Posts Tagged 'Tetzave'

Common Knowledge: A Riddle and a Thought on Tetzave

I have always loved a good riddle. I assume it came from my playful nature, the struggle to get the solution, or the joy of cracking it. There is a whole string of deduction/logic riddles that I really like that are based on what is Common Knowledge.

My favorite one is the Blue-Eyed Islander of Brown eyes people. Here is the simplest version I could find:

Spoiler Alert: #2 figures out his hat is red by combining what he knows, that #3 is yellow, with #1’s delayed response, because #1 must see a yellow and a red hat. I think there is much to be learned from the rest of our lives in the space between what know, what know we know, what we know other people know, and what we know that other people do not know.

I was thinking of this idea this week when reading Titzaveh, this week’s Torah portion. There we read about the High Priest’s tzitza golden plate worn on the forehead. There we read:

Make a plate (tzitz) of pure gold, and engrave on it as on a seal, “Holy to God.” Place it upon a blue thread, so that it will be on the turban; it shall be opposite the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron will absolve the guilt of the holy things which the children of Israel sanctify, all of their holy offerings; it shall be on his forehead constantly, for their acceptance before God.

Exodus 28:36–38

Why would this bear the inscription “Holy to God”? I believe in a profound way this creates Public Knowledge that the Priest is holy. This also creates an interesting question in the assembled people’s Common Knowledge. In what ways were they all “Holy to God”?

This gives a whole new context for what we think we know as we go into Purim, a holiday full of customs, costumes, and hats. That which is hidden might itself be very revealing. We all need to ask ourselves in what ways are we all “Holy to God”?


Representation, the High Priest, and National Art

Recently Sidney Poitier passed away.  In 1964, he became the first African American actor and first Bahamian to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He once said, “I was the only Black person on the set. It was unusual for me to be in a circumstance in which every move I made was tantamount to representation of 18 million people. ” It is interesting to reflect, what is the role of representation in our lives?

This question makes be think of the 1929 painting by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte The Treachery of Images ( La Trahison des Images). You might know it as This Is Not a Pipe.The painting shows an image of a pipe. Below it, Magritte painted, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe“, French for “This is not a pipe”.

The Treachery of Images - Wikipedia

About this Magritte said, “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!” All representations of a thing are inherently abstract. It is just as absurd for a painting of a pipe to represent an actual pipe as for Poitier as an individual to represent 18 million people. And still people got angry at Magritte and loved Poitier because representation matters.

I was thinking about this issue when reading Tetzave this week’s Torah portion. There God instructed Moshe to make sacral vestments for Aaron: a breastpiece (the Hoshen), the Efod, a robe, a gold frontlet inscribed “holy to the Lord,” a fringed tunic, a headdress, a sash, and linen breeches. The Hoshen is particularly ornate with its rows of stones. There we read:

Set in it mounted stones, in four rows of stones. The first row shall be a row of carnelian, chrysolite, and emerald; the second row: a turquoise, a sapphire, and an amethyst; the third row: a jacinth, an agate, and a crystal; and the fourth row: a beryl, a lapis lazuli, and a jasper. They shall be framed with gold in their mountings. The stones shall correspond [in number] to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, corresponding to their names. They shall be engraved like seals, each with its name, for the twelve Tribes.

Exodus 28: 17-21

This sacred breastplate was worn by the High Priest. There was a stone for each of the 12 Tribes. I could imagine being there in the crowd watching the High Priest. He would look so other-worldly with all of his garb, pomp, and circumstance. And that I would see the Hoshen on his chest. I would see me and my tribe represented in one of those stones. With all of its splendor and their names engraved, this was clearly a central symbol of unity of the Israelite people. In this moment the High Priest might say, “I am the only person on the set. It was unusual for me to be in a circumstance in which every move I made was tantamount to representation millions of people. But even if I do not know them I am connected to them. see check out my Hoshen.” The Hoshen is art that represents the nation with all of its Tribes. It turns out that representation matters.

