our words really do mean something, so we must always be very careful of any negative words that we say.

The Tur explains further that during an earlier time in history, Moshe was destined to be the kohen gadol as well as the leader of the Jewish people. However, when Moshe angered Hashem, he lost his honor to be kohen gadol (4:14). Since this parasha deals with the vestments worn by the kohen gadol, Hashem chose not to mention Moshe’s name, so it would not to be a constant reminder of his lost opportunity to become kohen gadol, an honor that was ultimately given to Aharon.

Even when Hashem punishes someone, we should recognize the mercy within the very act. When Moshe declared his wish to be erased from the Torah, Hashem decided to remove Moshe’s name from only one parasha. Hashem specifically chose the parasha of Tetzaveh, in which the mention of Moshe’s name would have been a cause of pain to him because the subject of the kohen gadol was discussed. Once his name was to be taken out, it might as well be in a place that he would not want to be mentioned anyway. We further see that, despite its inevitability, the omission of Moshe’s name was limited in scope. Moshe’s name was mentioned within the number of verses in the parasha, albeit in a “hidden” manner.

Divine Providence

On Purim, we celebrate the hidden miracle of being spared from Haman’s terrible decree to kill all the Jews. We have the custom of dressing up on Purim to represent being saved from Haman in a hidden way. Rabbi Twerski explains that supernatural miracles, great as they may be, are of only a short duration. The salvation of B’nei Yisrael by the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Sea were open miracles witnessed by that generation only. We can’t really expect to see those types of open miracles today. However, many hidden miracles happen each day. Megillat Esther tells the story of Purim as a series of miracles that Hashem orchestrated by pulling the strings behind the scenes. Only when the entire sequence of these events is strung together, can one see the Hand of Hashem.

This is also why Hashem’s name is not mentioned in the entire Megillah but is written discreetly. Each time the text says HaMelech—The King, we know this alludes to The King of Kings, Hashem.

Miracles such as the ones in the story of Purim, where the laws of nature aren’t suspended but G-d’s Hand is clear, still occur today. This realization that everything in this world is orchestrated by Hashem is a fundamental principle of Judaism. Understanding this belief enables us to entrust our lives to Hashem’s care, allowing us to live according to G-D's commandments.

An Exciting Atmosphere

Our Purim seudot should be a festive and enjoyable environment so we can really instill an appreciation for this extra special holiday in our children. Rabbi Azancot told a tale about how a young man came to Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz to tell him his story of becoming a baal teshuvah.

A woman came to America after World War II and decided that after what she had endured, she would completely renounce Judaism. She got married and had children but didn’t raise them with religion. She didn’t fast Yom Kippur or abstain from chametz on Pesach.

Years later, just before Spring, her oldest child, Jerry, was in college, and he received a package from his mother. He opened it up and found a container with some triangular cookies filled with jam. He recognized them, as his mother made them every year in March, and he eagerly bit into one. He later brought the container to share with his friends while they ate lunch on the campus lawn.

Jerry’s friend Joe took a cookie and said, “Hey, you’re Jewish, like me!” “Jewish?” Jerry said, “I’m not Jewish.” Joe asked, “Where did you get these cookies?” “My mother made them,” Jerry answered. “Well, then, you’re Jewish! These cookies are called hamantaschen, and the Jews make them for the holiday of Purim.” Joe explained.

Jerry called his mother and asked, “Mom, am I Jewish?” His mother was surprised. “Why do you ask?” “My friend explained that the cookies you make are Jewish cookies that they bake for some holiday.” The mother answered, “As a matter of fact, yes, we are Jewish. My mother used to bake these with me every year for Purim, so I always made them for my kids because I looked forward to eating them as a child.”

Just from that little cookie, Jerry went on to investigate Judaism and soul-search his way to Jerusalem, where he made aliyah, years later as a kollel scholar. His mother had such lovely experiences as a child, baking cookies with her mom for the holiday, that the excitement and enjoyment never left her, and she couldn’t give up the tradition of baking hamantaschen for Purim.

This year, let’s remember that our seudot should be filled with laughter, joy, and exciting traditions so that our children will continue that legacy with their children and grandchildren for years to come!

May we know that it’s important to always look our best when serving Hashem, just as the kohanim did in the time of the Bet Hamikdash. May we all realize the sensitivity Hashem has for us, even when He punishes us. May we all be zocheh to see Hashem in every aspect of our lives and to witness our personal salvation. May we enjoy Purim with silliness, laughter, and family!

Shabbat Shalom! Purim Sameach!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

  • Can you think of examples of putting honor above glory?

Etz Haim

Shining Light on the Parasha

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