Back to this week's Parsha Peninim on the Torah Previous issues
Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Tetzaveh

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

Hashem commanded Moshe to have direct personal involvement regarding the next three mitzvos: the preparation of the oil; the designation of the Kohanim; the selection of those wise and talented people who would make the Bigdei Kehunah, Priestly vestments, and build the Mishkan. Horav Shabsai Yudelevitz, zl, interprets this pasuk homiletically. He cites an incident in which a student of Rav Yisrael Salanter came to the famous founder of the Mussar movement, stating that he would like to go to Germany to give Mussar, lectures in character refinement and Torah observance, to the people therein the hope that he would catalyze them to repent and mend their ways. Rav Yisrael responded by saying that the student's undertaking was admirable. He said, however, "I think what you are doing is truly noble, but have you finished Russia, that you are so bent upon going to Germany?" The student thought a moment and responded, "The rebbe is right.I will first focus on Russia." Rav Yisrael said to his student, "Have you completed inspiring Poland to repent, that you are prepared to undertake Russia?" "No, rebbe, you are right. I will concentrate on Poland before I go on to distant countries."

Rav Yisrael was not yet finished with his student. He turned to him and asked, "Have you addressed the lack of observance in your own community? Furthermore, what about your family? Are you so sure that all is well at home? Also, since we are getting close to home, have you introspected and confirmed that there are no areas to correct in your own personal behavior? Before you attempt to save the world, first verify that you have developed spiritually."

This is the meaning of the pasuk. "Veatah," and you. First and foremost, one must mend his own areas of observance. His total demeanor should be paradigmatic, setting an example for others. Only then can he "tetzave es Bnei Yisrael," command others, reproaching them, showing them the way to a Torah life; marked by sincerity and sensitivity. If he follows this prescription, he may hope for success in his endeavor.

Horav Ovadia Yosef, Shlita, makes a similar observation regarding the Eiphod, apron. The Torah teaches us that the Kohen Gadol wore a garment that was similar to an apron. This was called the Eiphod. The Eiphod was attached by the Cheishav Ha'Eiphod, belt. The Torah says in pasuk 28:8, "The belt with which it is attached which is on it, shall be of the same workmanship."

Horav Yosef explains that the Torah refers to children as the begadim, garments, of their parents. We find this analogy in the Talmud Sanhedrin, 93, as Chazal interpret the rebuke to Yehoshua Kohen Gadol, "Take off the soiled garments from him." Does the Kohen Gadol wear soiled vestments? This must be a reference to the behavior of his sons, who married women who were unbecoming to the stature and lineage of the Kehunah, and Yehoshua did not protest. He was, therefore, held in contempt.

This analogy presents the idea that, just as one is proud of and dignifies himself with the clothes he wears, so, too, are children reared with proper derech eretz, who are G-d fearing and Torah erudite, a credit to their parents. Thus, the Eiphod, which was a special vestment, implies a lesson regarding one's children. There is one caveat, however: Children are, for the most part, a product of the parents who serve as a standard for children to emulate. Regrettably, the converse is also true. The character refinement, virtues and observances of children are reinforced by the exemplification of the goals and aspirations of their parents.

The story is told of a father who was about to punish his son physically for eating bread without washing his hands. The father grasped his son's two legs in one hand while he held a stick which he was about to "use" on the boy's legs in the other hand. As the father was about to strike his son, the stick "slipped," and he instead hit himself on the hand that was holding the boy. The somewhat insolent son remarked to his father, "It is Heavenly justice that you struck yourself instead of me. For had I observed you washing your hands/netillas yadaim before meals, I would have followed suit. You are being reprimanded for what you have neglected to do."

This is the meaning of the pasuk. The "belt" refers to children; "with which it is emplaced, which is on it" who are dependent upon their parents for physical and spiritual sustenance; "shall be of the same workmanship," as the parents set the standard, so that they can expect their children to emulate them. The actions of parents serve as a foreshadowing of what they might expect from their children.

