Skip to content

Parashat 02/26/2010

Parashat Tetzaveh Two-stroke Engine

submitted by Robert Rabinoff

I first want to correct any possible misunderstanding that may have arisen from last week’s drash.  Last week I wrote: “Consequently, even though the Torah is immutable (see Rambam’s 9th Principle of Faith), its expression in practical life (i.e. life within ever-changing boundaries) necessarily must be changeable.”  When I wrote this it was the understanding that the immutable nature of Torah was the central point, just as the unchanging, infinite basis of life is the central point of existence.  The world of change, and the world of changing application of Torah and halachah to changing external circumstances, is decidedly secondary.  The second point to be made is that not everybody is qualified to make halachic decisions.  The halachic process is not haphazard, and you have to understand the rules by which it works, and the areas in which it can work, to begin even to understand the reasoning behind the decisions of those who are qualified to make halachic decisions.  Just as ordinary citizens are not qualified to judge the application of secular laws, so too those of us who do not have proper training and authoritative certification are not qualified to render halachic decisions.  And, since halachah includes a spiritual component in every case (even those seemingly as mundane as financial disputes), it is even more imperative that proper guidance be sought out whenever there is a question.  What I wrote should absolutely not be taken as a permit for everyone to go off and create his or her own brand of Judaism, based on an individual understanding of some small fraction of our sacred literature.  This is spiritual anarchy, not spiritual expression, and it is extremely dangerous both for the individual and for the collective.

Last week’s Parashah dealt with the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) which, in the final analysis, is the home of the Ark that contains the Tablets Gd gave to Moshe Rabbeinu.  As we mentioned last year, this week’s Parashah is the only Parashah (after Moshe’s birth) in which his name is not mentioned at all.  Rather, Parashat Tetzaveh focuses on Aharon and the Kohanim – their vestments and their investiture.  (The word “investiture” comes from vestment – when one would assume a high office one got the uniform to match one’s new status.  Whether the locus classicus for this linkage is Aharon and the 8 vestments of the Kohen Gadol [High Priest] I don’t know.)  Let’s then consider these two towering personalities and the complementary aspects of creation that they represent.  (The following is based largely on Malbim to Tetzaveh.)

When we refer to Moshe Rabbeinu, Moshe our Teacher, we refer to his primary role in the growth of the nation of Israel – bringing Torah to us from Gd.  The impetus of this movement is from Gd to Israel; the movement begins Above and proceeds “downwards,” from the infinite to the finite.  This is the movement of Creation – an infinite Gd “contracting” within His own nature to leave a place for the finite to exist.

Aharon, in a sense, has the opposite role.  One of the primary functions of the Kohanim is to offer the daily offerings, especially the incense, in the Temple.  In Hebrew the word for “offering” is korban, which comes from the root meaning “close.”  The purpose of the offerings is to bring Israel, and through Israel all the peoples of the world, and all creation, close to Gd.  This is a reverse movement from that embodied in Moshe Rabbeinu.  It is a move towards reintegration of the finite Creation with its infinite Source, a movement that begins with the finite and moves towards the infinite – an “upward” move if you will, like the smoke of the offerings and the incense.

We find this same back-and-forth movement in our liturgy.  Malbim points out that one of the central features of the liturgy – the recitation of the Sh’ma – has this same feature.  The Sh’ma itself proclaims the Unity of Gd from Gd’s perspective.  This Unity is described by Rambam (Hilchot Yesodei haTorah 1:7):

This Gd is One.  He is not two or more, but one, unified in a manner which [surpasses] any unity that is found in the world; i.e. He is not one in the manner of a general category which includes many individual entities, nor one in the way that the body is divided into different portions and dimensions.  Rather He is unified, and there exists no unity similar to Him in this world.  (see also Rambam’s 2nd principle of the faith) … The knowledge of this concept fulfills a positive commandment, as [implied by Devarim 6:4]: “Sh’ma Yisrael, Gd is our Lord, Gd is One.”

Immediately after reciting this sentence, we follow up with Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed.  Malbim regards this sentence (which is notoriously difficult to translate) as a kind of opposite/complement to Sh’ma YisraelBaruch shem k’vod represents

…the Unity of H” spread over all the worlds, so that He should be Sovereign over them all.  This Unity is not of this world, and therefore it was ordained that it be said in a whisper.  Only in the future will H” be King over all the world, for the H” will be One and his Name will be One.

In other words, Baruch shem k’vod represents the reintegration of the finite with the infinite, an integration that creates a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.  In some way, if we can even say it, Gd becomes greater by having created a finite world into which His infinite nature can become completely infused – as expressed by the idea that Gd is “now” sovereign over all finite creation.  (Note that the two paragraphs of Aleinu can be seen in the same light.  The first paragraph ends “ein od” – “there is nothing other than Gd,” while the second paragraph ends with “bayom ha-hu, etc.” – “on that day Gd will be One and his Name will be One.)

We still possess the Torah that Moshe Rabbeinu brought down from Gd.  Unfortunately the return movement symbolized by Aharon and the Temple is no longer physically present.  Gd has given us a “replacement” – prayer, as the prophet Hosea says: “Let our lips substitute for [sacrifical] bulls.”  Through prayer we move, little by little every day, towards reintegration of our individual and communal lives with their Divine source.  Through prayer we make ourselves whole, and, as it were, make Gd whole as well.  Let’s use the gift of prayer wisely and well!