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Parshah Overview: Tetzaveh

by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky

  

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In parashat Terumah, we saw God instruct the Jewish people how to build the Tabernacle, the means by which He would dwell both in this world and within each one of us. And—since the Torah is eternal and its every word applies in a personal as well as a historical sense—these instructions in all their minutiae also tell us how to construct our own personal Tabernacle: how to make ourselves, our lives, and our sphere of influence into a “home” for God, that is, how to refine them so they can be imbued with and sustain Divine consciousness.

But once a home is built, it must be lived in. The Tabernacle itself is just an empty stage: a shell that, it is true, is optimally “configured” for spiritualizing reality, but that needs to be utilized. The connection that has been set in place must be activated. Therefore, once God has finished instructing us how to construct the Tabernacle, the next stage is for Him to tell us how to use it. After Terumah comes Tetzaveh; Tetzaveh means “you will command,” but also “you will connect.”

Thus, in parashat Tetzaveh, God describes the priests, who officiate in the Tabernacle, and how they are to be installed into this office.

True, when God gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, He prefaced the revelation with the promise that “you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”1 On a certain level, every Jew is supposed to be a priest, a being consecrated solely to the service of God, so wholly imbued with Divine consciousness that it overtakes and encompasses him entirely.

Nevertheless, ideal as this may sound, living at such a level would in the end be counterproductive. It would undermine the purpose of creation, since God created us not to be angels who have no relation to the here and now, but to be human beings who engage in the mundane tasks of living, in order to elevate and refine all aspects of the mundane world and cause Divine consciousness to permeate all aspects of reality.

Therefore, just as creation at large functions on a duel level—heaven and earth, sun and moon, day and night, male and female, breathing out and breathing in—so must the process of bringing the Divine presence into the world reflect this duality. There must be priests and lay people. In a sense, the priests are the exception that proves the rule. They serve both as the ideal that the lay population is to strive for and the channel through which Divine consciousness is transmitted to the laity. As the former, the people are inferior to them and strive to emulate them; as the latter, they exist only to serve the people and provide them with the inspiration they need in order to accomplish their task—which is the true purpose of creation.

On the personal level, then, this parashah is important for each of us because it describes both how our priestly proxies are made into what they are and—more to the point—how we are to consecrate a portion of our personality to the sole purpose of serving God. By creating (“installing”) the priest within, we can then relate to the physical, human priest and both see him as the idealized vision of ourselves and derive through him Divine consciousness and inspiration.

The greater part of this parashah therefore deals with the process of making an individual into a priest. There are two phases in this process: vesting him in the priestly garments and performing on him the installation rites. The first half of the parashah describes the former, the second half the latter.

Footnotes

  • 1. Exodus 19:6.

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Shabbat » Reading of the Torah » Torah Reading

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Amidah
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Aaron
Brother of Moses. First High Priest of Israel and progenitor of all Kohanim (priests) until this very day. Died in the year 1272 b.c.e.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Tabernacle
Mobile sanctuary which traveled with the Jews in the desert, containing the Ark with the Tablets, and the sacrificial altars. When the Jews entered Israel, it was erected in the city of Shiloh where it remained for more than 300 years. It was buried when the permanent Holy Temple was erected in Jerusalem.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Shema
The most fundamental Jewish prayer, recited twice daily. This prayer, of Biblical origin, professes the belief in G-d's absolute unity.
Terumah
The tithe given to the priest (descendant of Aaron) from certain crops. The tithe was approximately 2% of the harvest.