Aharon will burn incense on [this altar] each morning when he cleans out the lamps. He will burn [incense] before evening when he kindles the lamps … (Shemos 30:7)
The above verse is referring to the mitzvah to burn incense daily, a mitzvah incumbent upon the kohanim. The Hebrew translation of the words “before evening when he kindles the lamps” is “es ha-neiros ben ha’arbayim.” According to the Arizal, if you take the first letter of each word (aleph, heh, bais, heh) and combine them, the word “ahava” (love) is formed, to allude to the spiritual root of the kohen, which is chesed (kindness) and love.
This is what is alluded to in the following mishnah:
Be of the students of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace. (Pirke Avos 1:12)
With all such allusions in the Chumash, one can ask, “Why here?” Why did the Torah see fit to teach this very important point about the kehuna while discussing the Incense-Offering, embedding the hint in a reference to the menorah which is not even the main topic of discussion? Is this to allude to a three-way connection between the priesthood, the Incense-Offering, and the menorah?
The parsha actually starts off with the mitzvah to make the oil for the menorah, and to kindle it each day. Then the Torah states:
Aharon and his sons shall set up [the lamps to burn] from evening until morning in G-d’s presence, in the Tent of Meeting, outside the cloth partition of the [Ark of] Testimony. (Shemos 27:21)
The Talmud interprets this verse as follows:
“… outside the cloth partition of the [Ark of] Testimony.”
The light (of the menorah) He (G-d) needed? For the entire 40-year period that the Jewish people traveled in the desert, they did so by His light (and not by the light of the menorah). Rather, (the light of the menorah) was for “testimony,” so that everyone in the world would know that the Divine Presence resided among the Jewish people. What was the testimony? That the western candle contained as much oil as the others, yet others were kindled from it, and its oil never diminished. (Shabbos 22b)
Miracles always seem to be associated with olive oil, specifically those that teach that spiritual resources never diminish. This is why, it is pointed out, that the word “ha-shemen” (the oil) is made up of the same letters that spell the word, “neshama,” which means soul. These letters also spell the word “sh’mona,” which means “eight,” a number that alludes to the supernatural, a world above decay and diminution.
The Incense-Offering also alludes to this concept, since incense is something that is enjoyed through the nose, through which the soul enters and leaves the body (which is why we bless a person after a sneeze!). For this reason, we make a blessing over a sweet-smelling fragrance on Motzei Shabbos and inhale it, to compensate ourselves somewhat for the loss of the “extra” soul we had gained over Shabbos. (Interestingly enough, of the five senses, smell was the only one that did not participate in the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and is said to have remained unaffected.) The Talmud calls the pleasure of smell one that benefits the soul and not the body (Brochos 43b).
The Kohen also symbolizes the same concept as well. His was life given over completely to the service of G-d; from very early in the morning and throughout the night, the kohen worked in the Temple, officiating the daily and special services. He did not “work” in the business world for a living, but, instead, relied entirely upon the generosity of G-d. He didn’t own land, and, he always had to be on guard against spiritual defilement. His was the life of the soul, which is rooted in chesed, and from which pours forth love and generosity.
We have not been called a “nation of priests” for nothing. It was to indicate to us that we have a special root, the tapping into of which frees us from petty interests and character traits. Jealousy, hatred, and all such negative traits are what surface when a person becomes “severed” from his soul. On the other hand, if we live up to our “priestly” ancestry, we can access our soul and rise above physicality, and enter into the world of peace and brotherhood.
As it has been pointed out many times, Moshe’s name is no where to be found in this week’s parsha. The reason for this is also well-known: when Moshe pleaded with G-d to spare the Jewish people from Divine retribution for their involvement in the golden calf, Moshe told G-d, “If you wipe them away, then erase me from Your book!” Moshe’s heroics worked to save the Jewish people, but it also cost him his name being mentioned at least in this week’s parsha, and example of what the Talmud states:
The curse of a wise man, even if said conditionally, come true. (Sanhedrin 90b)
The question is, why this week’s parsha? Why did G-d choose Parashas Tetzaveh to drop Moshe’s name, albeit temporarily, from the Torah?
The answer to this question, according to the Pri Tzaddik, lies in appreciating the theme of this week’s parsha, and the role of the kohen.
As we mentioned above, the parsha starts off with the mitzvah of kindling the menorah. The lighting of the menorah in the Temple alluded to the special light that is part of the Jewish soul that emanates from Above, and which is revealed through the Oral Law. The ability to instill this in the hearts of the Jewish people, and to bring it out in them, was one given over to Aharon and his fellow kohanim, by way of the lighting of the menorah.
This is why the Incense-Offering is also found in this week’s parsha as well. After all, does it not better fit into last week’s parsha, which included the commandment to construct the altar for this offering? However, says the Pri Tzaddik, since the Incense-Offering included one spice that was fowl spelling (from which we learn that a fast day must also include the sinners of Israel), it also alludes to Aharon’s ability to turn “evil” into good.
Hence, Parashas Tetzaveh is really about the priests’ ability to draw the people in the direction of holiness, which is really a function of their own holiness. This is also why Aharon HaKohen had the ability to resolve arguments on all levels, and make peace among his fellow Jews no matter what the quarrel. Holy people don’t fight; it’s too menial for them.
On the other hand, we learn from Parashas V’Eschanan that Moshe did not have the same influence on the nation. They quarreled around him and with him, and helped to keep him out of Eretz Canaan when they angered him to the point that he hit the rock instead of speaking to it to bring forth water. We tend to argue with wise men, but not so often with holy men.
