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 removed.
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 stamping.
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.