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Tetzave 5762

By: Rav David Milston

Towards the end of our parasha, having described in detail the "Bigdei Kehuna" - "Priestly attire", the Torah reverts back to Klai Hamishkan, with the details of "Mizbayach Haketoret" - "The Incense Altar", otherwise known as "The Golden Altar". The obvious difficulty, which is discussed by many of our mefarshim, is why this Altar is not mentioned earlier, in parshat Terumah, together with the Aron, Shulchan, and Menorah. The Ramban explains: "The Golden Altar's function was entirely different from that of the Mishkan as a whole. The objective of the Mishkan was essentially to provide an appropriate setting for G-d to rest His Presence upon Israel. However, His proximity creates the danger that those who do not honor His Presence are subject to the Attribute of Justice, which would in no way tolerate their infractions. Such was the case of Nadav and Avihu, who lost their lives when they brought an unbidden, and therefore forbidden, offering. Therefore, by means of this Altar and the incense offering, Hashem provided a means to shelter the nation from such potential danger. When offered in obedience to G-d's command, incense has the unique property of being able to quench the fire of divinely inflicted plague. Consequently, once the agency of bringing His presence to the nation was provided through the Mishkan, G-d now gave Moshe the means of protecting the people through the Mizbaiyach Haketoret." The Seforno suggests: "The Golden Altar is mentioned separately, since it was different from the other parts of the Mishkan. The Mishkan structure brought Hashem's glory to the nation and the sacrificial offering created the "meeting place" of Hashem and Israel. Once the Mishkan and its service brought His presence to Israel, the incense was the prescribed means to welcome the King and show Him honor. Therefore, because the Incense Altar was necessitated by the successful completion of the entire complex, it is mentioned at the very end." Harav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch comments: "It was only after the complete conclusion of the instructions for the erection and consecration of the whole institution of the Mishkan, and immediately after the assurance of the accomplishment of the highest object of the whole Mishkan, that the making of the Golden Altar and thereby the completion of the Heichal was ordered. Both of these facts are deeply characteristic for the meaning of this Altar. Its position, within the Heichal and not in the forecourt, already ranks it amongst those things which are meant to serve as representing the actual ideals of the Jewish calling, and not, like the constituent parts of the forecourt only to show the way to these ideals. Accordingly it belongs to the 'contents', to the kaiylim of the Mishkan, and is not to be regarded like the 'Offering-Altar'. It was placed in front, between the Shulchan and the Menorah, opposite the Aron (which was inside the Kodesh Hakedoshim). This position makes one regard it as representing the realization of the ideal taught by Torah in the combination of the material and spiritual blessings granted by the Torah. The Aron gives Shulchan and Menorah so that both together can then be joined to be used again in the Golden Altar. The meaning of the forecourt, represented by the Mizbayach Hanechoshet, is reflecting a place on which the fire of the Torah shines forth with the demand that everything earthly and material is to be so purified and dedicated to upwards efforts that it becomes fuel for keeping G-dliness alive on earth, and gives satisfaction to G-d above. Outside of the Heichal the religious ideal is one where the spiritual domain rules over the physical one. The sacrifices offered are materials of this world being subdued by the Spiritual world. However, the ideal reflected inside the Heichal is a much more superior ideal. The worship of Hashem represented by the combination of Shulchan, Menorah, and Altar, is one where the physical world is not controlled by the spiritual one, it has itself become inherently spiritual." The idea represented in this beautiful comment of Rav Hirsch is very similar to the overall path set by the Ramchal in his essential work 'Messilat Yesharim'. The Ramchal initially explains the need for control and analysis of all our deeds, yet it is clear for all to see that this is not the pinnacle of our Avodat Hashem. The truest form of serving G-d is not simply control of our physical tendencies, separation from the material enticements of the world, but to turn that physical world itself into spirituality - Kedushah. The outer area of the Heichal represents the initial level of serving Hashem, by control; however, the inner Heichal reflects the ultimate form of Avodah - Kedushah. If we understand the Golden Altar in this sense, it is clear as to why it is not mentioned until the completion of the entire Mishkan, for it represents the ultimate goal of the Mishkan that can only be reached by following the path as described by Messilat Yesharim. The Keli Yakar explains: That both Altars were assigned for purposes of atonement. The Mizbayach Hanechoshet, which was situated outside of the Heichal, was there in order to atone for physical acts of sin. Thus, living animals were offered up in place of the sinner - to signify the purification of the animal like behavior that leads to sin. In fact the size of the Altar itself is reflective of this purpose, in that its height is similar to the physical height of man. However, it is not sufficient for the body and its acts to be atoned for. There is a need for atonement of the soul. The Inner Altar is there for the atonement of the soul. Thus finely made incense is offered resembling the refined soul that also needs rectification. The size of this Altar is much smaller, physically insignificant, but spiritually superior in resemblance of the soul. According to this understanding of the Golden Altar, we could explain that it is described at the end of all descriptions of the Mishkan, in order to emphasize the ultimate objective of our avodat Hashem - tikun ha nefesh. The Meshech Hochmah deals with our subject in an expert manner. He points out, that all of the other vessels were of absolute essentiality. Thus if there is no Aron, there would be no alternative place for the Tablets. Similarly, if there was no outer Mizbayach, there could be no burnt sacrifice. Without the priestly attire, there could be no Avodah in the Mishkan, and with no Menorah no lights would be lit. Without the Shulchan, there would be no lechem hapanim. However, the offering of incense was not dependant on the existence of the Golden Altar, to the degree that the gemara in Zevachim (59), clearly states that even were there to be no Mizbayach Hanechoshet, incense would be offered. Thus according to Meshech Hochmah, the Inner Altar is left until last, because it is least crucial of all the Kaylim halachikally. In finishing our synopsis of this question, let us look at the words of the Mai -Hashiloach. The offering up of the incense was the avodah of the highest degree; we are told that whoever offered the incense would become rich - not only spiritually but also materially. It could therefore not be presented before the description of the priestly attire. One of the purposes of the bigdei kehuna, was to instill the fear of Hashem into the Kohanim, it is only after a kohen had been educated towards the fear of Heaven, that he would be allowed to do the avodah of ketoret, it was only with a deep understanding of man and his role in this world, and his relationship with G-d, that a kohen would be allowed to enjoy the benefits of this avodah, because only at this stage could he truly enjoy their benefits. Shabbat Shalom


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