Tetzave – Official Business

 This week’s Torah portion of Tetzave discusses the priestly garments. One of the garments of the Kohen Gadol, (the high priest) was the me’il (the robe), which had pomegranates, tassels, and bells on the bottom. The Torah states, “It must be on Aharon in order to minister. Its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary before Hashem and when he leaves, so that he not die” (Shemos 28:35).
Rabbeinu Bachye brings a few interpretations of what “Its (his) sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary ” refers to. The first is that it refers to the voice of Aharon, for when he came to the Sanctuary wearing the eight garments, with this tactic, his voice would be heard and his prayers accepted. Included in “its sound” is the sound of the robe with the noise from the bells. This is a moral lesson, (mussar haskel) and the Torah is teaching man proper manners, (derech eretz) for one who wants to enter before the king, he must first knock at the entrance of the throne room, so that he won’t just suddenly enter. The kingdoms on earth are like the kingdom in Heaven, for anyone who enters the throne room of the king suddenly deserves to be executed, as a stratagem of the kingdom. We see this written by King Achashveirosh, ‘Who is not summoned, his law is one- to be put to death’ (Esther 4:11).

Another reason is to make known that the Kohen Gadol wanted to enter. Even though everything is revealed and known to the Shechina (Holy Presence), also the angels, holy ministers before Him, nothing is hidden from them. The reason [for the bells] were so that the angels wouldn’t bump into him, which would have happened if he had walked in suddenly. The bells were not to introduce a new matter to the Shechina (Hashem’s Holy Presence), nor to the angels who were there, rather the matter obviously included great purposes, for it was a warning to the Angel’s to leave their positions to make room for the loved one of the King, for the King’s honor, so that he can enter and serve Him alone.

Furthermore, so that the kohen would not get hurt if he entered suddenly. With this sign they (the angels) would get out of his way and give the servant of The King room. When he left [the bells] were also an announcement, as if the kohen called them back to be ministering in front of Him as they were originally doing because his service had ended and now, he is leaving. [The pasuk] then says ‘and he will not die’ to teach that if he would come there without being heard and barge in suddenly then he would die because the ministering angel that were there surrounding the Shechina would bump into him… Therefore, the kohen was commanded to be sure the bells are heard, similar to what it says in Tehillim (55:16)’ That together we would devise counsel; in the house of G-d we would walk with a multitude.’

And this sign of announcement, as well as asking permission, was required throughout the year. The reason why it says ‘its voice shall be heard upon entering the Holy,’ but not when he went into the inner chamber of The Holy of Holies, is because in the Holy of Holies he did not have to be heard, and he did not enter with his golden garments, rather only with his white garments. This was the great level of the Jews, that the Kohen Gadol would enter into the The Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur without needing the sign of announcement or asking for permission. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This gives us a whole new understanding of the Jews being equated to angels on Yom Kippur. To the extent that the Kohen Gadol was able to enter without any announcement, into the holiest place in the world where no one can enter besides him on Yom Kippur, that’s the level a Jew can reach, and it’s a praise for the entire Jewish nation who he represents.

However, throughout the rest of the year, according to the second reason for the bells, if the angels really knew when he was coming in, why didn’t they just move out of his way as soon as he came in? Why were bells needed? The Kohen Gadol was doing the job of serving Hashem just as the angels were; they should have respected it when it was his turn to do the service of Hashem. Why then were the bells needed as a sign and announcement to indicate when he was coming and leaving?

It would seem that it was ceremonial. Just as l’havdil, the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace has a whole procession for the honor of the king, so too the announcement of the bells when the Kohen Gadol was walking in and out of Sanctuary was a “ceremonial changing of the guards” for the honor of Hashem. Without this “ceremony,” the Angel’s would not move from their post because that would be disrespectful to Kavod Shamayim, the honor of Hashem. Therefore if the bells would not have chimed and the Kohen Gadol would suddenly come in, he would die and that is also why the Angel’s would only return to their post upon hearing the bells at the Kohen Gadol’s exit.

Sensitivities towards Hashem’s honor are paramount to basic manners, but we see that it should also be applied to human kings as well, because this is a moral lesson of how a person should always act. Nevertheless, the greatness of Jewish nation is that on the holiest day of the year, in the holiest place on earth, Hashem allows his beloved servant to be like “an equal,” a beloved son who does not need a ceremonial announcement to enter.

Tetzave – If You Believe it, it Will Come

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The beginning of this week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Tetzave writes, “You, Son of man, describe the House to the House of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; let them measure its plan. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, let them know the form of the House and its scheme, its exits and its entrances, and all its forms, and all its laws and all its teachings, and write it down in their sight so that they keep the whole form thereof and the laws thereof, and do them. This is the teaching of the House; Upon the top of the mountain, all its boundary round about shall be most holy; behold, this is the teaching of the House” (Yechezkel 43:10-12).