That they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination. (27:20)

The oil that was used for the Menorah was to be pure, untainted by any olive particles or sediment. The oil that was used for the Menachos, meal-offerings, was derived from crushed, rather than pressed, olives. Hence, this oil was not as pure. The commentators render this disparity homiletically. Horav Shlomo Sofer, zl, cites the fact that the Menorah and its light are symbolic of the Torah and daas Torah, its perspective. When dealing with Torah perspective, we must retain the essence of purity. We make no allowance for alien philosophies. It must be pure - like the oil for the Menorah. Indeed, our fear has never been in response to those that have chosen to transgress the Torah. Rather, the major threat to Torah Judaism has been from those whose interpretation of the Torah has either been blemished from the start or has been tainted as a result of an alien, non-Torah-oriented perspective.

We may add another lesson that can be derived from the fact that the oil for the Menorah was prepared by a gentle pressing of the olive, releasing the purest oil. The Menorah, which serves as an analogy for Torah study, teaches us an important lesson in Jewish education. In order to effect the most desirable and successful result in teaching our students, we must teach them in a gentle and loving manner. By crushing the olive/student, placing upon him almost unbearable demands, we will not produce a ben-Torah according to the Torah's perspective. "Divrei Torah b'nachas nishmaim," words of Torah, if taught in a pleasant manner, are heard and received.

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

The Kohanim, especially the Kohen Gadol, were to wear vestments that reflected the nobility of their station and service. The commentators offer a number of explanations for the terms "glory" and "splendor," as well as the reasons for demanding that the Bigdei Kehunah be such garments that are similar to those worn by royalty. Let it suffice that the Torah demanded that the vestments worn by the Kohanim were to be unique in their beauty, thereby dignifying the Kohanim and Hashem, Whom they served. Indeed, if a Kohen served in the Bais Hamikdash mechusar begadim, not wearing all of the priestly vestments, he was liable to kares, Heavenly excision, before his time. We may question the necessity for this overwhelming emphasis on the Bigdei Kehunah. The idea of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying a mitzvah, applies to all mitzvos. Why did the Torah single out the Bigdei Kehunah as a mitzvah that requires beauty and perfection?

Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, distinguishes between the concept of hiddur mitzvah, which applies throughout all mitzvos, and the necessity for the Bigdei Kehunah to be made l'chavod u'lesiferes, for glory and splendor. For every mitzvah, in addition to the actual commandment that the mitzvah be fulfilled, there is a separate halachah, law, that demands this mitzvah be performed with beauty and dignity. For example, a Sefer Torah should be written with a beautiful script, the letters clear and precise. Yet, if the letters are kosher, the Sefer Torah is deemed kosher, even if the letters are not overly distinctive. The Bigdei Kehunah, however, must be regal and beautiful as part of their composition. Tiferes and hadar comprise the actual mitzvah; they are not supplementary criteria regarding the mitzvah's appearance.

Horav Nebentzhal points out that it is necessary to be cognizant of the relationship between the principal component in a mitzvah and its secondary aspect. A succah which fulfills the architectural specifications for a kosher succah is completely valid for mitzvah performance, regardless of its outer and inner decoration. As mentioned before, this is not true regarding the Bigdei Kehunah. This idea can be applied to life in general. One must learn to prioritize what is truly essential and place less emphasis upon the ancillary.

Let us examine the concept of material possessions. Certainly it is difficult to perform many mitzvos if one does not have the necessary wherewithal. Without money, one will have a difficult time purchasing a Lulav and Esrog or Matzos. There is a place for money, however, second place. Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven were criticized for placing the well-being of their sheep ahead of their children.

The same idea applies to precedence in mitzvos and chumros, stringencies, that are erroneously prioritized. Horav Nebentzhal cites Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, who commented regarding this story in the Talmud Yoma, 23a: Two Kohanim were racing up the Kevesh, ramp, in order to be the first one to get the Terumas Hadeshen, ashes from the burnt sacrifices. In his overwhelming desire to perform the mitzvah, one Kohen grabbed a knife and slew the other Kohen. Unquestionably, this violent act is outrageous. The same Kohen who was overcome with love and devotion to serve in the Mikdash because it is Hashem's command, "forgot" about Hashem's command of "Lo sirtzach," Do not murder!