This is why Moshe’s name is not mentioned in this week’s parsha. The name of a person emanates from his soul; a Hebrew name is more than a word, more than mere convention to locate a person in time and space. It is an expression of the person’s inner essence (even when the person doing the naming isn’t aware of this, since Divine Providence is). A Hebrew name is meant to reflect back to the spiritual “root” of a person, which is why it can often reflect his innate character traits.
The root of Moshe’s spiritual prowess was from “Keter Torah,” or, the “Crown of Torah.” This is not the direct “root” of the holiness of the kehuna, which is referred to as “Keter Kehuna,” the “Crown of the Priesthood.” Therefore, G-d chose this week’s parsha, which deals with the source of the priesthood, to not mention Moshe’s name and spiritual source.
However, ultimately, even the holiness of the kehuna “flows” from the “Crown of Torah,” and for this reason, even though Moshe’s name is not mentioned it is at least hinted to when the Torah says, “You command the children of Israel …” etc. That is, “you,” Moshe command …
Hence, even though Moshe was taken to task for his comment about being erased for the Torah, still, the temporary erasure ended up serving an even higher purpose.
“And you will command (tetzaveh) … to kindle the lamp continuously.” (Shemos 27:20)
Tetzaveh: The numerical value is equal to “nashim tzivah” (woman are commanded), to allude to the woman’s obligation to light candles for Shabbos. (Ba’al HaTurim)
Though many are accustomed to light Shabbos candles made from paraffin nowadays, some still follow the custom of using olive oil for this mitzvah, and the above allusion might just be a good source for the continuation of the custom.
The truth is, even without the Ba’al HaTurim’s incredible connection, we have other sources that support the use of olive oil for Shabbos candles. First of all, the midrash states:
He [Noach] waited another seven days and again sent the dove from the ark. Then, toward the evening the dove returned to him carrying a plucked olive leaf in its mouth. (Bereishis 8:10)
G-d said, “The olive brought light to the world,” as it says, “Then, toward the evening the dove returned to him carrying a plucked olive leaf in its mouth.” (VaYikrah Rabbah 31:10)
Another midrash on this week’s parsha is even more specific:
How is the Jewish people like the “dove”? When Noach was in the ark, the dove came to him with an olive branch. God said, “Just as the dove brought light to the world, so too will you (Jewish people) bring olive oil and light it before Me.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 5)
Therefore, it is not surprising to find out that according to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 264:6), olive oil fulfills the mitzvah in the most beautiful way. Tradition has it that the Vilna Gaon was particular to use olive oil, and that the Arizal recommended lighting at least two candles of olive oil.
True, in a “Disposable Society” such as ours, this may be (for some) a “bitter pill” to swallow (though, you can now buy disposable olive oil candles as well; however, you should put them into a separate bag before throwing them away since they were used for a mitzvah). But then again, whoever said Jews believed in the concept of a Disposable Society?
What a way to make the point!
Of the clothing that was specially made for the Kohen Gadol, the miter (forehead plate) best embodied not just the role of the kohen, but of all mankind. It was only a thin gold plate, about 1-1/2″ wide that was worn from ear-to-ear. However, on this plate were engraved the words, “Kodesh L’Hashem,” “Holy to G-d.”
These words did not simply remind the Kohen Gadol about himself and his surroundings, and about how they were to be treated. These words summed up the point of all of history, for all of mankind: bring creation to a point that every aspect of it is holy to G-d, as it once was in the Garden of Eden, and as it will once again be after Moshiach’s comes.
It is not unlike Bris Milah. G-d made man quite perfect, but not completely perfect. This had not be an oversight, but a way in which to involve man in his own completion, by allowing him to remove what was spiritually unseemly on the outside, to reveal what is spiritually beautiful on the inside. In this way, man could know that life was meant to channel his creative powers in a holy direction, in spite of the forces pulling the opposite way.
This is true of every aspect of creation. The entire world is here to serve man, but in a constructive way. Man, the great manipulator is often man, the manipulated, as the Talmud warns can be the case:
Everyday the yetzer hara (evil inclination) strengthens itself to overcome the person. (Kiddushin 30b)
How does the yetzer hara overcome a person? By making the person insensitive to the world around him, and by lowering his spiritual perspective until the world around him becomes his “plaything,” there only to enhance the physical quality of his life. The words “Holy to G-d” are a “potion” of death to the yetzer hara!
Today, around the world and even in Eretz Yisroel, a land that is inherently imbued with holiness, there are those who are looking to abolish Bris Milah, if not nationally, at least personally. They know not with what they tamper!
Aside from the fact that Bris Milah is the concept that helps to define the Jewish people, and which allows the Jews to remain spiritually connected to G-d no matter how low we sink, it is also Bris Milah that reminds us of our mission here on earth. When one attacks the concept of Bris Milah, he attacks the whole concept of “Holy to G-d,” which is tantamount to attacking the entire purpose of mankind. Those who did this in the past did not remain around long enough to talk about it!
And even though we feel relatively secure as people, for the moment, from any inherent danger, we should heed the Talmud’s advice: When the stones of an arch are shaken up, each stone must be concerned for its well-being. As we learn from the story of Purim, when Jewish holiness becomes endangered, or worse, scarce, it is then that Amalek, the Jewish nemesis seems to show up on the stage of history … on the Jewish side of the stage.
We are a “nation of priests,” a holy nation, meant to live in holiness, and to bring holiness to the world. On that note, have a wholly wonderful holy Shabbos.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org