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Tetzave 5760

By: Rav Alex Israel

For a change, I will not be writing this week. We present to you instead, a shiur which originally was sent by the Gush VBM (a worthwhile site for all "surfers" to know). It was written by a friend of mind who teaches at Matan in Jerusalem. It is a great article because it manages to draw out the focal details from the verbose parsha regarding the clothes of the Kohanim. At the same time, the article succeeds in talking not about detail but rather the overall thrust of the parsha as a whole.


Rav Alex


by HaRav Chanoch Waxman

by kind permission of theYeshivat Har Etzion VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM)

Shortly after the beginning of this week's parasha,

Parashat Tetzave, the Torah turns from the topic of the

structure of the mishkan, the central motif in Parashat

Teruma, to the topic of the mishkan's staff, the priests.

Moshe is instructed (Shemot 28:1-5) regarding the

selection of the priests, the manufacture of garments

"for honor and beauty" ("le-kavod u-letiferet"), the

identity of the manufacturer and finally the specific

garments to be manufactured. Strikingly, rather than

detailing the role and function of the priests in the

mishkan, a topic that surfaces at the very beginning of

Parashat Tetzaveh (27:20-21) in a short section

describing the kindling of the menora, the Torah focuses

solely on the priests' attire. In fact, all forty-three

verses of chapter 28 consist of a detailed description of

the garments. While outfitting the priests in honorable

and beautiful garments is clearly important in order to

enhance the status of the sanctuary and the public

perception of the priests (Ramban, 28:2), one wonders why

the Torah describes the garments in such great detail and

at such length.

The structure of chapter 28 constitutes an important

tool for sharpening our formulation of the problem. After

the brief introductory section (1-5) outlining the for

whom and by whom, what clothes and what materials, the

Torah focuses almost exclusively on a handful of garments

worn by the High Priest alone. If we follow the setumot

and petuchot, the traditional divisions of the text, the

breakdown goes as follows:

i. 1-5: the introduction as described above;

ii. 6-12: the instructions for the ephod;

iii. 13-14: the instructions for the "mishbetzot zahav"

(gold frames) and "sharsharot zahav" (gold chains), by

whose means the "choshen" (breastplate) is to be fastened

to the shoulder pieces of the ephod (28:25);

iv. 15-30 the design of the "choshen mishpat"

(breastplate of judgement) and the instructions for its

attachment to the ephod;

v. 31-35 - the instructions for the "me'il ha-ephod"

(robe of the ephod) and its decoration;

vi. 36-43 the instructions for the remainder of the

garments including: a) the "tzitz," the plate on the High

Priest's forehead (36-38), b) the tunic, hat and belt of

the High Priest (39), c) the tunics, hats and belts of

the standard priests, and finally d) the pants of all of

the priests and the command to dress them (40-43).

As mentioned above, the Torah concentrates almost

exclusively on the four garments that are unique to the

High Priest. Sections ii, iii, and iv, a sum total twenty-

four verses, describe the "ephod-choshen" system (see

28:28), while section v centers on the "me'il" (robe) of

the High Priest. Finally, even the last segment, section

vi, opens with a detailing of the tzitz before briefly

sketching the garments worn both by the High Priest and

by the standard priests. Therefore, rather than

investigating the general question of the significance of

the priests' attire, we must focus on the specific

question of the meaning, function and purpose of the

garments unique to the High Priest.


One of the general themes discernible in the

description of the High Priest's clothes may be glimpsed

by focusing on the last of the specific garments

mentioned, the tzitz. After commanding the inscription of

the words "Kodesh la-Shem" (Holy unto the Lord) on the

tzitz and detailing its fastening onto the forehead of

the High Priest, the Torah states (28:38),

"And Aharon shall bear ('nasa') the iniquity ('avon')

of the holy things that the Children of Israel

consecrate... and it shall win acceptance for them

before the Lord."

While a term based upon the stems "nsa" and "avn" can

sometimes mean "bear the iniquity" in a negative sense

(see Vayikra 5:1), most often such a term carries

connotations of "carrying the sin" for another, i.e.

removing the sin and achieving forgiveness. For example,

God is described in the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy

(Shemot 34:7) as "noseh avon," meaning "forgiving sin."

The primary role of the tzitz appears to be atonement. By

symbolizing the process of consecration to God, the

inscription of "Holy unto the Lord" achieves atonement

for, and repairs the errors that take place during the

process of sanctification and consecration. In the

formulation of the text, this message "wins acceptance"

for the less-than-perfect people and their flawed

offerings (see Rashi, 28:38).