Keter Melukha: 3rd Times the Charm

The last few years I have been completely absorbed by Yishai Ribo‘s music. Ribo is an Orthodox Israeli singer-songwriter who’s music reaches across the religious divide in Israel and beyond. In a deep way he is able to talk about the human condition with the depth of our tradition. For me it started with Seder HaAvodah in which he retells the story of the High Priest’s service in the Temple on Yom Kippur in a way that is completely touching and accessible. He has a way of taking tradition and making it relevant today. Ribo does not sacrifice depth to get his message to the masses. I guess it is not shocking that I love his music.

Two years ago Ribo started to write Keter Melukha, a stunning study of his life through this year of COVID-19 in light the Jewish calendar. It is scary to reflect how blurry time has been over the last two years. During this time so much has changed and at the same time it feels that we are still where we left off two years ago. There he starts off:

Between Parashat Teruma and Tetsaveh,
A somewhat different birthday,
Everything seems normal here:
Stage, crowd, and love.

Being between Parashat Teruma and Tetsaveh, it is worth watching this video as we get ready for the 3rd version of this experience:

There is so much I have to say about the lyrics to this song. The chorus is still so haunting, “How to maintain distance and draw close in this pain?” His question is prescient in that we are still asking ourselves this question. We are still struggling to make connection while maintaining our distance. We are clearly still in pain.

I am a process of making another contemporary page of Talmud in order to give more people access to the richness of Ribo’s music. I am not done yet, but I just could not resist sharing a draft of it that I started with the help of my friend Rabbi Joe Schwartz on this anniversary of the time between between Parashat Teruma and Tetsaveh. Check it out. I would love your thoughts and edits for this. Thank you.

Heroic Breastplate

There is so much heaviness in the world right now. I really just wanted to think about something positive and protective. In Tetzave this week’s Torah portion God instructed Moshe to make sacral vestments for Aaron: a breastpiece (the Hoshen), the Ephod, a robe, a gold frontlet inscribed “holy to the Lord,” a fringed tunic, a headdress, a sash, and linen breeches. The Hoshen is particularly ornate with its rows of stones. There we read:

Set in it mounted stones, in four rows of stones. The first row shall be a row of carnelian, chrysolite, and emerald; the second row: a turquoise, a sapphire, and an amethyst; the third row: a jacinth, an agate, and a crystal; and the fourth row: a beryl, a lapis lazuli, and a jasper. They shall be framed with gold in their mountings. The stones shall correspond [in number] to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, corresponding to their names. They shall be engraved like seals, each with its name, for the twelve tribes. (Exodus 28: 17-21)

This sacred breastplate was worn by the High Priest. It has a number of names. It is called the efod, the Hoshen Mishpat- the breastplate of judgment, and the Urim and Thummim. With all of its splendor and their names engraved, this was clearly a central symbol of unity of the Israelite Tribes.

I was thinking about this image a few month ago when we brought in Isaac and Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik to do a workshop for a group of assistant camp directors. Their work had us bring together pop culture, comic books, art and Torah study to make out our own Paper Midrash. It was a  sophisticated text study through a unique art practice, leveraging contemporary narratives from comic books, movies and other pop culture to inspire new insights into traditional texts.

In their workshop I let my mind go and explored my own understanding of leadership in light of comic book heroes and this vision of the High Priest from this week’s Torah portion. I came up with this:



In my breastplate the stones themselves where made out of the breastplates of 12 different comic book heroes. It is interesting to realize that they all wear their identity on their chest for all to see. The bottom of this is Kavod, the honor and respect, that is the foundation of all leadership. If you do not lead from that place  you are no superhero. It seems that now more then ever we need unity, protection, leaders who put themselves out there and a renewed foundation of respect.

Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah Speech for Tetzaveh and Purim

This week marks the first anniversary of Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah. It is hard to believe that he is about to be 14 years old and in a few short month he will be off to high school.  To mark this moment I wanted to share the Dvar Torah Yadid gave at the ceremony he had at our synagogue.