Rabbi Tzadok was delivering divrei hisorerus, words of arousement and inspiration, to all those who witnessed this tragic act, when suddenly the father of the Kohen who died cried out, "The knife did not become tamei, actually contaminated; my son is not yet dead!" During his son's final moments, the father was concerned about the tumah of the holy vessels of the Bais Hamikdash! The tragedy would be diminished, the pain of his son's death would be decreased, by the knowledge that the knife did not become contaminated.

The Rabbis of the Talmud address this shocking response: were the Kohanim overly stringent with the laws of ritual purity, or were they overly lenient in regard to human life? The Talmud responds that they did not accept the same degree of stringency for human life as for ritual purity. Rav Chaim commented that even had the Talmud responded that they were not lenient in regard to murder, but simply following the letter of the law, for ritual purity was an area for which they had profound respect, it would still have been a travesty of Jewish law. The mere thought that anything, any area in Jewish law, would take precedence over the sanctity of human life is in itself a tragic and destructive attitude. This undermines the foundation of Judaism itself. It is forbidden to forget to distinguish between the ikar, fundamental and essential requisite, and the tafel, secondary, and -- in this case -- insignificant principle. Regrettably, some of us have still not established appropriate priorities.

It must be on Aharon to minister, its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary...and when he leaves. (28:35)

The bells which were attached to the bottom hem of the Kohen Gadol's robe obviously created a noise when he walked. This noise was by design, in order to signal his entry and departure from the Sanctuary. Menachem Tzion renders this pasuk homiletically. All too often, when a congregation /community or school chooses a rabbi / leader, we hear praises about him. His merits are publicly lauded to impress people and, in many cases, to justify his selection. A few years later, when for various reasons he no longer satisfies the whims of the powers that be, rather than suffer destructive humiliation, he just leaves quietly, happy to escape with his sanity. The sound of a spiritual leader should be so appealing that it also follows him when he leaves. "His sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary," when he assumes his position of leadership, "and when he leaves", on his own volition to more fertile pastures.

In an alternative exposition, Horav Aharon Zakai, Shlita, applies this pasuk to the observant individual whose devotion in the synagogue is exemplary. The sounds that emanate from him as he prays with fervor and devotion can hardly go unnoticed. It is when he leaves the spiritual atmosphere of the shul; when he is out in the marketplace earning a living; when he is out there dealing with others that his behavior leaves something to be desired. He is enjoined that if he desires to attain a level of dveikus b'Hashem, attachment to the Almighty, the "sounds" that he makes when he enters the Sancturary to pray and study should accompany him as he leaves to involve himself in his mundane activities. The religious fervor that he exhibits in shul must set the standard for him all day wherever he goes. This interpretation addresses all of us.

1. What is the difference between the oil that was used for the Menorah and that used for the Menachos?

2. a. Of what material was the Kesones made?

b. Of what material was the Me'il made?

3. Which shevet was symbolized by the sapir stone?

4. What difference was there between the Choshen worn by the Kohen Gadol during the first Bais Hamikdash and the second Bais Hamikdash?

5. Who is the first to assume the position of Kohen Gadol after the Kohen Gadol dies?

6. Of what was the Mizbayach Ha'Ketores made?

7. Where was the Mizbayach Ha'Ketores placed?


1. The oil used for the Menorah was to be pure of any sediment or particles. Hence, it was the oil that emerged from the olive after gently pressing it. The oil for the Menachos was derived from crushed olives, which included sediment and olive particles.

2. a. Linen. b. Techeles, purple wool

3. Dan

4. The Urim V'Tumim was in the Choshen only during the first Bais Hamikdash.

5. The Kohen Gadol's son, if he is worthy of the position.

6. Cedar wood covered with gold.

7. In the Kodesh, opposite the Aron Ha'kodesh (which was in the Kodesh Hakodoshim), moved slightly towards the doorway, outside of the space between the Shulchan and the Menorah.

in honor of our dear parents
Joseph and Celia Saff
"May you share many more healthy and happy years together, enjoying nachas from your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren"


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.

The third volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
Jerusalem, Israel