Parshat Tetzaveh (Mussar approach)

Tetzaveh continues the detailed description of the artifacts and materials of the Sanctuary. It seems that the Torah has little to teach us here about spiritual development or becoming a better person.

The High Priest

Shemot (28: 3-4) (Robert Alter, trans.)
And these are the garments that they shall make …

Shabbat 31a:7
[there was a] gentile who was passing behind the study hall and heard the voice of a teacher who was teaching Torah to his students and saying the verse: “And these are the garments which they shall make: A breastplate, and an efod, and a robe, and a tunic of checkered work, a mitre, and a girdle” The gentile said: These garments, for whom are they designated? The students said to him: For the High Priest. The gentile said to himself: I will go and convert so that they will install me as High Priest. He came before Shammai and said to him: Convert me on condition that you install me as High Priest. Shammai pushed him with the builder’s cubit [ruler] in his hand. He came before Hillel; he converted him. Hillel said to him, to the convert: Is it not the way of the world that only one who knows the protocols of royalty is appointed king? Go and learn the royal protocols by engaging in Torah study. He went and read the Bible. When he reached the verse which says: “And the common man that draws near shall be put to death,” the convert said to Hillel: With regard to whom is the verse speaking? Hillel said to him: Even with regard to David, king of Israel. The convert reasoned an a fortiori inference himself: If the Jewish people are called God’s children, and due to the love that God loved them he called them: “Israel is My son, My firstborn,” and nevertheless it is written about them: And the common man that draws near shall be put to death; a mere convert who came without merit, with nothing more than his staff and traveling bag, all the more so that this applies to him, as well. The convert came before Shammai and told him that he retracts his demand to appoint him High Priest, saying: Am I at all worthy to be High Priest? Is it not written in the Torah: And the common man that draws near shall be put to death? He came before Hillel and said to him: Hillel the patient, may blessings rest upon your head as you brought me under the wings of the Divine Presence. The Gemara relates: Eventually, the three converts gathered together in one place, and they said: Shammai’s impatience sought to drive us from the world; Hillel’s patience brought us beneath the wings of the Divine Presence.

Rabbi Leibowitz
This story leaves us puzzled. Why didn’t the gentile turn back as soon as discovered he could not become a Kohen Gadol?

How does Hillel draw the convert into Torah study? What happens to the convert as he studies Torah? What is key to Hillel’s ability to help the convert spiritually grow?

Shemot (28: 15)
And you shall make a breastplate of judgment …

The breastplate of judgment: it was so called because it atoned for any error in judgment. Another explanation … is because it makes its statements clear.

Rabbi Wolbe
This is the purpose of the Torah’s laws: to provide clarity …

Pesachim 50a
[There was an incident] involving Rav Yosef, son of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who became ill and was about to expire. When he returned to good health, his father said to him: What did you see when you were about to die? He said to him: I saw an inverted world, Those above, i.e. those who are considered important in this world, were below, insignificant, while those below, i.e., those who are insignificant in this world, were above. He said to him: My son, you have seen a clear world. The world you have seen is the true world, as in that world people’s standings befit them. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked: And where are we, the Torah scholars there? Rav Yosef responded: Just as we are regarded here, so are we regarded there. Rav Yosef added: And I heard that they were saying in that world: Praiseworthy is the one who arrives here with his studies in hand.

Rabbi Wolbe
The World to Come is the world of true clarity. Yet those who study the Torah and are guided by its light live with a similar clarity even in this world. They are respected in the next world just as they are respected here in this world, for their Torah has granted them clarity even during their lifetime. “Praiseworthy is he who comes with his Torah in hand.” It is not enough for a person to know what the Torah expects of him; he must also translate his knowledge into action.

Why might Torah study lead to clarity of perception and the mind? Is that enough according to Rabbi Wolbe?