Parshat Tetzaveh

Parshat Tetzaveh

For Saturday

In this cycle through the Torah we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.

The Torah continues to explore the ritual objects of the Mishkan.  Encountering ritual — its objects, architecture, activities, cycle, and clothing — the mystics seek to find its spiritual meaning and purpose.

The kabbalistic and hasidic commentaries here are largely allegorical — connecting the form of objects with behavior and character. There is also a concern with how to evoke an awareness of God.

Shemot 28:2-4

Make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron , for dignity and adornment. Next you shall instruct all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron’s vestments, for consecrating him to serve Me as priest. These are the vestments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash. They shall make those sacral vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons, for priestly service to Me …

Mordechai of Izbica, 19th century, Poland

With these garments, God is showing Israel what [type of] person is divinely chosen, for from these garments the precious elements of Aaron the priest’s soul may be recognized and understood.

The headband alludes to him because he had to be attached to God, just so [God] had commanded it that it should always be on his forehead. On the headband were engraved [the words] “Holy to the Eternal,” that is, in the depths of his thought was always [the idea of] “Know the God of your father” (2 Chronicles 28:9).

The breastplate alludes to him for in his heart was to be found no hatred of anyone in Israel, because the [names of] the tribes of Israel were engraved on his heart.

The ephod with which he was girded alludes to his trust in God, upon whom he relied.

The robe teaches [us] about the greatness of his awe [of God], because it was of purple [techelet], which alludes to awe.

What the word “ephod” refers to is not well-understood.

The ephod is the apron-like clothing shown in yellow. The Torah describes it as blue, not yellow as shown here.

Source: Wikipedia from By THE HISTORY OF COSTUME By Braun & SchneiderPublic Domain,

Techelet is a blue color, made from a mollusk. In tzizit, a single thread is dyed with techelet. The blue color is reminiscent of the blue of the Mediterranean Sea and the sky. The dye is made from a sea creature and requires exposure to sunlight in its processing. Rabbi Tabick notes that in kabbalistic thought the white threads of the tzizit represent Lovingkindness and the techelet thread represents Gevurah (strength, boundaries, justice) or Yirah (fear of God, awe).

Shemot 28:31-32

You shall make the robe of the ephod of pure blue [תְּכֵֽלֶת]. The opening [mouth] for the head [פִֽי־רֹאשׁ֖וֹ] shall be in the middle of it; the opening shall have a binding of woven work round about — it shall be like the opening of a coat of mail — so that it does not tear.

Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz, late 16th-early 17th century, Tsefat and Tiberias

[One of the commandments in Tetzaveh is] not to allow the robe to be torn. The rabbi mentioned above wrote that the reason for this mitzvah was so that the priest should put a “strong wall” around his mouth. Since he offers supplication for a holy people, no improper word should issue from his mouth. Since he is the one who “binds” and “sews” together, he should produce no separation or tears, as it is written. The mind’s “drowsiness will clothe [a person] in torn clothing” (Proverbs 23:21). Since the body clothes the soul. and the robe clothes the body, and they are joined together, it is fitting that that which covers the soul, know as the “robe of our sages,” should not be torn. Thus far his words.

Every person who serves God is like a priest, and their merit stands before the masses. Therefore, let everyone sanctify their words with extra holiness.

There should be a fence or a wall around the speech of a person who serves God. How do you understand that idea? What is the contrast to a drowsy mind referring to?

What might be the broader implications that “it is fitting that that which covers the soul … should not be torn.”

Shemot 29:45-46

I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God.

And they shall know that I the LORD am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I the LORD their God.

Anything peculiar you notice in these verses?

Or Chaim, Hayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar, 18th century, Morocco, Italy, Eretz Israel

“I am the Eternal their God” — a reason why this is said twice [in these two verses]: Perhaps the intention was to include even the period when the Shechinah is not among us. The Eternal is [still] our God, and we [still] belong to God.

Or maybe it refers in this way to their knowledge and recognition of the fact [of God’s presence], as it says before this: “They shall know by this [recognition], they become fit to be called by My Name; thus it says, “the Eternal their God.” But without this [recognition], they are throwing off the yoke and will belong to other gods than God.

An alternative, looser translation in Sefaria of the second part:

Alternatively, God’s being truly our God depends on our being aware of and recognizing this fact. We are only worthy of bearing His name while we recognize Him as our God as mentioned at the beginning of this verse. Failing this, the result will be that people will shake off the burden of the Torah, in which event they would “belong” to other gods.

How do you remain aware of God? What is the role of ritual in this awareness? Is there tension to ritual’s role — can it be both a vehicle and barrier to awareness?