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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Tetzavah

"And you will command Bnei Yisrael and they shall take for you pure olive oil, beaten for light, to fuel the eternal light." (27:20)

Upon reading the text, one understands this pasuk to be commanding Moshe to instruct Bnei Yisrael in the preparation of oil for the Menorah. The word however, has a different grammatical connotation. It means that Moshe will command Bnei Yisrael concerning the oil at some future point. In order to convey to Moshe that a command would be issued immediately, the Torah should have said, command, which, indeed, it does in Sefer Vayikra. In Vayikra 24:1, Hashem instructs Moshe to command Bnei Yisrael to prepare olive oil. The advanced notice of a command is unusual. Why does Hashem forewarn Moshe about an upcoming command? What is unique about the pure olive oil that it receives so much preliminary attention?

Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, posits that the concept of "pure olive oil" serves as an analogy for an approach to Torah study. Just as the oil had to be pure from its initial emergence from the press in order to be acceptable for the Menorah , so, too, must one study Torah in a pure and untainted manner. Oil that had once contained impurities, albeit now thoroughly refined, was still not suitable for the Menorah. Likewise, when we teach Torah, we must teach in a manner that prevents the admission of any "impurities" which would later require cleansing. Once the lesson has been tainted, purification is extremely difficult.

What are the ramifications of this idea? When we approach the study of Torah, we must manifest a conviction that we are studying dvar Hashem, words of the living G-d. Torah is absolute truth because it originates from the source of truth. Questions are welcomed and encouraged as long as they are genuine and represent a search for the truth. At no time may one entertain a question challenging the validity of Torah. Questions must serve to clarify a specific matter, so that we can better understand. Torah study is the basis for a Jew's total perspective on life. It molds and shapes the manner in which he views world society, its cultures and values. It protects him from the harmful influence of his broader environment.

We now understand why the mitzvah of preparing the pure oil merited a special announcement that it would be given in the future. Hashem made this announcement to Moshe, who was pure himself. Having received the Torah directly from Hashem, Moshe committed every fibre of his being to the concept of pure Torah -- without embellishment. Thus, he should be the one to command Bnei Yisrael regarding the pure oil. He was the most qualified, because he reflected the very concepts he would teach, in his personal life and demeanor. In order to learn and to accept Torah from a rebbe, it is essential for the teacher to represent the ideals and values that he is transmitting. Moshe lived the ideology that he taught!

"And these are the garments they shall make." (28:4)

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, Shlita, cites a story from the Talmud Shabbos 31a from which we can glean a significant lesson regarding the impact of Torah study on one's life. A gentile was once passing by a classroom where a rebbe was teaching Parashas Tetzaveh to a group of young students. The rebbe was describing the beauty and splendor manifested by the vestments of the Kohen Gadol. The students and the eavesdropper were totally captivated with the detailed descriptions of the impressive garments. The gentile thought to himself, "I will convert to Judaism, so that I can become a Kohen Gadol. One day I will be the proud owner of these vestments."

He went off to Hillel, the pre-eminent sage of that time, with a request that he convert him, so that he could become the Kohen Gadol. Hillel responded that the gentile first would have to study Torah and become proficient with the many intricate laws of the avodah, service, in the Bais Ha'Mikdash.

The gentile began studying Torah in earnest. He was diligent and zealous in his studies. All went well until he came across the pasuk in Bamidbar 1:51, "And the stranger that approaches (the Sanctuary) shall surely die." He wondered who was this "stranger" to which the Torah was referring. He was subsequently told that this law applied to anyone who was not born a Kohen. Even a Jewish king was prohibited from entering the Sanctuary! When he heard this, he concluded that certainly one who was not born Jewish could never have a chance to enter the Sanctuary. So, how could have ever become a Kohen Gadol? Nonetheless, he continued studying Torah, eventually converting to Judaism.

Horav Leibowitz asks a compelling question. Since the driving force in the gentile's study was his desire to become the Kohen Gadol, why did he not turn back as soon as he became aware that his studies would not lead to his goal? What changed his attitude, so that he was now willing to convert despite his inability to ever wear the priestly vestments of the Kohen Gadol? Was he not aware of the hardship and sacrifice that he would endure as a Jew without reaping his intended benefits?

Only one change had transpired in this young man's life, only one new factor had made the difference. He had studied Torah! This study had such a profound impact on him that literally his whole perspective on life changed. It initiated a new outlook, a new understanding, an altogether different attitude from that which he had manifested previously. He was now content to share his fate with that of the Jewish people, despite the lack of the special incentive which had motivated him earlier.

Now let us think about this. If a gentile who studied Torah purely for personal reasons became inspired to the point that he desired to convert, how much more so should Torah leave a lasting impression upon us? After all, we study Torah l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. How do we assess the impact Torah study has on us? Perhaps the easiest, and probably the most effective, manner would be to focus on our peers who do not study Torah. Sometimes we do not fully appreciate how full our lives are until we look around and note the emptiness of those who do not live as we do. The more we study, the more we see to it that our children and those around us study, the better individuals we become, both as human beings in general and as Jews in particular.