The motif of atonement is also apparent in the

instructions for the "ephod-choshen" system. The Torah

informs us that Aharon will carry ("ve-nasa") the names

of the tribes of the Children of Israel, which are

inscribed on the stones set into the choshen, "le-zikaron

lifnei Hashem tamid," "for remembrance before the Lord

continually" (28:29). Similarly, in the very next verse,

after commanding the insertion of the "urim ve-tumim"

into the choshen, the Torah states that Aharon will carry

("ve-nasa") the judgement of the Children of Israel

"lifnei Hashem tamid," before the Lord continually. All

of this echoes the statement a few verses earlier

regarding the ephod (28:11-12). Aharon had been commanded

to carry ("ve-nasa") the "avnei shoham" engraved with the

names of the tribes of Israel on the shoulder straps of

the ephod as a remembrance (zikaron) before the Lord

(lifnei Hashem). As pointed out previously, the term

"nasa" (bearing) often carries connotations of atonement.

Likewise, the conjoining of "zikaron" and "lifnei Hashem"

sounds a nearly identical note. In Bemidbar 10:9-10, God

commands the sounding of the chatzotzrot (trumpets) in

both times of war and trouble, and on holidays. In the

case of war, the purpose is to be remembered ("ve-

nizkartem") before God ("lifnei Hashem") and to be saved.

In the case of holidays, the purpose is to be remembered

by God ("ve-hayu le-zikaron lifnei Hashem") and to have

the holiday offerings accepted. A "remembrance before

God" activates God's mercy and action on behalf of the

Children of Israel.

In addition to the fact that the terminology of the

text carries connotations of God's mercy and forgiveness

(and hence atonement), the choice of materials used to

craft the "ephod-choshen" also strengthens this

impression. The centerpiece of the choshen consists of

four rows of precious stones, twelve altogether, with the

name of one of the tribes of Israel engraved on each

individual stone. Each stone is framed in a gold setting

(17-21). Interestingly enough, in Sefer Yechezkel (28:12-

13) the prophet develops a strikingly similar image

involving nine of the twelve stones utilized in the

choshen. Yechezkel laments:

You were the seal of perfection,

Full of wisdom and flawless beauty.

You were in Eden, the garden of God;

Every precious stone was your adornment:

Carnelian, chrysolite, and amethyst;

Beryl, lapis lazuli, and jasper;

Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald;

And gold beauwrought for you.

Yechezkel informs the sinner that once he had been

the perfect work of a divine craftsman. Once he had been

adorned with precious stones and gold. Once he had been

in Eden. Once he had existed in a pure state before

having sinned.

Sefer Bereishit (2:11) confirms the linkage of the

central materials of the ephod-choshen to Eden. One of

the four rivers that emerge from Eden, "Pishon," leads to

the land of "Chavila," the place of gold and shoham

stones. These are some of the exact materials collected

for and utilized in the construction of tephod-choshen in

Sefer Shemot (Shemot 25:7, 28:6,9-11,13-27). Apparently,

the engraving of the names of the tribes of Israel on the

precious stones of Eden (28:9-11,17-21) and their framing

in a golden setting (28:11,13-14,20, 22,24) constitutes a

symbolic reenactment of an Eden-like state - a state

where man was still the perfect work of the divine

Craftsman; a time when man deserved adornment with jewels

and gold; a pure state when man had not yet sinned. By

carrying the names of the tribes of Israel before God

adorned with the setting of Eden, the High Priest finds

favor for Israel in the eyes of God and achieves mercy

and atonement.

While the text explicitly states which sins the

tzitz atones for (28:38), the Torah makes no such

explicit declaration in the case of the ephod-choshen.

What, then, does the ephod-choshen atone for? The key may

lie in the phrase "choshen mishpat," the proper name of

the choshen. Normally, this term is translated as

"breastplate of judgement," a translation reached by

following the standard meaning of "mishpat." Perhaps

atonement is necessary for the Children of Israel's

errors in keeping the "mishpatim," the judgements

commanded by God in Parashat Mishpatim (see Shemot 21:1).

Alternatively, perhaps atonement is necessary for

errors in justice, the process of mishpat, whereby

divinely ordained norms are applied to human reality.