When I was in Toronto, for my cousin Eliyahu’s Bar Mitzvah, our friends the Horowitz’s suggested I go to a high quality, low cost tailor nearby. I went to the tailor and I tried on a couple of suits. While wearing the suits I felt like a king. I started thinking about how clothes affect how people are seen and see themselves. My sister, Emi, can be intensely focused on her clothes and has said, “ Clothes is life”.  While I was learning with Rabbi Marder I had a thought that clothing has a role in helping people connect with the the idea of majesty. But how? You might ask.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, we see an elaborate description of the Bigdei Kehuna. Part of the Bigdei Kehuna is a vest that is turquoise- Techelet, gold and purple (Exodus 28:6-8). Like the blue color of a hyperlink linking web pages the Techelet connects the Cohan’s clothing to the Techelet  in our ancestor’s tzitzit, eventually to G-d’s  Kisei Hakavod– saphire heavenly throne. Now we see that our ancestors looked at the Bigdei Kehuna and saw a representative of God in heaven.

What does it mean to represent God? In regard to this I wanted to share  an interesting piece by Kafka. He wrote, ” The emperor of the imperial sun sent a messenger out with an important message; a strong indefatigable man running through the crowd. Every time the messenger met resistance he would point at his breast which bore the sign of the sun- the king’s symbol and people would get out of his way ( Emperor of China).

Maybe this is why my Abba is always getting on my case about wearing tzitzit?

So when our ancestors saw the Kohen Gadol they saw a representative of God. If that is how our ancestors saw the Kohen Gadol, how did the Kohen Gadol see himself?

We read in Tetzaveh that the Kohanim were dressed like this because, “ l’kavod uLetriferet” (Exodus 28:2). Meaning they were dressed up for honor and splendor. But whose honor and whose splendor? Who? The Kohanim, God, or even B’nai’ Israel? The answer is, likely, that it was for all three. The Kohanim are singled out and special. How could they not see themselves as special sporting the tekhelet and the special robes?

The symbolism of clothing, and its connection to both honor and position, is very much present in this week’s Haftorah as well. King Saul has failed to carry out G-d’s instructions and the Prophet Samuel announces that HaShem has now rejected Saul as king. Samuel turns away to leave and Saul grabs Samuel’s tunic, ripping it. In response to that Samuel said just like this, “HaShem has ripped the kingship of Israel away from you today.”  Here we see that the  clothing carries the full symbolism of the role.

In the words of the Bard, “Spend all you can afford on clothes, but make sure they’re quality, not flashy, since clothes make the man” (Hamlet). Saul admits to his wrong doing, then begs Samuel to not embarrass him in front of the elders of the people. He pleads Kabdeni– for his honor.  We hear the root Kavod here, echoing the use in the description of the Kohen’s clothing, “l’kavod ultifaret” and G-d’s Kisei Hakavod – heavenly throne.  Saul is not worried about how he represents God’s honor, only how his honor is perceived by B’nai Israel. Unlike in this week’s parasha,Torah portion, when the Kohanim are serving God to honor God, Saul, having lost God’s favor, is not focused on how he represents God as the king. Rather, Saul is more concerned with how being king represents him in front of the people.  Sad for Saul.

Interestingly we see a similar discussion in Megillat Esther which I will be reading tomorrow at my Bar Mitzvah ( Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah was celebrated the next day on Purim). Achashverosh wakes up in the middle of the night and he has the book of chronicles read to him. It is brought to his attention that Mordecai saved his life and was never recognized or rewarded for this. Achashverosh asks Haman: “מַה לַעֲשׂוֹת בָּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ- What he should do  “to honor someone the king wants to honor” ( This was according to Onkelos’ translation of  yakar as kavod )?  Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s clothes, wear the king’s crown and be paraded around Shushan on the king’s horse. The king agrees – well, sort off.  He says that Mordechai should be led around with the king’s clothes and the king’s horse. Notably, he excludes the crown. By Haman’s asking for the crown and the king excluding the crown we can see that both Haman and Achashverosh see the crown not just as another accessory of his outfit, but wearing the crown has symbolic value which means that the person donning the crown is king.  The clothing themselves imply something royal, and that crown seals the deal.

