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Parashat Tetzaveh 5777 — 03/11/2017

Parashat Tetzaveh 5777 — 03/11/2017

Shemot 27:20-30:10

In a normal (non-leap) year, Tetzaveh is usually read right before Purim. There is an interesting connection between this parashah and Megillat Esther – Tetzaveh is the only parashah from the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu to his death at the end of the Torah in which he is not mentioned explicitly. And Megillat Esther is the only book in the Bible in which Gd is not mentioned. Indeed, the name Esther (possibly from the name of the goddess Astarte?) is related by Rabbinic exegesis to the root s-t-r, which means “to hide.” The entire Purim miracle is a hidden one; Gd operates behind the scenes, as it were. Of course, this is how Gd generally operates – through the normal laws of nature. Ramban, in fact, holds that it is heresy if a Jew does not believe that everything that happens in the world, happens because Hashem decrees it to happen that way; He may just choose to make it happen that way using the laws of nature. In the cosmic game of hide-and-seek, Gd is hiding and we’re all “it.”

Our parashah is, in a sense, a continuation of parashat Terumah, but it deals more with the priests, who would minister in the Mikdash that was discussed last week:

What did the job of kohen entail and why was Aharon assigned the position of Kohen Gadol? The primary task of the kohen was to minister in the Mishkan [Tabernacle] or Bait haMikdash [Temple] by bringing the offerings of the nation. The word korban [offering] is from the word karov – to bring close. These korbanot, when properly offered, would effect a level of unification of two spiritual levels in the spiritual realms. The unification would result from these two levels working in tandem to facilitate the flow of their influence into our world – the way Hashem directs and influences the world is dependent on the level and quality of these spiritual unifications.

I am not a Kabbalist, nor do I have access to deep secrets of Torah, nor to any special Kabbalistic techniques, so I can only speculate about the “unifications” to which Ramchal refers. I’ll try to visualize this using physics, which is at least relatively concrete.

To begin with, why should we care about these unifications? I think there are two reasons. First, the High Priest and the rest of the priesthood can no longer perform these unifications in the Holy Temple, since the Temple was destroyed almost two thousand years ago. However, as the verse in Hoshea (14:3) proclaims, let our lips [i.e. our prayers] take the place of [sacrificial] bulls. Therefore, through our prayers, we are now all responsible for the perfection of Gd’s world. The second, related, reason is that we are supposed to be a kingdom of priests and a holy people. It was never Gd’s idea that the priests alone were responsible for everyone’s spiritual development. They were to perform the Temple service to create an atmosphere of holiness by which everyone could grow, and thereby improve the spiritual (and material) standard of the world. Now, as in the first case, we are all responsible for creating holiness with every action we take.

How do these unifications work? I had an insight into the story of Jacob’s ladder (parashat VaYetze) a few years ago (5770). For simplicity’s sake I’ll quote what I wrote then:

The Midrash goes on to explain that the foot of the ladder of Ya’akov’s dream was on the Temple Mount, and the head of the ladder was in the “Heavenly Jerusalem,” the spiritual counterpart of the earthly Jerusalem, which, under normal circumstances, is directly above the earthly Jerusalem (and at a height of 18 mil according to the Midrash; a mil is 2000 cubits or about a kilometer).

The Chatam Sofer (R. Moshe Sofer, leader of the Hungarian Jewish community, d. 1839) expands on these Midrashim. He explains the significance of the fact that the Heavenly Jerusalem is directly above its earthly counterpart. When this is the case, all the worlds are, as it were, in alignment and the spiritual world shields and protects its material counterpart. What happened in the case of Ya’akov’s dream is that the earthly Jerusalem had to move, and therefore the alignment was disturbed – and Ya’akov’s ladder was at an angle. The result of this was that to a certain extent the protection afforded by the Heavenly Jerusalem was no longer available, apparently even after the earthly Jerusalem was restored to its proper place; thus the Temple had lost its shield and was able to be destroyed, many centuries later.

