Tetzaveh - The Stamp Of G-d
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Did you ever wonder about the physics of a signet ring or stamp? Some rings
were molded to be a raised (embossed) image or symbol while other rings
were crafted with an engraved image or symbol. A stamp that was of the
raised type, when pressed into the soft sealing wax, would leave an
engraved image. A stamp that was of the engraved type, when pressed into
the soft sealing wax, would leave a raised, embossed image.
By now you should be wondering why I'm discussing the science of signet
rings and what it has to do with Parshas Titzaveh. However, before I
explain the direction of my thinking, it is important that we analyze the
two different signet rings from the perspective of Halacha (Jewish law).
Modern technological advances have made old-fashioned handwriting almost
obsolete. Letters and documents are typed, dictated, downloaded, e-mailed,
printed and sometimes read. Notes are spoken and recorded as sound bites or
scribbled on the screen of a palm-pilot; however, there are certain
documents and procedures that must be hand-written if they are to be valid.
One such procedure is the Get - divorce document. The Torah states that for
the divorce document to be valid it must be written. It is different from a
Ketubah that can be designed and reproduced for mass marketing. So long as
the pre-printed Ketubah can be personalized for the specific man, woman,
date, and place, the pre-printed Ketubah is valid. Not so with a Get.
The Talmud questions the Halachik (legal) classification of a stamped or
engraved Get. Everyone agrees that a copper sheet hand engraved with the
text of the Get is a valid Get. The act of engraving the words of the Get
on the copper sheet is an act of "writing."
However, the Talmud argues regarding the classification of a "stamped" Get.
Imagine a stamp (similar to the old-fashioned printing plates) molded with
the text of the Get. The discussion examines both types of stamps. The
raised stamp that creates an engraved image and the engraved stamp that
creates a raised image. The Talmud concludes that the raised stamp that
creates an engraved image should be classified as an act of writing and
such a Get would be valid. However, regarding the engraved stamp that
leaves a raised image the Talmud offers two conflicting opinions.
One opinion is that as the stamp is pressed into the surface of the metal
or wax the metal or wax is forced into the stamps engraving. The sealant
being forced into the stamp's engravings should be considered an act of
writing. The conflicting opinion says that as the stamp is pressed into the
metal or wax the material around the engraving is pushed away and the
resulting raised image should not be considered as an act of writing.
Rather, it is as if the image "appeared" on the surface of the metal or
wax. The act of writing demands that the letter be imposed on the surface
of the metal or wax, not that the letter should result when the sealant is
In this week's Parsha the eight garments of the Kohain Gadol (High Priest)
are described. One of those eight garments was the Tzitz. The Tzitz was a
thin golden plate worn across the forehead of the Kohain Gadol. On the
Tzitz was written the words "Kodesh LaHashem - Holy To G-d." The verse
(28:36) states that the words had to be engraved like the engraving of a
signet ring. This is understood to mean that the words were embossed
(raised) on the surface of the Tzitz. Furthermore, in Parshas Pikudei 39:30
it says that the words on the Tzitz were "written." Therefore, the Talmud
in Gittin (the tractate that discusses the laws of the Get) references the
Tzitz as proof positive that the act of stamping with an engraved stamp
should be considered as writing! If the Tzitz had to be "written" and the
letters on the Tzitz had to be raised, then an engraved stamp that leaves a
raised image must be considered as written!
The Talmud refutes the proof by pointing out that stamping did not form the
words of the Tzitz. Actually, the Tzitz was engraved on the backside of the
thin gold plate so that on the front side the words appeared as raised!
I would like to offer a possible insight into why the Tzitz had to be
produced in the manner that it was rather than through the process of
The Kohain Gadol represented the quintessential human. He was to be the
paradigm of what G-d intended when He said, "Let us make the human in our
image and form." As the Kohain Gadol, he lived a life of complete sanctity
and devotion to G-d. He was intended to be a role model for every Jew and
thereby a role model for the rest of humanity.
How does a person become the Kohain Gadol? Obviously he must be a direct
descendant of Aharon Hakohain. However, throughout history there were only
a relative handful of men who merited occupying that exalted station. The
office demanded far more than Yichus (ancestry). The position demanded an
individual who had worked through his own issues of life and was engaged in
the dally process of growth and perfection. The Kohain Gadol had to become
the sanctuary wherein which G -d's presence would dwell!
If he merited the position of Kohain Gadol he would wear the eight
ceremonial garments. Each of the garments had a different purpose. Each of
the garments worked with each other to reflect the inner sanctity of the
man who wore them. The Tzitz was by far the most telling of all the
garments. When the Kohain Gadol would fasten the Tzitz across his forehead
he publicly declared that he and the Mishkan were one. He and the Temple
service were one. Not only was G-d's presence manifest within the four
walls of the Tabernacle but also G-d was manifest through the person of the
Kohain Gadol. Engraved across his forehead were the words, "Holy To G-d!"
It is no small accomplishment for a free willed creature to manifest G-d.
It demands a lifetime of concentrated devotion and scholarship. It involves
molding one's character to reflect every sensitivity and concern while
being strong and courageous against all and any adversary. Such a person
just doesn't happen to come along. Such a person just isn't born. Such a
person has to be made from the inside out. If after a lifetime of devotion,
commitment, scholarship, and righteousness the opportunity presents itself
for such a person to become the Kohain Gadol, then and only then would he
merit to wear the Tzitz across his forehead. Only then could he stand
before the nation and proclaim with his very person, "Kodesh LaHashem -
Holy To G-d."
The declaration. "Kodesh LaHashem" had to be written. It could not just
come into being by being stamped. Furthermore, the process had to start
from inside (backside of the Tzitz) and work its way to the outside.
However, after all the internal and personal work was done, the position of
High Priest still demanded a unique personality who could manifest that
greatness externally. The words "Holy To G-d" could not be engraved on the
surface of the Tzitz. The words, "Holy To G-d" had to be raised - embossed
on the surface of the Tzitz." The inner process had to shine outward from
the being of the Kohain Gadol so that he could influence the nation as
their role model and teacher.
Becoming the Kohain Gadol and becoming a good person just doesn't happen.
It takes hard work to raise a good child and it takes hard work to remain a
good person. The image of the Kohain Gadol should be a lesson to us all
that within each of us is the possibility of greatness. Within each of us
is the potential to become a sanctuary that manifests G-d's will. However,
it can only be realized with a commitment to devotion, hard work,
scholarship, and courage. I would like to suggest that each of us is a
Kohain Gadol to our children and students. It is incumbent on us to ask
ourselves, "When my children or students look at me do they see the words,
"Kodesh LaHashem - Holy To G-d" engraved on my forehead?"
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.