So, what connects our three texts? And how do they help our understanding of the concept of honor? In the Megillah, on a superficial way honor can be worn, but it is much harder to actually  attain. In the haftorah, we learn that even if one is stripped of kingship, one should not be stripped of honor.  There is a baseline of honor due to everyone, even someone who has failed God. In Tetzaveh, the clothing is there for honor as well, but it less so to demand respect as to a king then to inspire a connection to the King.

The berachah, blessing, for seeing a king is Shechalak Mikvodo lebasar v’dam– that G-d has shared some of his honor with flesh and blood. When you see a king you should honor them- give them kavodI can imagine at the moment of my being faced with a real life King- l’kavod uLetriferet with all of their pomp and circumstance I would be overwhelmed. The very nature of taking this moment to make a beracha to God reframes the experience. Like our ancestors, we can double click on the Techelet from the Bigdei Kehunah and be taken to an image of God’s Kisei Hakavod – heavenly throne. The honor due to do a King is but a helek, a part, of God’s infinite honor.

It is true that we are all created B’Tzelem Elochim, in the image of God, and when we see a King we get a chance to see a magnified version God’s majesty.  This blessing gives us a way to give a flesh and blood king the proper respect regardless of their imperfection. This is like what we learn from Samuel. It also reminds us never to be fooled like Haman and Achashverosh into thinking  that majesty is as simple as wearing a crown. But how do we make sense of this blessing in light of the Megillah and in our world in which God is often hidden from view? As we will read in the Megillah tonight this corrupt world view leads to thinking that people can be bought and sold with no respect of their divine nature. Perhaps this is why we dress up in costume on Purim. In the absence of perceived God we can project an ideal that clothes might inspire us to seek out God and dress ourselves in the moral fabric that ensures that we treat everyone with respect and honor.

And when I stand here today in my Bar Mitzvah suit, I feel a little majestic. My family and friends are here from all over the world to celebrate me. But I take this moment to realized that clothes should inspire us to emulate something greater not make us think we are greater.

Thank you Rabbi Marder for helping me with my speech, thank you everyone for joining me for this coronation of sorts. Thank you Abba and Mami for helping me with troupe, planning and more, and thank you Shama, Emi and Libi for cheering me up when I was down and helping me see myself for what I can be with or without a majestic suit. Shabbat Shalom and have a majestic Purim.

I am still so proud of my majestic son.

Son of Splendor : Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah

In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, we see an elaborate description of the cloths of the priests in the Temple. What was the significance of these clothing? There we see it says he is dressed this way,, “ ​lkavod uLetiferet- for his honor and his splendor” ​ (Exodus 28:2). Living so long after the destruction of the Temple it is hard to make meaning out of all of these fancy clothes.

This week we are celebrating Yadid’s becoming a Bar Mitzvah. In preparation for this we had many conversations about this idea of honor. But to hear more on that you will need to listen to his Dvar Torah on Shabbat. Now I wanted to explore the idea of tiferet.

In preparation for Yadid’s becoming a Bar Mitzvah we brought him to a sofer to get his Tfillin. On the first visit he picked out the hand writing/penmanship he liked in the scrolls that will be in his Tfillin.  It was great to see Yadid make a choice about his own aesthetic of beauty- one translation of Tiferet. And then we went back a second time to the sofer for a fitting. And on this visit we got to talking about why the right strap on the head tfillin is longer then the left. Traditionally the right side represents  rachamim-compassion, where the left  side represents din-  judgement. The right is longer as a reminder to always be more compassionate.

Seeing Yadid put on this tfillin for the first time as a Bar Mitzvah at school I could imagine the fancy clothing of the priests in the Temple. Tiferet is the force that integrates the Sefira of Chesed (rachamim) and Gevurah (din).

Related image
As you see here Tiferet  is the balance between these two spheres. Yadid is very holy person with a deep sense of faith. Yadid is filled with a profound sense of compassion and a deep sense of what is right and wrong. Yadid gracefully finds the balance. Seeing him in his Tfillen I was filled with an overwhelming sense of  his ​splendor. I  am honored to be his abba and excited to see him emerge as a young adult. Mazel Tov Yadid.

