Table of Contents
The Basic Structure of the Parsha
Thestructure of Parshas Tetzaveh is actually quite complex. The first two verses outline the function of the Menorah in the Mishkan. The function of the Menorah is that the Kohen will light it in order to provide a constant light in the Mishkan from day to night, never to cease. The next section of the parsha delineates the appointment of Aharon and his sons as the kohanim and then outlines the detailed steps to making the Kohanic garments. The main principle the Torah emphasizes is that these garments must be made “l’kavod ul’tiferes” (for honor and glory). The Torah then outlines the seven days of inauguration of the Avodas Hamishkan which was performed by Moshe not Aharon. Interestingly it is pointed out that although the initial commandment in the parsha to light the Menorah was said to Moshe in order to instruct Aharon and in addition Moshe was the “Kohen” who did the avodah during the seven days of inauguration, nevertheless Moshe’s name is never mentioned once in the whole parsha. From the time when Moshe was first mentioned until the end of the Torah there is no other parsha which doesn’t have Moshe’s name in it. This is certainly an outstanding point to try to grasp from our parsha. Finally the parsha culminates with the commandment to make the mizbeyach haktores (incense altar). This vessel is also known as the inner altar. The outer altar, upon which we offer animal sacrifices, was described in Parshas Trumah along with the other vessels that are in the kodesh (sanctuary) and in the kodesh hakodeshim (the inner sanctuary). All of the classic commentators ask what the possible meaning could be for why the Torah only mentions the incense altar now after the entire description of the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels, the Kohanim and their priestly garments, and the seven days of inauguration. We will explore more about this perplexing problem ahead. The last verses of the parsha teach that the lighting of the incense is to be done by the Kohen at the time when he is lighting the Menorah. These last two verses tie the first two verses of the parsha back in to the whole theme. The Kohen who lights the Menorah also at the same time brings the incense and this is one unified service of the Kohen. We will come to a much deeper understanding of how this broader statement is actually quite profound towards the end of this article.
Moshe and Aharon
The Shlah Hakodesh explains that the function of parshas Trumah was to describe and outline all of the spiritual and material patterning of Hashem’s ideal world. Hidden within a deep study of each vessel, its facets, dimensions, and functions along with an understanding of all of the interrelationships of all of the vessels and the different chambers of the Mishkan lay the secrets to understanding the true depth of meaning of the world in which we live. This parsha however deals with the “Kohen” the priest who serves Hashem in this Mishkan (the mini microcosm of our world). After the sin of Adam Ha’rishon the status of the human being was greatly lowered from his original state. Though he was originally created on a very lofty and honorable level, after the sin he lost all of that status and was reduced to be only a vague representation of what a human being was supposed to be. After the full development of Klal Israel the work of many generations of refinement and character development and service of Hashem the “Kohen” was produced. Aharon was the ultimate human specimen. He had the perfect balance of character and in his being was restored the lofty level of Adam Ha’rishon. For this reason he needs to wear the priestly garment. These garment are “l’kavod ul’tiferes”. They represent the restored honor and glory of the human being who was created to do nothing but serve Hashem.
Where does Moshe fit in to this? Certainly he should have a place in this grand presentation of the ideal person living the ideal life in the ideal world. We see that Moshe is hinted to being in the parsha but not mentioned by name. He does the service during the seven days of inauguration in the Mishkan. He wears the same garments on those days as the Kohen Gadol wears on Yom Kippur. Is Moshe a higher level or a lower level? In the Sefarim Hakedoshim one of the primary systems for categorizing reality is by breaking things up into three basic categories. These are the worlds, the souls, and the divinity itself that infuses life into both of the other two dimensions. The Mishkan in Parshas Trumah teaches us about all of the details and characteristics of the level of the worlds (physical and spiritual). We know that Hashem looked into the Torah and used it as a blueprint for how to form and shape the physical and spiritual universe. The Torah is the blueprint of the worlds and the universe. That is the level of the Mishkan. Parshas Tetzaveh with the delineation of the Kohen’s role, his garments, and his service, outlines and details the characteristics of the level of souls and their ideal character “l’kavod ul’tiferet. This is the level of the Klal Israel and what form they are supposed to take on and serve in this world. In the center of our parsha Moshe is alluded to as the servant who brings the Divine Presence down into the world in the inauguration of the Mishkan. He is also the one who “dresses” Aharon Hakohen when he needs to do his service. This role is the role of the Flow of Divinity into the worlds and into the souls. Moshe, who goes totally un-named in the parsha and who is known as the most humble person who ever lived, has the ability to reach a level of complete nullification of self. He can actually become the vehicle through which pure Divinity flows into the finite universe and the souls within it.
