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|‘You shall command the Israelites, and they shall take for you
pure pressed oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp
‘You shall bring near to yourself your brother Aaron … to minister to Me’ (27:20, 28:1).
It is well known that Moses’ name is conspicuously absent in this Parasha. The above two verses – introducing G-d’s Commandments to Moses, are not written in the usual form: indeed the Parasha does not open with the usual: ‘G-d spoke to Moses saying…’
In addition, the main themes of the Parasha – all Divine instructions - seem to follow an unusual sequence. They are, in order, the oil for the daily lighting of the Candelabrum, the garments of the High Priest and officiating Priests, the initiation process of the Tabernacle (Mishkan), the twice-daily offerings, and building of the Inner Altar for the frankincense. The expected order is the one in Parshiot Vayakhel and Pekudei: where it relates that the inner altar was constructed directly after the main, outer altar. So why was the command to build the inner altar omitted from its expected location in the previous Parasha, Teruma, and put much later, at the very end of Parashat Tetzaveh?
In response to the above difficulties, consider the following story:
A young man was once lost in the remote green hills of Western Ireland – an area where one can walk for days on end without meeting a soul. Growing tired of his isolation he chanced on a local farm laborer and asked him, “What is the way to Dublin?” He replied, “Sure, if I was going to Dublin, I wouldn’t start from here.”
Let us look at the deeper meaning of that answer – without any guarantee of course that that was what the local yokel actually had in mind. One cannot, in one stage, adapt from the remote, often unprofitable rural existence on the peat bogs, to the sophisticated big-city lifestyle and range of opportunities. In making that long journey, a rural farm worker experiences the lifestyles of progressively larger and more urbane settlements, until he is psychologically adapted to benefit profitably from the way of life in the capital city. Similarly when a person has sinned in grievous manner, he cannot restore his original relationship with the Almighty in one action: with one resolution to repent. He has a long spiritual journey to complete before he is back on the same, or improved, terms with the Almighty.
This principle may be seen in the structure of this second half of the Book of Exodus. The story of the Golden Calf is related several chapters further on. However Rashi, following the Talmud (Pesachim 6b), derives that that event took place before the order to build the Mishkan: ‘there is no time order to the events in the Torah’.
After the Israelites sinned, and the active participants had been punished, Moses approached G-d for a second time and asked Him to forgive the Israelites. This time he stated that if G-d would not forgive the people, ‘erase me from the Book (the Torah) You have written’ (32:32). Rashi there explains that Moses wanted his name removed from the whole Torah, lest people would say that he was unsuccessful in obtaining G-d’s mercy for His people. [Incidentally, it may be suggested that Jeremiah is not mentioned by name throughout the Book of Kings (but he is included in the parallel narrative in Chronicles), because he wanted his own name to be blotted out, due his lack of success in positively influencing the Jews of his day.]
However, as Phil Chernofsky, in ‘Torah Tidbits’ #406 explains, G-d did forgive the people, but however well Moses had pleaded the cause of the Israelites with G-d, what he said was ‘improper’. Rather than ‘erase’ him from the whole Book, G-d made a token erasure – from one Parasha. Amongst the reasons he brings as to why that was Parashat Tetzaveh is that the 7th Adar (the traditional date of the date of Moses’ death) generally (but not always) falls closest to that Parasha.
Taking that idea a little further, it comes out the Parashat Tetzaveh contains an undertone of desolation – namely, Moses’ not being there in the same way. Taking the Parasha as a whole, there is the underlying theme of any person’s multi-stage spiritual journey to full acceptance by the Almighty, which only comes through Teshuva – repentance.
The nature of that route may be seen in considering the order of topics in the Parasha. It starts off with the oil and the candelabrum. The purity of the oil gave out an air of peace – as anyone who has gazed at an olive oil Chanukia knows full well. This indicates that a person should strive to interact with others in a positive and gentle manner: people by nature are very vulnerable…
The next stage is the working towards improving the relationship with the Almighty. One has to put oneself in the right frame of mind. Psychologists say that a chef performs as a chef when he is dressed as a chef. Lehavdil, the High Priest can only act as a High Priest and feel like a High Priest when clothed in the manner revealed in this Parasha. Similarly, a person’s route to Teshuva involves mentally ‘clothing’ himself by constructively learning and absorbing Torah – allowing it to become part of him.
The third stage is becoming involved in worthy projects for the community that encapsulate and reinforce the Torah way of life. Whatever a project is, (be it a Torah educational institution, a hospital, an orphanage, and so on) its launching must have an impact, so that others will take it seriously and regularly make use of it (as reflected in instructions for the elaborate dedication ceremony of the Temple). But giving the venture a ‘send off’ is not enough. As represented by the daily offerings, it needs to be regularly supported and utilized to the full, so that it will indeed be worthy to ‘receive His approval’ – and come within the spirit of ‘I shall rest my presence amongst the Israelites…’ (29:45).
As illustrated with the multi-staged route to Dublin – beyond the grasp of the simple countryman, the route back to closeness to the Almighty is also a long multi-staged one. The Torah has symbolized three fundamental stages on the route to repentance: working on relating to others in an appropriate manner, working on spiritual improvement through meaningful Torah study, and combining both for the active improvement of our society. Only then can one aspire to the more intimate closeness to G-d – as represented by the Inner Altar – from where the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year of on Yom Kippur…
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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