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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Tetzaveh

Now you shall command Bnei Yisrael.... (27:20)

Parashas Tetzave is the only parsha since Moshe's birth that does not mention his name explicitly. Every mitzvah and command mentioned in the parsha, however, is initiated with the word, "V’atah,", "And you," referring to Moshe. Apparently, Moshe is the prime focus of this parsha, although his name is not recorded. Why? Chazal tell us that the curse of a tzaddik, even if it is contingent upon specific conditions, takes effect despite the fact that those conditions are not met. When Moshe Rabbeinu entreated Hashem on behalf of Klal Yisrael after they sinned with the Eigal Ha'zahav, Golden Calf, he said to Hashem, "If you do not forgive their sin, I beg You, erase my name from Your Book," a reference to the Torah. We may question why, of all the parshios, Tetzave is chosen to be the one from which Moshe’s name is excluded?

The commentators offer various answers to this question. Some say that since Moshe Rabbeinu’s yahrzeit is on the seventh day of Adar, which invariably falls out during the week of Parashas Tetzave, it is logical that this is the parsha from which Moshe’s name is missing. This answer is enigmatic. One would think that specifically during the week in which Moshe passed away, his name would be remembered as much as possible. After all, what greater tribute is there to our great leader than remembering him on his yahrzeit?

Horav Elchanan Sorotzkin, zl, feels that the Torah's omission of Moshe Rabbeinu’s name specifically in Parashas Tetzave, during his yahrzeit, speaks volumes about Moshe’s greatness as a leader and as a Jew. Moshe Rabbeinu was prepared to sacrifice more than just his physical life for the Jewish People; he was prepared to relinquish his spiritual life, his neshamah, for them. The Torah is called Toras Moshe, the Torah of Moshe. For what greater appreciation can one hope? Our Torah is immutable; it will never be revised or exchanged. It will always remain Toras Moshe. Yet, Moshe was ready to relinquish the ultimate spiritual nachas, his name engraved for all eternity in the Torah. When Moshe entreated Hashem and gave his incredible "ultimatum," he knew that regardless of the outcome, his name would be erased. A person of his position does not make idle "threats." He was prepared to have his name erased; he knew that once he had made such a statement, his name would be erased. Yet, Moshe's love for his people was so overwhelming that he did it despite the consequences. Is there then any greater tribute to the adon haneviim, father of all prophets, the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael, than to leave his name out of the parsha that falls on his yahrzeit? In this manner, everyone will acknowledge the greatness of his deed.

You shall make holy vestments for Aharon your brother, for glory and splendor. (28:2)

The Kohanim are to be clothed in vestments which reflect their wearers' noble position. These garments were similar to the garb worn by royalty. They gave glory to Hashem as they lent splendor to the Kohanim who wore them. The Kohen serves as the spiritual mentor to Klal Yisrael. His total demeanor, including his clothes, must reflect the lofty position he holds. He teaches Torah, the code of Jewish Law authored by Hashem. As the Almighty's representative for disseminating His Torah, his mode of dress must reflect dignity, sanctity and splendor. When the people gaze upon the Kohanim donned in their beautiful vestments, they will accord them the respect they merit.

The Torah’s focus upon the Kohen’s external appearance seems inconsistent with his focus in life. The Rambam at the end of Hilchos Shemittah v’Yovel writes that the Levi did not receive a portion in Eretz Yisrael because Hashem distinguished this shevet, tribe, for devotion to His service and to teach His Torah to the people. Shevet Levi is not to be involved in the mundane. They do not go to war like the other tribes; they do not inherit the land or bequeath it to others. They constitute Hashem’s army. He is their portion.

Why is it that Hashem’s legion, the tribe who is to devote itself totally to Him, who is to divorce itself completely from the pedestrian affairs of life, is required to dress in a regal manner? Is it appropriate for the individual who is most removed from everyday life to place so much emphasis on the manner in which he dresses? Should someone who wears the "crown of Hashem" concern himself with clothes?