Just as the end of the Torah portion elucidates the dimensions of the Incense Alter, so too the haftorah details the dimensions of the alter that will be built in the times of the Third Beis HaMikdash, according to the Radak, may it come speedily in our days.
The Radak says that Hashem told Yechezkel to speak to the exiles of the First Beis HaMikdash after its destruction and tell them that they were at fault for the destruction of this temple. However, a future Temple will never be destroyed because they will not sin, as it says, ‘They will distance their sins, and I will live among them forever.’ They should calculate and measure the schematics of this future temple so that they can picture it and prepare it as a sign, for it will be made in the future, when The Final Redemption takes place, and the dead will be resurrected. They should prepare it now as a sign that those who see these diagrams will live during building of this future House. This is one of the proofs for the resurrection of the dead; “and if they are ashamed” of all they had done then they should be informed of the dimensions and looks of the temple. “In their sight” that they will see the building of the temple in the future, and they will do it, but if they aren’t [ashamed, in order to repent,] then they will not [see it]. They should keep them in their hearts and believe in them, for then they will make the buildings, forms, and laws in the future. If they will not keep them in their heart and they will not believe, then they will not do them. For this is the attribute of Hashem, The Holy One Blessed Be He; He pays a person measure for measure. Whoever believes in the coming of the redemption will merit to be redeemed, and if he does not believe he does not merit it. So too, if he believes in the resurrection of the dead he will merit to be resurrected and if he does not believe he will not merit it. One cannot say “And they shall make it” is talking about making the Second Beis HaMikdash when the exiles returned from Bavel because there were many aspects of the building mentioned here which was not in the Second Beis HaMikdash. Therefore it must be referring to building in the future, and it says specifically “They shall make it” as a great proof for the resurrection of the dead. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What if no one would believe in the Final Redemption, the building of the Third Beis HaMikdash, and the resurrection of the dead? It would seem from this Radak that they would never happen. Would that mean the atheists and non-believers are correct? G-D forbid, of course not! It would just be a tragedy!!
But how could that be? How does this make sense? It would seem that belief is the foundation of reality and existence in this world. Of course, if Hashem says something will happen it will happen, or has happened above time and this world; but that does not mean it has to manifest itself in this world if we don’t give it a chance for it to happen. That is part of our free choice. But that does not mean that the Torah is wrong, Hashem really doesn’t exist, and our belief system is flawed. Rather it means we didn’t earn or deserve what Hashem has in store for us.

Hashem is ready and willing to give all that has been promised and guaranteed to happen, which we believe through mesora, tradition, from generation to generation. The process just has to play out for us to ultimately deserve it. Just as Noach and his family were the only believers in their generation and were the only ones saved from world destruction, so too Hashem is ready and willing to bring on the Final Redemption, resurrect the dead, and build the Third Beis HaMikdash, even for one person, if he was the only one to believe it.

However, we have the strength and fortitude to never give up and to be steadfast to our belief system, and G-D willing, speedily in our days there shall be a sanctification of Hashem’s Holy Name with millions, if not billions of believers coming forth in the End Days for the Final Redemption, resurrection of the dead, and the building of the third and final everlasting Holy Temple. May it happen smoothly and peacefully sooner than later!

Tetzaveh – Fried Chicken & Spiced BBQ Ribs with a Smile

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Two of the many things discussed in this week’s Torah portion of Tetzaveh are the olive oil that was used in the Mishkan for various functions like for lighting the menorah and meal-offerings, and the incense that was burned on the Golden Alter right outside the Holy of Holies in the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash.

Rabbeinu Bachye, in his introduction to the Torah portion, quotes a pasuk in Mishley (27:9), “Oil and incense make the heart rejoice, and the sweetness of his friendship more than one’s own counsel.” King Shlomo warns us in this pasuk to be merciful to strangers (or converts) who are exiled from his place and from the land in which he was born. The Torah warns about how to treat this person in many places, to not mistreat him verbally or monetarily, as it says, “And you shall not mistreat a stranger” (Shemos 22:20), and it writes, “And you shall not oppress a stranger” (Shemos 23:9), and it also writes, “for you know the feelings of the stranger” (Shemos 23:9). Therefore Shlomo came and added and newly conceived here that a person is obligated to treat another person who was exiled and moved from place to place in two ways: (1) He should feed him, and (2) He should smile at him. This pasuk is connected to the previous pasuk in Mishlei that says, “As a bird wandering from its nest, so is a man wandering from his place.” It equates a person who has left his birthplace to a bird who has left his nest, his origin, those who are the source of his birth. Right next to that verse it then immediately says “oil and incense,” which is a nickname for all food. Anything which is fried with oil and spices  [creates an incense of] smoke that rises from the food being cooked. The pasuk informs us with this that a person is obligated to make the heart of a man who is wandering happy by feeding him which is the “oil and incense,” for it “make the heart rejoice”. One also has to have a smile which in the pasuk refers to as “the sweetness of his friendship;” that one should sweeten his words and smile at the stranger. For besides the fact that he needs “oil and incense he also needs “the sweetness of his friendship” through smiling and talking to him gently.The pasuk concludes, “more than one’s own counsel,” meaning this sweetness and smile should come from one’s own mind, showing true love and care, and not flattery, because the stranger will show you sweetness in his lips, more than you give him. So to Chaza”l say in Kesubos 111b, “Better is to show your white teeth (smile) to your friend then offering him milk, as it says ‘and the whiteness of teeth more than milk’ (Breishis 49:12)…” The prophet also mentioned, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry” (Yeshayahu 58:7), this refers to “oil and incense,” he then mentions, “And you draw out your soul to the hungry” (Yeshayahu 58:10), which refers to “the sweetness of his friendship”. (Click here for Hebrew Text.)