Peeling the Layers

In this week’s Torah portion, parshat Tetzaveh, we read about the sacred clothes made for Aaron and his sons who are going to be the priests. It says that these vestments provide them glory and splendor (Exodus 28:1). It is clear that there are many layers of meaning behind all of the layers of the clothing of the priest, but do the clothes make the man? Would the same people be up to doing their job serving as intermediaries for the Israelites were not for the clothes?

It does seem that clothing gives us a social context for understanding someone’s role in society. So while wearing certain clothes does not determine the color of your character, it might inspire you to act the part.

Just as the priests are set apart in a special space with their special duties, Adam and Eve were set apart in the Garden of Eden charged to have dominion over nature. It is only after they eat from the Tree of Knowledge that they become uncomfortably aware of their being naked. Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” If you hope to make a change in the world try to dress the part. Try an experiment of dressing up one day. See if people treat you differently. But, even more importantly – see if you act differently. What you wear can transform your  image of yourself and, in turn, transform you.

Recently I went to a great conference on Israel education representing education at camp. I got to thinking about camp people, Israelis, and how both tend to under-dress for events. I have said before and I will say it again;  I love camp people because we take our work, but not ourselves seriously. While the priests needed to dress up to take their work seriously, with Purim coming up I realize that some times we need to put on costumes to ensure that do not take ourselves too seriously.  We need to peel off  all of the layers and remember that we need to get out of our own way to do our work.  As my son Yishama always says, ” Seriously Abba? Seriously.”

Pure in Process

In Tetzave, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

You shall further command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you shemen zakh, pure oil, crushed olives for illumination, to light the lamp continually. (Exodus 27:20)

What is shemen zakh,  this so-called pure oil? Citing a Gemara in Menachot, Rashi explains that there are three processes in making oil. First the olives are crushed or cracked, then pounded, and then milled. This special oil that the Torah requires for use in the Menorah is only the first drop resulting from the initial process. By limiting the collection to the initial process you can be sure that the oil was free of any particles from the seed that was broken in the subsequent processes. This commandment, coming from Moses, seems to set a high demand on the clarity of the oil. But this process of producing this shemen zakh,  seems rather wasteful. You are just taking a drop from each olive and that is all. You might argue that the importance of its use in the Menorah might justify the appearance of being wasteful. Or you might say the exact opposite: since this oil is being used for the highest purpose we should avoid any appearance of waste. In fact, nothing is wasted, the olives are not thrown away; the olives go through another process and the oil is used in the meal offerings.

However, there is a deeper meaning. Even if the olives are not wasted, why is the oil produced this way? The shemen zakh is the holiest and most pure because you only take what you need without compromising the seed. At the moment when this oil is collected there is a potential that the olive would not go through the next process. You could take this olive and plant it. The olive tree that would come of that seed and its fruit would be hekdesh, sanctified and unusable outside of the Mikdash. There is a possibility, in the production of shemen zakh, having a continual supply of fuel for the Menorah. This would be a real ner tamid, perpetual fire. This process, in theory, is a trade-off of short-term losses in time and effort for long-term gains in renewable fuel ensuring continuity. The so-called pure oil is not only uncontaminated in content, but also, potentially, in process.

After the Horban, any law relevant to the Mikdash, Temple, must seem irrelevant to our contemporary lives. Ha”ZaL, Sages of blessed memory, gracefully moved the rites of the Menorah as we celebrate them in Hanukah out of the Mikdash and into our homes and shuls.  It stands to reason, that if the Torah commanded that the light of the Menorah must come from such a pure process, we should also work towards finding renewable energy resources for lighting our homes and shuls. At the least we need to do our part in conserving and not wasting the resources that we have. By limiting our dependency on oil we can help ease our dependency on the oil states from the comforts of our homes and synagogues.

This is not only a compelling model for environmental and political concerns, but also for how we deal with each other on an interpersonal level. If we press too hard on the people around us and do not spend the time to cultivate the very foundations of those relationships, we will wear through our friends and loved ones. Over time those relationships will suffer. The ner tamid will only stay lit if we renew our commitment to the purest process in all of our dealings.

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