Horav Shmuel Truvitz, Shlita, explains that just as the other tribes are adjured to show deference to the Kohen, to exalt his position and to give him special honor, so too, should the Kohen himself reflect upon his position. He must remember who he is and what he represents. In other words, the Torah’s demand that the Kohen’s vestments be exceptional is as much a command for the Kohen himself as it is for the people. He must maintain himself on a level becoming his station in life. The vestments he wears completes the picture. They complement the kedushah, holiness, inherent in the Kohen. Without them the Kohen is missing a very significant aspect of his total persona. He may not serve without his vestment, because they constitute an integral part of the Kohen’s total demeanor.

The idea that one must recognize his own lofty status is an important one. All too often people fall prey to sin and depression because they fail to realize who they are. The respect we receive from others is commensurate with our own self-respect. If we do not appreciate who we are, how can we expect others to do the same?

The Yalkut Shimoni in Bereishis cites Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel who says, "All the days that I served my father I never came within one hundredth of the manner in which Eisav served his father, Yitzchak. When I served my father, I dressed in everyday clothes. When I went outside I changed into my finer, fancier clothes. Eisav, on the other hand, served his father dressed in bigdei malchus, clothing fit for royalty." The question is compelling: If Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel felt that something was lacking in the way he was dressed when he went to visit his father, why did he not change into better clothes? Why would he believe that his Kibbud Av was not as good as Eisav’s if he could simply don fancy clothes and do as Eisav did?

The Baalei Mussar explain that wearing fancy clothes as an end in itself has little significance. Eisav distinguished himself in that he recognized that serving and honoring one’s father was such an important and sublime thing to do that it mandated wearing the finest clothing. It is not the clothes; it is the underlying idea that those clothes represent. Eisav had the correct idea. Regrettably, he did not follow through.

Horav Chaim Shmulevitz, zl, supplements this idea. Eisav sensed that wearing these stately garments transformed him into a more distinguished person. After all, do not clothes reflect the person? He became more dignified, a greater person, making his act of Kibbud Av that much greater. When an activity is performed by a prominent person, it lends greater significance to the endeavor. Wearing distinctive clothing without sensing that they do something for the wearer undermines their significance. If the person does not feel different, then the mitzvah will not be distinct either. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel did not sense the need to wear new clothes because he did not feel that they would accomplish anything for him. Clothing was not something this great Tanna needed to make him feel any more important. His self-image did not need any external reinforcement. Consequently, putting on fancy clothes would have created a superficial facade, something which would only have demeaned the mitzvah.

And Aharon shall bear the judgment of the Bnei Yisrael on his heart constantly before Hashem. (28:30)

This pasuk is a reference to the Choshen, Breastplate, which Aharon wore. The Choshen was folded in half to form a pocket into which was placed a parchment containing Hashem’s Ineffable Name. This was called the Urim V’Tumim. The Urim V'Tumim catalyzed the individual letters of the names of the shevatim which were inscribed on the Choshen to light up and give answers to questions of national importance. The zechus, merit, of wearing the Choshen was given to Aharon because of his special character. When he was coming to greet Moshe, after Moshe had been selected by Hashem to be the one to lead the Jews out of Egypt, he came with a smile and a gladness of heart, as the Torah records in Shemos 4:14: "And when he (Aharon) sees you (Moshe) he will rejoice in his heart." This remarkable devotion and love for a younger brother, this incredible selflessness, was rewarded with the Choshen that was worn over the heart that rejoiced.

Was it so difficult to rejoice for a brother’s good fortune? Does Aharon deserve such an amazing tribute just for being happy for his brother? Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebentzahl, Shlita, identifies that there are various levels of selflessness. It is one thing to defer to one's brother. It is a totally different phenomenon when an individual has shouldered the responsibility of leadership for years of persecution, pain and sorrow just to have his younger brother take over--and yet be happy about it. This represents middos tovos, good character, in the truest sense of the word. Aharon experienced pure, unadulterated joy for Moshe’s good fortune. Furthermore, Aharon was himself the leader of the Jewish People. He would now descend from the pedestal of leadership to be second-in-command, and he was pleased for his brother!

It is easier to share in one’s sorrow than to celebrate his joy. In order to transcend personal feelings, one must consider his friend to be an integral part of himself. His heart is my heart; his joy is my joy. We are one. This was the madreigah, spiritual level, of Aharon. Only a person who possesses such a big heart, who was able to include others in his reality, had the merit to wear the Breastplate over his heart.

