Behind the Scenes
By Rabbi Jeff Kirshblum
The 98th mitzvah in the Torah is the mitzvah of the Menorah (27:21).
“And you shall command the Children of Israel that they take to you pure
olive oil beaten for the light to cause a lamp to burn continuously…
Aharon and his sons shall arrange (the Menorah) from evening until
The Ramban (beginning of Parshas Ba’ha’losecha) records a Medrash. During
the dedication of the Mishkan all the tribes participated in the inaugural
ceremonies. Aharon was greatly saddened; all the tribes took part in
bringing animals to be offered except Aharon and his sons. G-d comforted
Aharon by telling him that he and his sons will have a special mitzvah,
the mitzvah of the Menorah.
The question that begs to be asked is why was Aharon saddened. It is true
that each day another tribe brought an animal to be offered; but who did
the actual offering? It was Aharon and his sons. They performed the
important tasks of the sacrificial service all twelve days. It seems that
Aharon’s sadness was inappropriate.
In addition, there are many authorities (Rambam, Bi’as Hamikdash 9:7) who
maintain that anyone could light the Menorah even a non-kohen. So, how was
Aharon comforted by G-d’s telling him that he had the special mitzvah of
the Menorah: a member of any tribe could light it?
Rebbe Elazar said: Greater is the one who enables a deed to be done than
the one who does it (Baba Basra 9a). Aharon understood that the one who
enables another to perform a mitzvah has a greater portion in that
mitzvah. The tribes, that brought the animals, had a greater mitzvah than
the kohanim, who performed the actual service because their animals
enabled the service to take place. Aharon was sad that throughout all
twelve days of sacrifices he never had the opportunity to be the enabler.
The mitzvah of the Menorah contains two parts. The first part is to
prepare the Menorah for the lighting. The old wicks were removed and fresh
ones were put into place. Oil was poured into each cup of the Menorah.
Only Aharon and his sons could do this preparatory work. The second part
of the mitzvah was the actual lighting of the Menorah. This could be
performed by anyone (Rambam, Bi’as HaMikdash 9:7).
G-d comforted Aharon by telling him about the mitzvos of the Menorah. Even
though anyone could light it, only he and his sons would be able to
prepare it for the lighting. Aharon and his sons would be the enablers,
the men behind the scenes.
We tend to strive to put our actions on center stage. We prefer the
limelight and the attention. If our accomplishments are done only to
enable others to act, then who will give us credit? The Torah is teaching
us a profound insight regarding our approach to mitzvos. It is the one
behind the scenes that is greater than the actual performer.
CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN
The 99th mitzvah in the Torah is for the Kohanim to wear their special
priestly garments while performing the service in the Mishkan and Bais
“And you shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother for splendor and
Any service performed without wearing all the proper clothing was rendered
People of important stature or who are performing an important task wear a
special uniform. Judges, doctors, nurses, soldiers, policemen, firemen all
have special outfits. Sometimes uniforms are worn to lend an air of
dignity to the position. The outfit gives prestige to the work being done
and reminds the wearer to maintain his dignity. It helps them to focus on
the task they are performing. These reasons also applied to the kohanim.
Our clothes have a great influence on how we behave. Young children are
not comfortable wearing elegant clothing because it “compels” them to
behave. Teenagers do not like formal attire because it “restricts” their
ability to express themselves. Actors are better able to act during a
dress rehearsal because they can feel the part they are playing. One
should never underestimate the influence our clothing has on us.
Historically, Jews wore different clothing than those around them.
Sometimes this was by choice; sometimes this was by government decree.
But, in any event, the clothing of the Jew made him feel like a Jew and he
would act like a Jew. We must always remember that just as the kohen
represented the Jewish people to G-d, we represent G-d to those around us.
In that respect we are all kohanim. “And you shall be unto Me a nation of
kohanim, a holy nation” (Shmos 19:6). We must dress in accordance to the
dignity our role demands.
Perhaps the reason why the Torah calls the priestly garments, “holy
garments,” is not so much because they had kedusha but rather because they
inspired holiness in the kohanim wearing them.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU WEAR
The Talmud (Zevachim 88b) tells us that each of the bigdei kahuna
represented atonement for some particular sin.
The shirt was atonement for the crime of murder.
The trousers were atonement for the sin of immorality.
The turban was atonement for haughtiness.