Yitro had already advised Moshe that the process of

justice was too heavy for him to bear alone and that he

required others to help him carry ("ve-nasu") the burden

of teaching and applying the laws of God (Shemot 18:14-

16,22-23). In fact, Yitro apprehended only part of the

problem. The burden of properly applying the laws of God

is too heavy for any human or group of humans. The very

act of mishpat, teaching and applying the transcendent

Torah to mundane human reality, is inevitably fraught

with difficulty and error and requires atonement. Aharon

therefore carries this burden of "mishpat" and achieves

divine favor and atonement (see Rashi, 28:15).

In contrast to the standard translation of

"judgement" and the resulting translation of "breastplate

of judgement," the term "mishpat" can also be interpreted

as "decision," yielding a translation of "breastplate of

decision." As Rashbam points out (28:15), the sections

that describe the ephod-choshen system close with the

command to insert the urim ve-tumim into the choshen. The

mysterious urim ve-tumim constitute a type of oracle,

some sort of decision-making device (see Rashi, Ibn Ezra

and I Shemuel 28:5-7). The first conversation between God

and Moshe concerning Moshe's death and the impending

transfer of leadership testifies to this interpretation.

God informs Moshe that national decisions will be made in

a slightly different fashion after Moshe's death.

Yehoshua will lead with the assistance of Elazar the High

Priest and will consult the "mishpat ha-urim lifnei

Hashem," "the decision of the urim before the Lord"

(Bemidbar 27:21). By this means, through the intermediary

of the High Priest and urim ve-tumim, decisions will be

made about war and other matters of national importance.

On this interpretation, the "breastplate of

decision" of the ephod-choshen system constitutes the

point of interaction between God and Israel on matters of

national importance and survival. When the High Priest

and leader request guidance from God, it is attempted in

a context that displays the names of the tribes

prominently, that sets them in Eden and adorns them with

the purity of Eden. The ephod-choshen attempts to arouse

the mercy of God, and to achieve atonement for Israel in

preparation for receiving guidance from God.

The theme of atonement surfaces not only in the

specific passages that describe the tzitz and ephod-

choshen but also in the interaction and joint symbolism

of the three pieces of apparel. Rashbam (28:36) claims

that the tzitz and its inscription of "Holy unto the

Lord" achieve atonement by virtue of their relation to

the engraving of the names of the tribes of Israel at

other points on the High Priest's body. This requires

some explication.

As mentioned previously, the names of the tribes of

Israel are engraved on the stones of the choshen, to be

located at the High Priest's heart (28:29). The choshen

is then fastened tightly to the "kitfei ha-ephod"

(shoulder straps of the ephod) by means of golden rings

and chains (28:22-28). These shoulder straps once again

carry the names of the tribes of Israel, engraved on the

shoham-stones located at the top of the straps, on

Aharon's shoulders (28:9-12). The final engraving occurs

near the highest point on the body of the High Priest,

his forehead. Here God commands Moshe to engrave not the

names of Israel, but the formula of "Holy unto the Lord."

This inscription constitutes the peak of a pyramid that

begins at the heart of the High Priest. The names of the

tribes of Israel merge upwards into the declaration of

"Holy unto the Lord," thereby elevating, sanctifying and

consecrating the tribes of Israel to God. By virtue of

this elevation, the High Priest achieves atonement for

the Children of Israel. In sum, when the High Priest dons

his garments and serves before God, he transforms his

very body into a device for achieving sanctification and

atonement for the Children of Israel.


The interpretation of the High Priest's clothes

propounded until this point, i.e. that they are a device

for achieving atonement, should go a long way to

explaining the length and detail the Torah devotes to

their design. Atonement constitutes one of the central

purposes of the mishkan and the High Priest (see Vayikra

16:15-18). In addition, this interpretation fits well

with the structure of the middle portion of the book of


From the beginning of chapter 25 through the end of

chapter 30, the Torah relates the command to build the

mishkan, detailing its design and listing the necessary

materials and personnel. The order runs as follows:

i. 25:1-9 the command to construct the mishkan and to

collect materials;

ii. 25:10-22 the ark;

iii. 25:23-30 the table;

iv. 25:31-40 the menora;

v. 26:1-30 the curtains and pillars of the mishkan;

vi. 26:31-37 the inner curtain;

vii. 27:1-8 the altar;

viii. 27:9-19 the external courtyard and its

curtains and pillars;

ix. 27:20-21 the command to collect olive oil and

kindle the menora;

x. 28:1-43 the command to designate priests, and

details of the manufacture of their clothes;

xi. 29:1-37 the induction ceremony for the priests and

the first operation of the mishkan;

xii. 29:38-46 the command of daily sacrifices and the

description of God's meeting with Israel at the mishkan;