The Zohar teaches that Torah, Klal Israel, and Hashem are all one. With the above model we understand this very esoteric teaching to a small extent. Hashem created the finite universe and as He is infinite never ceases to be One in this universe. There are two finite vehicles in our universe which are the conduits through which the “Divinity of Hashem” can actually become manifest and revealed from within finite existence. These two vehicles are Torah and Israel. The Midrash Rabbah says on the very first verse in the Torah “B’reishis Barah Elokim…” means that the reason Hashem Created a finite universe was for two things that are called “Reishis”, one is the Torah as it says “Hashem has acquired me (Torah) as the first of His ways and the second is Klal Israel who are called “Reishis T’vuaso” the first of His produce. What is the unifying force within these two vehicles ? The unifying force is the Divinity that is expressed through them. Moshe who was able to completely shed all of his personal finite identity could be the conduit for this divinity to become manifest in the world. Subsequently, after Moshe initiated this connection and flow of Divine energy down into the universe Aharon, his bother and equal on many levels, was able to continue to draw it down through the Divine service in the Temple each day.
The Meaning of Clothes
As we know Adam Harishon was created without clothing. He was on such a high level of spirituality and was so devoid of any negativity that he had no reason to be ashamed. He had no association of evil or negativity of any kind within his experiential reality that would taint him or draw him away from serving Hashem on the purist and loftiest level. Our sages teach us that his physical material component was so refined that it was “translucent” and allowed the spiritual radiance of the soul to be fully expressed and revealed on the highest levels of thought speech and action. The Malbim in the verses dealing with Adam Harishon even goes so far to say that Adam was able to but his physical body on and take it off like a cloak. When he wanted to delve into the spiritual depths of reality he would take off the body and his soul would soar up to the heavens to perceive deeper and deeper levels of spirituality. When he wanted to express those ideas and aspects of the Divine will that he had found in his elevation he would come back down into this physical material realm and put his body on like a cloak and use the faculties of the body as a vehicle to express these ideas on various levels. After the sin the Torah teaches us that since Adam no longer had this amazing capability his soul was now stuck in the physical body. Hashem made for Adam leather clothing to cover his nakedness and shame. The source of this shame was that his soul had not conquered the lower drives of the physical body and the soul was now bound up with the lower elements of the body forced to face the fact that it must now elevate the level of the body back to its lofty level as before.
There are two common words in the Hebrew language that refer to clothing. The first is “beged” which is formed of the same letters as “bagad” which means to rebel. This is by no means coincidental. The essence of what begadim (clothing) represent is that on a deeper level man rebelled against his creator and turned away from His Supernal Will and thus needs to wear garments that represent this and remind him of this flaw. Another word for clothing in Hebrew is “malbush”. This word breaks up into two other words in Hebrew “mal” and “bush”. The word “mal” itself can either mean to cut off or it can mean to speak. The word “bush” has to do with shame and embarrassment. Therefore “malbush” has a duality to it. On the one hand it cuts off our shame by covering the body but on the other hand the very fact that we need this covering to begin with speaks of our shame. Our clothing therefore serves a functional level of just covering the shame and in addition makes a statement of a higher nature. What we will see further is that there are many forms of “clothing” and many levels of expression that these forms of clothing take.
The Sefer Tanya brings down that each soul actually has three garments through which it expresses itself in this world. The lowest level is the sphere of action. Above that is the sphere of emotion and speech. Above that is the sphere of pure thought. Each of these spheres represents a manner of the soul’s expression in this world and therefore conceptually is a form of “garment” for the soul to express aspects of divinity that it has within it down into this world. These three levels of clothing are also represented in the parsha.
In the priestly garments there is one garment that is set apart form the others in that each Kohen had the same kind and also the kohen gadol would don them by himself instead of having someone else don them for him and those are the “michnasayim” or pants. The pants are merely meant to cover the genitals. This is the lowest level of expression. Initially in our service we must go through the process of “sur me’rah” turning away from the evil. The level of action is the most tangible and physical of all of the forms of expression. This is the sphere where the negativity and evil in the world has the strongest expression. The very first step is to put on “michnasayim” or in other words to subjugate my actions to be in accordance with Hashem’s will. This stage helps us to overcome the shame because at least outwardly the evil and negativity is no longer apparent in what we are doing.
The second “level” of clothing in the parsha is the garments of the kohen hediot. His wardrobe consists of pants like we saw above and then a tunic, a hat, and a belt. This level of clothing represents the preliminary step in the avodah of “aseh tov” doing good. Once the machnasayim are on the further use of garments is no longer to merely cover the shame of the lower elements of the person. In this stage the function of the “garments” is to facilitate some level of expression of inner identity. When a person begins to develop his identity more and more this necessitates learning how to express himself and his emotions. One of the most important aspects of this process is learning how to express oneself in a way where he does not stand out or cause friction in the world. In order to allow his developing identity to reach its fruition there must be a certain level of submission to norms within a group and within society. This will insure that what is being expressed is truly the pure and rectified inner self and not just the lower animalistic drives.