The belt was atonement for wrongful thoughts and desires.
The breastplate was atonement for a miscarriage of justice.
The apron was atonement for idolatry.
The robe was atonement for gossip.
The forehead plate was atonement for stubbornness.
The heart is the seat of the emotions. Emotions can be good, such as love,
or they can be bad, such as anger. Most acts of murder are committed out
of hatred in a time of uncontrolled anger. The shirt, which covers the
heart, teaches us that we must be in control of our emotions.
Man instinctively has desires. The strongest desire is the animal instinct
for sexual pleasure. The trousers gives cover to teach us that man is
above the level of an animal and must contain his instinctive desires.
Haughtiness prevents us from admitting our mistakes. It prevents us from
learning from our errors. It prevents us from doing teshuva. One must
always keep in mind that there is One above us, G-d. The turban, or hat,
reminds us of the One above and that humility suits us better. This is one
reason Jewish men wear a yarmulke.
The belt separates the heart from the lower body. This teaches us that man
must separate his emotions (heart) from his animalistic desires (lower
body). A man should love (emotion) his wife not for her beauty
(animalistic desires) but for her deeds.
When two people have a dispute they are not at peace with one another.
Administering justice can resolve the issue and create harmony where there
was once discord. A miscarriage of justice will only intensify the
discord. When there was a matter of national importance that threatened
the peace and harmony of the Jewish people, the kohen gadol would consult
the glowing stones and letters of the breastplate. Its Divine message
would insure that a just decision will be made that would insure peace and
All things in creation can be used for good or for evil. Fire can destroy
or it can give warmth and light. Man must learn to use all things for
noble accomplishments. In ancient times, the custom of idolatrous priests
was to wear an apron in their unholy service. Our kohen gadol also wore an
apron to show that all things can be used for the good, to serve G-d.
The kohen gadol’s robe symbolized the mouth. Just as the mouth has two
lips which can move apart or shut together, so too a robe has two vertical
edges in front that can be moved apart or closed together. It reminds us
that, just as we can control our robe, we should be in control of our
An important concept for living a good life is to learn to compromise.
Most things in life are not so important that we should be unyielding.
Compromising with a spouse, friend or neighbor strengthens relationships.
Stubbornness prevents compromise and gives more life to dispute. One who
is stubborn is selfish. He thinks only in terms of himself. The remedy for
selfish stubbornness is to think of G-d and that all our motives should be
to create a Kiddush Hashem, to glorify and sanctify His name. To combat
stubbornness, the kohen gadol wore on his forehead a plate of gold with
the words Kodesh L’Hashem, to sanctify G-d (The above is based on the
Malbim’s Rimazai Bigdei Hakodesh, Parshas Tetzaveh).
SHATNEZ: GOOD VS. EVIL
“And you shall make the apron of gold, blue wool, purple wool, scarlet
wool, and fine linen twisted” (28:6).
Normally, the Torah prohibits wearing garments that are composed of both
linen and wool, as it is written, “You shall not wear shatnez, wool and
linen together,” (Devarim 22:11). An exception was made in the case of the
bigdei kahuna. Wool and linen were mixed together. The question is why?
Though the prohibition to wear garments of both wool and linen, shatnez,
is considered a chok, beyond our comprehension, still we are permitted to
find some symbolic meaning in it. The Medrash Tanchumah (Bereishis 9)
mentions the story of Kayin and Hevel. Each one brought an offering to G-
d. Hevel offered the finest of his wooly sheep. Kayin offered flax seeds,
the poorest of all his crops. G-d accepted Hevel’s offering and turned
away from Kayin’s. Kayin sought to avenge what he felt was an injustice
and killed his brother Hevel. The Medrash continues, G-d declared that it
is not fitting to join the offering of Kayin, the sinner, with the
offering of Hevel, the gracious one.
Linen is made from flax seeds. Wool comes from sheep. Because of the great
sin of Kayin, we do not join linen and wool together in a garment (Medrash
Tanchuma 9). The offering of the wool represented the choicest of the
flock (the intention of good) while that of flax seeds represented the
most inferior of crops and was followed by an act of murder (evil). Thus
this association resulted in death. Perhaps what the law of shatnez is
teaching is that good and evil can not mix. In this world, they must be
kept apart; otherwise, as we see in the clash of Kayin and Hevel, evil
There are times in our lives where we face our own mixtures, shatnez, and
try to keep apart the evil that confronts us from our good intentions.
