Parasha Tetzaveh תצוה (Éxodo 27:20 – 30:10)
The parasha this week and last week are connected. Parshah Terumah talks about the construction of the Mishkan and the sacred elements contained within, where a specific language of the verb ועשית, Vehasita is used, “and you will do”. This week’s parshah, Tetsaveh, speaks of the power of the menorah, the designation of the Kohanim and the clothing of the Kohanim. Here the verb ואתה תצוה VeAtah Tetzaveh, “and you will order,” is used. So it will be Moses himself who appoints Aaron and his descendants as the Kohanim, those who are at the service of the Mishkan with its unique features and specific clothing. Aaron will be the first כהן “Kohen” and this title will be transmitted to his descendants by inheritance.
The garments of the priests have a unique symbolism, and they served as atonement (Kapara) for sins committed. All of the sacrifices that the Israelites carried out pursued the objective of finding favor with God.
The elements include a linen tunic representing the most basic emotions, and it is in contact with the skin of the priest. The Kapara is for aggressive impulses and atones for the sin of shedding of human blood. The trousers expiate the sins of sexual licentiousness. The turban atones for the sin of arrogance. The belt is connected to the heart and cleans impure thoughts. The pectoral atones for poor execution of justice, and the ephod atones for the sin of idolatry. The robe atones the sin “Jashon hara” (the act of speaking disparagingly of a person, slander, gossip, etc.). At the bottom were golden bells and pomegranates that sounded when the kohen gadol walked through the tent. Finally, the tzitzit, atones for the sin of insolence.
Traditionally, the atonement of sins is more closely related to Yom Kippur, so it is surprising that certain clothes have the character of atonement, as this is a personal and sincere process of spiritual repentance. Perhaps it was a way to keep this responsibility present that the Kohanim held for the people.
In the text of Shemot or Exodus there is no description of any type of footwear to cover the feet, and perhaps it is a reminder of the passage of Moses and the burning bush.
In the breastplate of judgment located at the front of the Kohen, there are four rows of stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel set in gold.
The first row starts with Carnelian (Ruben), Topaz (Simon), Emerald (Levi).
Second row: Turquoise (Yehuda), Sapphire (Issachar), Diamond (Zebulun);
Third row: Jacinto (Dan), Agate (Naftali), Amethyst (Gad);
Fourth row: Beryllium (Asher), Onyx (Yosef), Jasper (Benjamin).
Thus the hoshen stones containe all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Arbabanel says that the colors of the stones correspond to the colors of the flags of the tribes of Israel.
It is important to reflect on the idea of forgiveness. Three words for forgiveness in Hebrew are related to their respective types of sins: Mejilá, Slijá and Kapara. This is important because in the Amida prayer these two forms appear when we say “Father forgive us”, SLIJA, because we have sinned, (jatanu). Also, “forgive us our King” mejal, because they have transgressed (pashanu). It is interesting that these two forms reflect the relationship we have with God as children and as subjects.
There is a type of sin called Jet which is “a wrongful act done without thinking.” And for this act there is a kind of forgiveness called slija. The sins of rebellion are called pshaim for which there is a forgiveness called mejilá. The third type of forgiveness is Kapara, or atonement, and it is a higher level of forgiveness to the sinner as he appears before the eyes of God as spiritually clean, just as the day he was born. This is asked for especially on Yom Kippur.
The colors are also loaded with symbolism: Gold is a noble and pure metal, white linen that was affordable to all people, violet which is reminiscent of the sky, and scarlet which is the color of blood. The ephod was a pagan element, hence it was relegated to the back and joined by a braided gold chain around his chest in front. This placement is related to the very essence of human beings: either to be tethered to the mundane and idolatry, or to rise above it all and elevate oneself spiritually.
My personal reflection upon reading the foregoing Tetsaveh parasah leads me to a question: What is the relationship between the way one connected with God at the time of the Mishkan and in the rabbinic era in which we live today? What happened in order for today to be so different? After the destruction of the Second Temple other forms and formulas of rabbinic prayer were developed and harnessed that were previously conditioned by the sacrificial cult, the korbanot and the kohanim as well as their special clothes. Undoubtably, during those 40 years in the desert the people of Israel learned how to relate to God. They did not know how and they were afraid to talk to God. It was a learning stage, and they needed some guidelines and rituals as well as the persons elected to lead them. After the fall of the Second Temple, rabbinic prayer developed very differently from the above. Now the tefilah exists by and for itself, and it does not depend on nor is it linked to large buildings or great rituals. In rabbinic prayer, the people, the community and each member is the principal agent. There are different types of prayer as a community, individual and/or family. Among all these forms of prayer rabbis attach great importance to the community prayer which leads to “kavanah”. Jewish liturgy is currently made up of: the Shema recited twice daily, which is the profession of faith of every Jew, the Tefillah prayer / Amida, and the reading of the Torah. Them is a dynamic relationship between them. Public prayer has taken the ritual fixed forms, or siddur, with its structure and elements of clothing such as the tallit and kippah.
The most important element is the Shabbat, celebrating the day of rest and the sign of the covenant with God. Shabbat means connecting with God, as well as the absence of fatigue, and it is the bride of God. Shabbat clothes are usually something special, perhaps as a remembrance of the clothing of the kohen gadol. It is not just something externally physical but also a reflection of ourselves. We take care to wear clean and nice clothes as a form of respect and reflection of the cleanliness of our soul. At this moment in time it is important that we are elevated and closer to God. Shabbat Shalom! ~~~~~~~~ Deborah
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