xiii. 30:1-10 the golden incense altar;

xiv. 30:11-15 the collection of money for the

maintenance of the mishkan;

xv. 30:17-21 the lather utilized by the priests when

they enter the sanctuary;

xvi. 30:22-33 the command to manufacture "anointing

oil" to sanctify the priests and vessels;

xvii. 30:34-38 the command to manufacture the


At first glance, the order of the parshiot appears

strange. Sections i through viii, the corpus of Parashat

Teruma, concern themselves with the physical structure of

the mishkan and its vessels. Sections ix and on seem to

represent a change in theme. From this point on, the

priests and matters related to the priests constitute the

central motif. However, this presents many difficulties.

For example, why is the kindling of the menora mentioned

first before the selection of the priests? Why are the

"golden incense altar" and the "lather" (sections xiii

and xv respectively) mentioned in the segment pertaining

to priests as opposed to in the segment delineating the

vessels of the mishkan, Parashat Teruma?

In fact, the turn at the beginning of Parashat

Tetzaveh, delineated as section ix above, should be

viewed not as a switch to the general topic of priests

and matters related to the priests, but as a move from

structure to operation. Sections ix through xvii begin to

outline the critical operations of the mishkan and the

materials and objects necessary for those operations.

Consequently, the segment opens with the daily kindling

of the menora, a critical daily operation. This theory

also the placement of the sections detailing the lather

and golden incense altar. Their primary purpose is to

play a role in certain daily operations the priests

perform in the mishkan (30:7-8 and 30:19-21), not to

constitute part of the physical structure of the mishkan,

the tabernacle and house of God. Consequently, they are

mentioned in the operations section, rather than in

Parashat Teruma.

This brings us full circle to the garments of the

High Priest. Just as the kindling of the menora

constitutes a crucial operation of the mishkan, so too,

atonement constitutes a crucial operation of the mishkan.

In fact, the very first vessel mentioned in Parashat

Teruma, the ark, is covered by the "kaporet," the place

where the High Priest sprinkles blood in order to atone

("le-khaper") for the sins of the nation (Vayikra 16:14-

17). In a similar vein, the operations section (Parashat

Tetzaveh and on) dwells extensively on the garments of

the High Priest, clothes that are critical for the daily

kapara operation of the mishkan.


Let us turn our attention to another aspect of the

High Priest's garments. Like the theme of atonement, it

is intertwined with the multiple inscriptions present in

the High Priest's apparel. If we follow the chronological

order of the text, the first of these is the engraving of

the names of the tribes of Israel on the avnei shoham

that Aharon carries on his shoulders ("al shtei ketefav,"

28:11-12). The second is the engraving of the names of

each tribe on the stones of the choshen. Aharon carries

these on his heart ("al libo," 28:29). The third

inscription is the formula of "Holy unto the Lord,"

engraved on the tzitz, which Aharon bears on his upper

forehead right beneath his hat (28:37-38). One wonders:

what is the significance of these particular locations?

In fact, one of these locations constitutes a place

where matters of great importance are kept. In Sefer

Bemidbar, when Moshe divides the oxen and wagons donated

by the princes amongst the Levites for the purpose of

transporting the mishkan, Moshe refrains from

distributing to the Levites descended from Kehat. The

text explains (Bemidbar 7:9):

"To the sons of Kehat he gave none, because the work

of the sanctuary ('kodesh') belonged to them, they

bore it on their shoulders ('ba-katef yisa'u')."

The sons of Kehat were charged with transporting the

holiest components of the mishkan, the actual vessels of

the sanctuary. Consequently, in accord with the honor and

sanctity of the objects, they were required to carry them

personally, on their shoulders, rather than by means of

beasts of burden. This sheds new light on the Torah's

demand that the High Priest carry the names of the tribes

of Israel on his shoulders (28:12). Apparently, the names

of the tribes of Israel constitute objects that are holy

to the High Priest. Consequently, he bears them upon his


The places of heart and head also appear in another

context in the Torah. Earlier on in Sefer Shemot, when

commanding the people to forever remember the day that

God redeemed them from Egypt, Moshe informs them that,

"It shall be for a sign upon your hand and a remembrance

('zikaron') between your eyes... with a strong hand God

brought you out of Egypt" (13:9). This, of course, is the

command of tefillin. The people are commanded to place

certain texts, in this case one relating to the

redemption from Egypt, on their hand (traditionally

understood as the upper arm near the heart) and between

their eyes (traditionally understood as the area of the

upper forehead). Strikingly, the choshen and tzitz also

involve writing placed adjacent to the heart and head.