Should we be friends with this person even though they may be a negative
influence on us, should we take this job, or should we move into that
neighborhood? We must be careful to avoid a “shatnez” pattern of life in
which only evil will prevail.
Shatnez, however, was allowed in the garments of the kohen. The purpose of
the service of the Kohanim in the Temple was to help the Jewish people
atone for their sins. Every sin-offering had to be accompanied with the
repentance of the one who brought the offering to the Bais Hamikdash. The
Talmud (Yoma 86b) says that teshuva can change a sin into a mitzvah. That
being the case, the Kohanim have the potential to change a sin like
Kayin’s into a mitzvah like Hevel’s. Therefore, the Kohanim were permitted
to have shatnez in their garments.
The haftorah is found in Yechezkiel 43: 10-27.
The parshah had described the inauguration of the kohanim into the sacred
service of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was the precursor of the First Bais
Hamikdash. During the lifetime of Yechezkiel, the First Temple was
destroyed. A significant component of Yechezkiel’s prophecy describes the
Third Temple that will be rebuilt in the time of Mashiach. In this portion
of the Haftorah, Yecheziel describes the sacrificial Altar and the
inauguration of the kohanim in the future.
The question to be asked is why the prophet is describing the Third Temple
when the Second Temple had not been built yet? The Third Temple, as
described by Yechezkiel, differs radically from the Second Temple. The
Third Temple was much larger and had a completely different layout than
the Second Temple. Yechezkiel should have told the Jewish people about the
laws and measurements of the Second Temple.
The history of the Jewish people can be divided into two periods. The
first period began with the birth of our nation in Egypt. It reached its
climax with the building of the First Bais Hamikdash in the time of King
Shlomo. >From that time onward there was a slow descent in the Israelites’
religious conviction. That led to the eventual destruction of the First
Bais Hamikdash and the exile to Babylonia. The second period began with
the rebirth of our nation in Babylonia and it will reach its climax with
the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple.
The end of the Babylonian exile, when the Jews returned to their homeland,
did not mark the total end of the Exile for the Jews. In truth, most of
the Jews remained in Babylonia and did not return to the land of their
fathers. In addition, during the time of the Second Temple, Israel was not
a free nation. They were still subjects of foreign governments. In the
beginning they were under the dominion of Persia, then under Greece, and
finally under Rome. Thus, with this absence of independence, we still
experienced an element of galus during the era of the Second Bais
In the Second Bais Hamikdash there was no Holy Ark. The Ner Ma’aravi did
not always burn through the night. The kohen gadol was unable to read the
Urim V’Tumim. At times the foreign governments prohibited the Temple
service. All of this was to show that the Second Temple was not the climax
of the second period of our history. It was only the beginning. The climax
will be reached when Mashiach arrives. That was Yechezkiel’s message to
the Jews. The Third Bais Hamikdash will be the pinnacle of humankind’s
history and destiny. What was the Second Temple if not a climax in our
history? It was simply a gift, a kindness that G-d bestowed upon His
children. Therefore, the Second Bais Hamikdash was constructed primarily
according to the dimensions and layout of the First one. Difficult times
would confront the Jews of that era. There would be foreign invasions and
persecution. There would be Jewish cults that would try to take over the
priesthood. To keep the hope for the future alive, the Altar in the Second
Bais Hamikdash was built according to the specifications of the Altar in
the Third Bais Hamikdash, as described by Yechezkiel, rather than
according to the dimensions of the Altar of the First Bais Hamikdash.
Though the Jews in the early years of the Second Temple must have felt
that they were a free nation, a redeemed nation, a nation at the height of
its history, the fact that the Temple was built similar to the First
Temple, and not Yechezkiel’s Temple, reminded them that they were still in
galus. At times, we too think that the galus has ended. We have freedom to
worship the way we want. We can walk the streets without fear of
government agents hauling us off to a deportation camp. Many of us are
financially successful and secure. But we must always keep in mind that as
long as we do not see the Temple of Yechezkiel standing on top of the
Temple Mount in Jerusalem, we are still in galus.
Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Jeff Kirshblum
These Divrei Torah are excerpts from Yochanan "Jeff" Kirshblum's new book,
Thinking Outside the Box, which can be purchased at any local Judaica book store or online at www.israelbookshop.com.