Creation, we know from physics, is structured in layers – molecular, atomic, subatomic, etc. These layers of course all interpenetrate – it’s not like the atoms are in one place and the molecules somewhere else. Apparently it’s the same in the spiritual worlds – there are layers, and they should line up with one another, so that the deeper layers, those closer to their mutual source, support and protect the more superficial layers. Apparently, in the case of the spiritual realms, and also in the case of the spiritual vis-à-vis its corresponding physical manifestation, a misalignment can occur. When this happens, the flow of energy and intelligence from Gd, the Source of all energy and intelligence, is disrupted. We perceive this disruption as all the manifestations of evil and discord that, unfortunately, seem to be abundant at this time.

We see this kind of phenomenon all the time in nature. If water is flowing smoothly through a pipe, we get abundant water at high pressure. If there are impurities or misalignments in the pipe, the flow breaks down into turbulence. The flow and pressure are both reduced as energy is wasted in futile, incoherent twisting and turning. We find this in our subjective life as well. When we are fresh and rested, our thoughts generally seem to flow smoothly and productively. When we are tired or upset, we spin our mental wheels, getting exhausted by going nowhere. These mental states have physiological correlates – more coherent thinking appears to be correlated with greater EEG coherence. We find the same phenomenon in society as well — a coherent society is one where all the members work in harmony with one another (not in lockstep with one another, as in a Soviet-era military parade). Such a society is able to move forward, creating both material and spiritual well-being.

I think that creating this kind of coherence is what Ramchal is talking about when he discusses “unifications.” It involves aligning all the different layers of creation properly, and the way we do it is by making sure we are aligned properly within ourselves. For when it comes right down to it, all we can control is ourselves, and that is what Gd has made us responsible to do.


Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshat Tetzaveh

Gd tells Moses to command the Children of Israel to bring pure olive oil for the Eternal Flame.

Pure olive oil symbolizes peace, joy, richness. After the Flood, the dove brought back an olive branch, showing that dry land existed—and not only dry land but vegetation to support human life. Thus we conclude that the olive tree symbolizes not only peace but also material well being. says that olive oil symbolizes esoteric insight, deep insight, wisdom. This makes excellent sense since the Eternal Flame symbolizes Gd, the Eternal Light, and it is appropriate that we offer our purest wisdom to This Flame as a means to reveal that our wisdom is a light of the Light.

Wisdom is mentioned again in this Parshah: once directly and also indirectly.

Directly it is mentioned when Gd tells Moses that he has filled the wise-hearted with wisdom so they can make the priestly garments for Aaron and his sons.

Indirectly, it is mentioned when Gd mentions Amalek (symbolizing doubt) and tells Moses to command the Children of Israel that they should “blot the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens”. Life without doubt is life in wisdom. This is also a connection to Purim, which we celebrate this week, since Haman, who wanted to destroy the Jews, was a descendant of Amalek.

We destroy doubt and save our lives by our innocent activities to ever-increase the purity of our lives and make ourselves open vessels for wisdom to fill.

There are many details about the making of the priestly garments, continuation of details of making of the Mishkan. Although it may take some time to translate all these details into the details of making our own lives and homes a Temple in which the Presence of Gd is clearly the reality of our existence, we can get the general idea that when we from our side do our best to live our lives in the most pure way, as fuel for the Eternal Flame, then Gd fills us with more and more wisdom so we can translate every detail of the priestly garments and every detail of making of the Mishkan into the reality of our daily lives.

Joy, kindness, love, respect, peace are signs of this wisdom and I feel we have a lot of this in our congregation and our community.

We thank Gd for the Blessing that lets us grow in these qualities of wisdom, in wisdom itself, in awareness of Gd’s presence within us and among us and in qualities we associate with Teshuvah, return to Primordial Oneness, no separation from Gd, nothing hidden, nothing remaining to be known.

Baruch HaShem.