"And the Choshen shall not be loosened from the Eiphod. " (28:28)

Every one of Hashem's mitzvos is eternal in nature. They are applicable forever. If so, how do we reconcile the mitzvah of not loosening/separating the Choshen from the Eiphod? After all, we have neither a Bais Ha'Mikdash nor Kohanim who serve with their priestly vestments. Degel Machne Efraim responds that the mitzvah serves as an analogy for the middah of emes, attribute of truth. The Torah adjures everyone to speak the truth. At no time shall the Choshen, which alludes to the heart, since it is placed directly over it, be separated from the Eiphod, which signifies the mouth, as its numerical equivalent is the same as mouth. The pasuk teaches us a formidable lesson. One should not distance his mouth from his heart. He must always speak the truth.. He must articulate with his mouth that which is in his heart. Emes, truth, must flow through every fibre of a Jew's body.

This idea is a departure from the standard concept of sheker, falsehood. The Torah forbids us from speaking falsely. What about one who speaks the truth, but his words do not emanate from his heart? He speaks from his mouth, not from his heart. That is considered sheker, since it does not represent unity.

Orchos Tzaddikim writes that one who prays to Hashem must be sure that his supplication is in total harmony with his heart. He should not say one thing, while thinking another. His intentions should be synchronized with the words he utters. He means the words he says. None of the following represents a tefillah of emes: one who prays in a manner to attract the attention of those around him; one who is more concerned with the sound of his voice than the conviction of his prayers; one whose vested interests motivate his prayers. David Ha'Melech says in Tehillim 145:18, "Hashem is close to all who call upon Him - to all who call upon him sincerely." Hashem responds to those who pray with emes, whose words reflect conviction, not simply superficial form.

When we pray for our own well-being, whether it is spiritual or physical in nature, our prayers must be truthful, originating from the heart. When we ask for Divine assistance in Torah study or forgiveness for sin, it must be founded in sincere motivation. Avodas Penim presents a fascinating observation regarding veracity in prayer. He questions why one who implores Hashem for his physical/material needs does not necessarily receive a positive response. Certainly when one prays for himself, his supplication is truthful and sincere. He desires to be healthy and to have sufficient material provision, so that he can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Is that not "true"? The error we make, he posits, is that we do not really believe with all of our heart that Hashem is the sole source of health and welfare. As long as one thinks that his close friends or relatives will help to support him, or his doctor will be the one to heal him, then his prayers lack the necessary integrity. We turn to Hashem completely only when the situation is very bleak, when we no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel. The problem is that by that time our sincere prayers might be too late.

"A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate on the hem of the robe all around." (28:34)

Peninim Yekarim suggests that the golden bells were symbolic of wealth, while the pomegranates represented mitzvos and good deeds. Indeed, Chazal in the Talmud Berachos 57 state that every Jew is as full of mitzvos as a pomegranate has seeds. The bells were alternated with the pomegranates all around the hem of the Kohen Gadol's tunic. We derive from this pasuk that only when wealth is integrated with mitzvos and good deeds does it serve a purpose and benefit the world.

In Shir Ha'Shirim 6:7, Shlomo Ha'Melech says, "As many as a pomegranate's seeds are the merits of your unworthiest." The Midrash explains that even the illiterate Jew performs mitzvos and is as replete with merits as a pomegranate has seeds. Let us think about this. If they are filled with mitzvos, why are they considered empty and unworthy? Also, what is the analogy of the pomegranate? Horav Y.D. Povarsky, Shlita, distinguishes between an apple and a pomegranate in order to demonstrate the concepts of synthesis and unity. An apple is a single entity in which the entire fruit is unified together. The pomegranate, on the other hand, is a conglomerate of seeds, each seed exclusive of the other, "wrapped" individually, but amalgamated into one outer shell/fruit. This is analogous to one who performs a mitzvah, but does not fuse that mitzvah into his being to the point that he and the mitzvah become melded together as one. The essence of mitzvah observance is to change us so that we become consecrated. This occurs when we perform mitzvos with the proper kavanah, intention, and the right attitude. True, the reikim, unworthy ones, have mitzvos. They are, however, still viewed as vacuous and unworthy, since these mitzvos were not performed l'shem Shomayim. The performer does not intend to merge himself with the mitzvah to become a single unit.

As the outer skin of the pomegranate serves only as a container for the separate seeds, so, too, does an individual who simply performs mitzvos without "connecting " with them remain unworthy. These mitzvos, like the skin of the pomegranates leave no lasting impression on the individual.


1. What differentiates Parashas Tetzaveh from all the other parshios in Sefer Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim?

2. What is the halachah if a Kohen performs the avodah while not wearing all of the bigdei Kehunah?

3. What purpose does the Tzitz serve, besides being one of the priestly vestments?

4. For which sins did the various priestly vestments atone?

5. How many bells and ornamental pomegranates were attached to the Me'il?

6. How many Olos were sacrificed during the seven days of Milluim?

7. Did the Shelamim that were offered during the seven days of Milluim have a status of Kodshei Kodoshim or Kodshei Kalim?


1. The name of Moshe Rabbeinu is not mentioned.

2. He is punished with premature death.

3. The Tzitz atoned for korbanos which became tamei but were offered anyway. The Tzitz rendered these impure korbanos kosher, and it was, therefore, necessary to offer an additional korban in their place.

4. The Kesones atoned for the shedding of innocent blood; the michnasayim for immorality; the Mitznefes for arrogance; the avnet for sinful thoughts; the Choshen for perversion of justice; the eiphod for idol-worship; the me'il for lashon hora, and the Tzitz for brazenness.

5. 72 bells and 72 pomegranates.

6. Exclusive of the regular Olos Tamid, seven were offered, one each day.

7. Kodshei Kodoshim.

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