Horav Nebentzahl notes that Aharon is praised and rewarded for his love of his brother. Is that such a great challenge? The Torah implies that one who demonstrates love, one who is sensitive to the needs of those close to him, will similarly be loving and caring to those that are distant from him. Does this represent a realistic approach? One would assume that the real test of a sensitive person is that one cares about those that are suffering in distant lands or those with whom he has no familial relationships. The Torah view obviously does not coincide with what has regrettably become normative behavior in our society.

Caring about those in distant lands is not as demanding as caring about people who are close by. Such love has no requirements. We do what we can. Some even go beyond their means to help faraway people with total devotion and love. When all is said and done, however, such caring does not carry with it heavy responsibilities. The individual in need is not at my doorstep. I do not have to cope with him all of the time, even when it is inconvenient. In contrast, to love a neighbor, to get along with a friend whom we see every day, who can be bothersome, might not be as easy. To put up with a brother who might be very demanding, a friend whose luck has changed, or who is depressed and needs someone with whom to talk--at all hours of the day or night--might be a bit more difficult. Friendship can be very exhausting at times.

Is it any wonder that so many communal organizations flock to help the Jew overseas, while the Jew in town has nowhere to turn? Many individuals open their wallets, their homes, and their hearts, to those that are distant, those that are not even Jewish, while their brethren are so needy. We tend to gravitate to the exotic tzedakos, the attention grabbers, while those who are very near and very much in need continue to suffer. Aharon was lauded for the love he demonstrated for his brother. It would serve us well to exhibit similar devotion at home.

And Aharon shall burn upon it (the mizbayach of ketores) the incense--spices every morning; when he cleans the lamp he is to burn it. (30:7)

Aharon was commanded to burn the Ketores at the same time that he cleaned the lamps of the Menorah. Is there some significance to performing these two seemingly unrelated aspects of the avodah together? Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, cites Chazal who say the burning of the Ketores atoned for the sin of lashon hora. The Menorah, on the other hand, was the symbol of limud ha’Torah. The Menorah is the remedy for the sin of lashon hora. One who studies Torah will invariably sanctify his entire body, including his power of speech. How can he use the mouth that studies Torah to slander another Jew? How can he defile his G-d-given power of speech? This represents the essence of Torah.

We may supplement this idea when we take into consideration that it was specifically the cleaning of the Menorah that was performed at the same time as the burning of the Ketores. One should view the preparation for the lighting as being an integral part of the lighting. Likewise, one’s attitude and approach towards Torah study from the time of preparation will affect the actual learning. In fact, the attitude is the most critical. If one approaches Torah study as an exercise in mental gymnastics, it will not be an endeavor that sanctifies him. If, however, from the very onset his approach is one of kedushah and taharah, holiness and purity, it will have a dual effect on him, protecting him from sin.


1. What is the difference between the oil used for the Menorah and that used for Menachos?
2. What are the differences between the Kesones and the Me’il?
3. Where do we find gold used in the Choshen and the Ephod?
4. What is the difference between the Choshen worn by the Kohen Gadol during the first Bais Hamikdash and that which he wore in the second one?
5. What punishment is incurred by a Kohen Gadol who performs the avodah not wearing all eight of the vestments?
6. During the seven days of Milluim, how many Shelamim were sacrificed?
7. Where was the Mizbayach Ha’ketores situated?


1. The oil used for the Menorah must be "kasis" crushed without any sediment, while the oil used for Menachos does not have to be as pure.
2. The Kesones is made of linen. The Me’il, which is made of techeiles, blue wool, has a border at its hem which has fringes of pomegranates made of blue, red, and purple wool, and golden bells.
3. A gold strand was included in the actual weaving with the four types of strings.
4. During the first Bais Hamikdash, the Choshen had the Urim V’Tumim in it.
5. Missah b’ydei Shomayim, death penalty imposed by Heaven.
6. Seven.
7. It was placed in the Kodesh opposite the place where the Aron was situated in the Kodesh HaKodoshim. It was closer to the doorway of the Mishkan, between the Shulchan and the Menorah.


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