The third level of clothing we see in the parsha is the unique garments that are worn specifically by the Kohen Gadol and no one else. The Kohen Gadol wears pants and he also wears the basic garments of the Kohen Hediot that we saw above. In addition the Kohen Gadol wears an overcoat, an apron, a head-plate, and a breastplate. This level of expression is representative of the pure thought level. At this stage the function of the garments are beyond “sur me’rah – covering te shame, and they are beyond the level of developing an identity within the world. This level of garments represents the making of a higher statement in te world. What do I live for, what do I stand for? These unique garments are what the Torah refers to as being “l’kavod and l’tiferes (for glory and beauty). Whose glory and beauty is the Torah referring to? Is this Kohen Gadol just on one big ego trip? The Netziv coments that the kavod and tiferes referred to here are not that of the Kohen but rather that of Hashem. The Kohen Gadol is a person who has reached the pinnacle of Divine service. He is completely dedicated in every aspect of his life to the service of Hashem. He has no land, no estate, no broad scope of possessions. He has only that which is absolutely necessary to serve Hashem and nothing else. His identity takes on a higher level of expression. He is not here to express “himself” but rather the “purpose” for which he was created.
There is a fourth hidden level of clothing in the parsha and that is the garments worn by Moshe and (not by coincidence) by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippurim. These are garments of pure flax and of the simplest possible design. This level of garment represents a transcendent reality of expression in this world. Even the Kohen Gadol who has reached the level of taking on a purpose and his identity becomes subsumed in that purpose, nevertheless is still the man living this purpose in the world. He is still “there” as it were. The highest level of expression and not one that is necessarily meant to be used all of the time is what is called bitul or transcendence. On this level I am not here to express my purpose, rather I become nothing but a vehicle for the Divine Will to become expressed in the world. It is level three with none of the elements of self recognition within it. This level of expression is similar and corresponds to the level which Adam Harishon had before the sin. At this point the entire experience of self is rectified completely and a person realizes he is only a soul at his root. This soul is a piece of Divinity itself, so to speak. To the extent that a person can get out of his souls’ way, this level can be expressed fully.
The Incense Altar – Tying Things Together
We mentioned at the beginning of the article that the incense altar is really one of the vessels in the sanctuary and it is strangely out of place when mentioned only at the end of Parshas Tetzaveh. There are two approaches in the commentaries as to how to understand what the Torah is teaching by this placement. The approach of the Malbim and many others is that the reason the incense altar is only mentioned after everything else is because it represents a higher more unifying factor that binds all of the vessels and the kohanim doing the service together. The inner vessels and the Mishkan itself all represent tangible elements of the worlds. The priestly garments all represent tangible elements of the soul. The incense altar corresponds to the dimension of Moshe or the Divine energy infused within every element of the word thus binding it together as one and uniting it with its source the One Creator, Sustainer, and Overseer of everything in the world, that being Hashem. The reason this incense altar is mentioned only after the whole system of Mishkan and Kohanim is because it represents the unifying factor of all of t Divine energy that is infused within them from their source. When from below we go through all of the steps of our Divine service it draws down new Divine input into the system to sustain it. This is the function of the incense altar. This also explains why the Kohen must do it while lighting the Menorah because the Menorah with all of its light can only radiate and draw down this spiritual light and influence down into the whole system with the accompaniment of the fragrant incense.
The Ramban and others take a different approach. He says that the incense altar represents a different sort of unifying element. We know that there is a concept of tshuvah – repentance. When a person misuses and misappropriates his body and soul he causes a “disconnect” between the two and all of the levels loose their connection to the Divine root of Creation. This would really be the downfall of a person and his complete undoing if not for the miracle element that Hashem infused into creation called tshuvah. This amazing concept allows a person to retroactively undo all of the negative effects of his sins. The Midrash teaches us that tshuvah was created before the universe itself. This means that tshuvah is a way of reconnecting and re-bonding with the source of all Divine energy in the universe even though the system itself is broken. Tshuvah is an override mechanism. The entire framework of the spiritual and physical worlds as well as the souls can be “regenerated in their proper form” from this override mechanism. The incense altar represents this mechanism. This is why it is only mentioned at the end. It is not part of the same system as all of the other inner vessels. However it still makes sense that the Kohen should accompany the lighting of the Menorah with the burning of the incense as well because we should never think that there is no way to get back. The whole spectrum of human experience is incorporated in the Divine service. Ideally we should be lighting the Menorah and working with the premise of actualizing each element of our selves and raising the worlds up together as a result. If we don’t however there is always a way to get back through the incense (tshuva).
We can perhaps understand more now of why the incense is called “ketores”. Ketores is really an Aramic word that is built on the Hebrew root “kesher” – tying together. The function of te ketores whether according to the Malbim or according to the Ramban is to tie every element of our universe together and bind it back with the Creator and the source of all existence, the One G-d, Hashem!