Furthermore, just as tefillin are termed a "zikaron," a

remembrance, so too the Torah repeatedly utilizes the

term "zikaron" to describe the functioning of the

garments of the High Priest. What is the meaning of the

parallel of the choshen and tzitz to tefillin?

Tefillin serve to remind the wearer of the contents

of the texts he is wearing: he must know in both his

heart and head that God redeemed him from Egypt.

Apparently, the choshen and tzitz function in a similar

manner. Placing the names of Israel and the formula of

"Holy unto the Lord" on the heart and head of the High

Priest serve to remind him of his dedication to Israel

and to God. The priest carries consciousness of Israel in

his heart and of God in his head.

In sum, we can discern a second theme present in the

Torah's description of the High Priest's garments. They

function reflexively. The "zikaron" means not only to

remind God of Israel, but also to remind the High Priest

himself of Israel and of God. Israel must be holy to the

High Priest and hence he carries them upon his shoulders.

Israel must be located in the heart of the High Priest

and hence he carries them upon his heart. The High Priest

must remember his dedication to God and his function as a

means to dedicate and elevate Israel to God and to

facilitate the God-Israel relation. Hence, he carries the

statement "Holy unto the Lord" upon his head.


The two themes implicit in the High Priest's clothes

presented above - the motif of atonement for Israel on

the one hand, and the reflexive definition of the role of

the priest on the other - provide an interesting

perspective on the development of the institution of

priesthood in the Torah. The Torah first mentions

priesthood in the narrative describing the revelation at

Sinai. God commands Moshe to descend the mountain and

warn the people and "the priests who come near the Lord"

("ha-kohanim ha-nigashim el Hashem") to keep their

distance (19:22). Who are this spiritual elite, these

priests who come near the Lord? Apparently, the group

consists of others besides Aharon and his sons (see

Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban). In this light, the command to

designate Aharon and his sons as priests (28:1)

constitutes not just an act of enfranchising a select

group, but also a delegitimization and disenfranchisement

of a larger group, "the priests who come near the Lord."

One wonders what constitutes the distinction between the

priesthood of "those who come near the Lord," the pre-

Sinai institution of priesthood, and Aharon and his

children, the post-Sinai institution of priesthood?

Perhaps the Torah's lengthy discourse on fashion,

and the symbolism of the clothes, provides the key.

Previously, priesthood had consisted of a spiritual

class, those who strove to come close to holiness for no

other purpose than the natural tendency to

search out God and to attempt to serve Him and cling to

Him. The text terms this "the priests who come near the

Lord" (19:22). However, in the context of mishkan and

post-Sinai priesthood, the universal religious quest is

not the sole focus or purpose of priesthood, and perhaps

is not a purpose or focus of priesthood at all. The

garments of the High Priest define the function of

priesthood. The clothes make the man. The priest serves

not for himself, not as part of his own religious quest,

but as a bridge between God and Israel. As his garments

indicate, he serves to elevate Israel and to atone for

their sins, to repair and maintain the God-Israel



1) While dealing extensively with three of the four

garments unique to the High Priest (the ephod, choshen

and tzitz), the above shiur neglects to deal with the

fourth garment of the High Priest, the me'il. Look at

Shemot 28:31-35 and the comments of Rashbam. How can the

me'il be explained according to each of the

interpretations presented in this shiur?

2) The Talmud (Zevachim 88b) states that the placement of

the section detailing the garments of the priests

(chapter 28) near the section of the Torah commanding

sacrifices (chapter 29) teaches us that, "Just as

sacrifices atone, so too the priest's garments atone." As

part of its correlation of the various garments with

various sins, the Talmud states that the tzitz atones for

"azut panim," arrogance or brazenness. Relate both the

general and specific claims of the Talmud to the themes

developed in this shiur.

3) See Vayikra 10:1, regarding the sin and death of Nadav

and Avihu. As background, read at least 9:7, 9:15 9:23-

24. How do the themes developed in the above shiur shed

new light on the error of Nadav and Avihu?

4) Most commentaries (Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, etc.)

assume that the firstborn constitute the class of priests

mentioned at Har Sinai who are replaced by Aharon and his

sons. Some commentaries connect this to the events of the

sin of the golden calf. See Shemot 32:4-6 and the

comments of Ramban. How different is the theory of the

commentaries from the theory presented in this shiur?


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