Earlier in the Torah portion of Mishpatim, where it discusses not mistreating a stranger (convert) as quoted earlier, Rabbeinu Bachye writes on 22:20, “one should not mistreat a stranger (convert) with hurtful words and should not oppress them by stealing their money. In many places in the Torah it writes, and Hashem warns us about, a stranger (convert) for a stranger (convert) finds himself alone in a foreign land and that is why he is called a ger (stranger), from the word gargir, (seed) which is found by itself at the top of a branch of a tree, feeling desolate and weak. Therefore Hashem said: ‘Don’t think he won’t find someone to fight his fight, for I will fight for him, and will take revenge for him being taken advantage of. This is why the pasuk gives a reason that ‘You know the soul of a stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ It does not say ‘you know the stranger” rather it says ‘you know the soul of the stranger,’ meaning [Hashem is telling the Jews] ‘you know that every stranger has a feeling of being a lowly soul, and he has no one to lift up his eyes towards, except for Me, and therefore I will be merciful on him just as I was merciful to you when you were strangers in Egypt.’ Mentioned with them are the orphans and widows, because all of them have weaker strength, and people take advantage and cause them suffering, their tears are common, for the gates of tears never close, therefore people have to be very careful to be good and kind to them with their body and money, and so to the prophet mentions, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry” (Yeshayahu 58:7), and also writes, “And you draw out your soul to the hungry” (Yeshayahu 58:10). If you are able to give him bread, give it, and if not then at least strengthen his soul with some kind words.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Torah goes out of its way to not hurt a stranger (convert), even giving reasons for why not to do so. This logically leads us to believe that not only do we have a responsibility not to hurt them, but we must also be sensitive to their needs; feeding them, taking care of them, and certainly talking to them calmly, softly, and with a sincere smile, as Rabbeinu Bachye logically points out. But if this is so, why did King Shlomo feel a need to reemphasize how to properly treat a stranger (convert,) and why did Rabbeinu Bachye call it a ‘new insight’ if it is a logical extension of the verses in the Torah? Of course in order to not make a stranger (convert) feel bad you have to talk to him nicely and make him feel at home by giving him a scrumptious meal, room, and board if needed! On the contrary, we are descendants of Avraham Avinu, who was an expert at having guests who were total strangers, many of whom eventually converted to monotheism. It is in our genetic makeup to be merciful and act with kindness; certainly we should at least strive to emulate him. So why does this concept of taking care of strangers and not mistreating them need to be emphasized so much, at such length, over and over again?!

We must say that even though the attribute of mercy and kindness are two of the signs that we are Jews, coming from the line of Avraham Avinu, still in all it is in fact very difficult to honestly deal with, and give selflessly to, a complete stranger and foreigner, even if he or she has joined our faith. There is a cognitive dissonance, that on the one hand it is within our genetic makeup to emulate Hashem and be a selfless giver and doer of kindness just as our forefather Avraham was. Yet it is also natural for a person to recoil and have a feeling of distance, and to create a wall of separation from someone who you don’t personally know and have not come to feel comfortable with, someone who has not been raised the same way as you have, or even in the same town that you have lived in your whole life. Indeed, because they are different you might come to rationalize treating them differently, and even take advantage of them. At the very least if you outwardly show that you are trying to be nice, you don’t really mean it, you put on a show. But they can see right through it, and Hashem sees their pain and tears. For this reason Hashem emphasizes and reemphasizes how important it is, and gives us initiatives of why, we should feel it is important to not mistreat a stranger. It is because it is so easy to fall into the trap of the inner struggle within us, and not sincerely give the way we are supposed to, that King Shlomo spelled out as clearly as possible how to positively treat the strangers that sojourn among us. It brings to light with a new clarity the altruistic feeling of care and compassion we should truly feel and act upon.

May this attitude make an impression on our relationship between us and our fellow person, who deserve it, whoever it might be!