Tetzaveh: Exodus 27:20 - 30:10                                                       

This week'’s portion begins with the Hebrew words “ve’atah tetzaveh,” which translate as “…and you shall further instruct.” God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to bring olive oil for lighting the lamp of the Mishkan (the sanctuary). The lamps, which are to be the responsibility of Aaron and his sons, are to burn from evening until morning. The “ner tamid” (eternal light) described in this week'’s portion is the reason for the light that we see today in every temple and synagogue, above the aron which holds the Torah scroll.  

The parasha goes on to describe the special garments that the kohen gadol (High Priest) must wear when approaching the altar to officiate in the sanctuary. Ramban explained that the High Priest was to be distinguished with garments of exceptional beauty. In particular, the gold, blue-purple, and red-purple colors of these garments resembled the clothes worn by monarchs at the time when the Torah was given.  

They included an ephod, something like shoulder epaulets; a breastpiece; a robe; a fringed tunic; a headdress, which included a tzitz (a gold plate which hung down on the priest’'s forehead); and a sash. On the shoulder pieces of the ephod, which was made of gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, were two stones (either onyx or lapis lazuli) with the twelve tribes of Israel engraved on them. They were “engraved like a seal,” which means that the names were carved backwards. Our rabbis say these engravings were on the back side of the stones and could be seen through the stone. The breastpiece, also made of gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, contained four rows of mounted stones, a stone for each tribe. Like the two stones on the ephod, each stone was engraved with the name of a tribe. Scholars are not in agreement about what the specific stones were. The breastpiece held the Urim and Tummim (somewhat like dice), a means for the High Priest to find out God’'s decisions on specific matters. 

The hem of the High Priest’s robe was decorated with pomegranates of blue, purple and crimson yarn and with little golden bells that tinkled whenever he walked. The regular priests wore tunics, turbans and sashes of fine linen.  They also wore linen boxer shorts under their tunics! 

Chapter 29 describes the ordination ceremony for Aaron and his sons. It was a seven-day ritual involving washing, dressing, and anointing them with oils as well as the offering of various sacrifices. The parasha ends with a description of a small incense altar, made of acacia wood covered with gold. Aaron was to burn incense on it every morning and every evening at the time when the lamps were tended. 

Some Thoughts and Questions 

1.    Think of all the lights that we kindle each week and each year? In addition to the Shabbat candles on Friday evenings and the Havdalah candle on Saturday nights, and candles on the eve of every holiday, we light the Chanukah candles in a specific manner each night of the holiday, and we light yahrzeit candles, which mark the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Discuss the meaning of these lights. What do they illumine for us? How do you think they connect us to the light of the ner tamid

2.    Lights are very important in the Jewish tradition. The Torah is often referred to as “Torah ora” or “Torah of light.” Why do think that is so? Describe how the Torah is a light to you. How can you help make the light of the Torah an eternal light? 

3.    There is a folk saying that “Every Jew must light a ner tamid in his or her own heart.” What do you think this phrase means? What kind of light should we keep burning inside us? What do you think that light is supposed to illuminate? Can you name some things that you can do for others to show that you'’re keeping the flame within you alive? 

4.    What do you think God meant when God said that the Jewish people will be a “light unto the nations” (adapted from Isaiah 49:6)? How do we make our light visible to others? 

5.    The Torah is dressed to remind us of the High Priest: It has a mantle, a breastpiece (frequently bearing the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel), and a sash. We decorate the top of the Torah with a crown, or with a pair of silver ornaments called rimonim (pomegranates) to which we attach tiny bells. What message would our rabbis be sending by dressing the Torah like the High Priest? 

6.    Imagine what it must have felt like to the High Priest to go into the Mishkan, the Tabernacle each morning. On your left would be the gold table with the twelve loaves of bread; on your right would be the menorah with its seven branches and its seven flames. Directly in front of you would be the small gold-covered altar smoking with incense. And beyond, partially hidden in smoke, would be the embroidered curtain behind which rested the ark with the two kruvim on top. 

7.    Imagine that you see Aaron dressed in his special vestments. What would your reaction be? 

8.    Aaron had specific clothes to wear for specific purposes. Do you think his clothing helped him carry out his duties as High Priest? Why or why not? Do you have specific clothing to wear for specific purposes? Try and give some examples. Think about and describe outfits you would wear for specific occasions, for example a school day, a sporting event in which you are a member of one of the teams, dinner in a fancy restaurant, a Jewish holiday, a bar/bat mitzvah celebration. Do any of these outfits help you carry out specific tasks? What makes certain outfits appropriate for specific occasions or events? How might that help you understand the need for Aaron to have special clothing? 

9.    Did you know that the Shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor – the Sabbath to Remember?  On Shabbat Zachor, we read the weekly Torah portion as well as an additional two lines of Deuteronomy 25:17-19. In these lines, God commands the nation of Israel to blot out the memory of Amalek for their attack against the Israelites in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Amalek surprised the Israelites, attacking from the rear, where the elderly, weak, sick and children, those who were unable to keep up with the others, straggled behind. Amalek attacked for no apparent reason since the Israelites only wanted safe passage through his territory. For this reason, Amalek has become the symbol of all enemies of the Jewish people. Shabbat Zachor comes just before Purim because Haman, we are told, was a descendant of Agog, King of the Amalekites.

In the Passover haggadah, it says “in every generation, someone has sought to destroy us.” Can you name any of the other Amaleks throughout our history who have tried to eliminate the Jews? How were these Amaleks defeated? Read the Book of Esther for Purim this week and discuss how Esther saved the Jews in her time. Go to your shul this week for the Megillah reading and make as much noise as you can to blot out the name of Haman.