Parshat Tetzaveh תשפב

Parshat Tezaveh is the second of the Torah’s four portions that deal with the construction of the portable tabernacle in the desert – the Mishkan. Parshat Terumah, which we read last week, contains the instructions for the Mishkan’s physical structure, including  its walls, curtains, coverings, and vessels for the service. This week’s portion, Tetzaveh, considers primarily the fabrication of the special garments that the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) and regular Cohanim (Cohens) wore when performing the service in the Mishkan. The last two portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei describe in detail how each of the instructions was precisely carried out for the Mishkan and for the Cohanim’s special garments. 

The Sages wonder about all the Torah’s attention and detail given to the construction of the Mishkan and garments of the Cohanim. Instead of taking some 400 verses to describe every minute detail, the Torah could have covered the entire process in one verse: “Hashem told Moshe and the Jewish people to build the Mishkan and all of its accoutrements, and they did so.”  

We find the resolution to the problem in the Midrash (Tanchuma Pikudei:3).

כתיב ה’ בחכמה יסד ארץ וגו’ (משלי ג) ואומר ואמלא אותו רוח אלהים בחכמה (שמות לא) ללמדך שהמשכן שקול כנגד כל העולם וכנגד יצירת האדם שהוא עולם קטן

The verse (Proverbs 3:19) says, Hashem established the world withחכמה  – wisdom. And as to Betzalel (the one who crafted the Mishkan) it also says (Exodus 31:3) And I filled him with חכמה  – wisdom. This (the use of the word wisdom in both places) teaches us that the Mishkan is considered like the entire world.

This corresponds to the statement in the Talmud (Brachot 55a), which says:  

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: יודע היה בצלאל לצרף אותיות שנבראו בהן שמים וארץ

Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rav, “Betzalel knew how to put together the letters of the pronouncements of the creation, in the same way that Hashem did, when He created the world.”

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:1) tells us that Hashem created the world with ten pronouncements.

א) בַּעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם

These pronouncements were the words Hashem used to create the world in the beginning of Genesis. “And Hashem said ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light. ‘And Hashem said …’ The words that Hashem “spoke,” so to speak, brought forth all the creations in Creation. Betzalel knew the exact words and combinations of letters that Hashem used to create the world, and, when crafting the Mishkan, he employed those very same pronouncements. Hence, the Mishkan, through its creation contained, in some sense, the same components present in the world. Furthermore, each component of the Mishkan is spiritually linked to a specific component of the world – the one which shared the same pronouncement. Thus, the Mishkan was a miniature world. This is the reason for all the attention to the construction of the Mishkan. A whole new world with all of its components and details was being created here!

What is the significance of this? 

The daily service, delineated in the Torah, which went on in the Mishkan and subsequently in the Holy Temple, was very precise. There were two daily sacrifices, morning and evening, that were brought from the donations of the Jewish people, for the Jewish people, with their respective accoutrements. The Menorah was lit every evening and had to burn through the night, and incense was brought on the special incense alter every morning and evening. The showbread was put on the Shulchan (Table) every Shabbat, replacing the twelve loaves that were there from the previous Shabbat, to mention a few. Each of these holy services was the source of blessing to the component in the world to which it corresponded. For example, the amount of “bread” or food in the world, received its blessing from the service of the showbread, which took place on Shabbat. This is symbolic of our not working on Shabbat, which is the source of blessing for our livelihood for the next the week. The amount of wisdom in the world, received its blessing from the light of the menorah, whose seven arms represented the seven branches of wisdom and whose flames represent wisdom itself. 

In a way, the Mishkan was like a remote control device that controlled the blessing in the entire world. When the Cohanim would do the appropriate act in the Mishkan – press the right button, so to speak – it would create a burst of holiness that would travel heavenward and return to the world in the form of blessing to the part of the world to which it was linked.

Not only did the service in the Mishkan serve as the source of blessing to the world, the blessing returned to the world and was distributed throughout the world through the Mishkan as well. The Sages describe the Mishkan as the “umbilical cord” for the world. From it, the stimulus for the blessing was created, and, then, back through it came the blessing – the nourishment and sustenance to the world. 

To illustrate this point our Sages teach us, that in Jerusalem, King Solomon was able to plant even the most exotic fruits needing tropical climates (which Jerusalem generally does not have during the winter months), because he knew the exact spot that the spiritual blessing for that fruit came down from heaven. 

This leads to an important question. Now that we no longer have the Temple service, what is the source of blessing to the world? What has replaced the sacrifices and other sources of holiness that brought forth the blessing from heaven? 

Our Sages instituted the daily prayers to substitute for the daily sacrifices. The morning prayer שחרית  – Shachrit, replaced the daily morning sacrifice, and the afternoon prayer מנחה  – Mincha, replaced the afternoon daily sacrifice. The ערבית  – Maariv, evening prayer, corresponds to the sacrificial meat that burned all night on the alter. Our prayers do not compare to the holiness generated in the Holy Temple, but they suffice to get us by. As you can imagine, the more the better.

This is why we face Jerusalem when we pray. The law in the Code of Jewish Law actually states that we should not only direct our prayers to Jerusalem, we should direct them to the Holy Temple, and to the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple. This is because our prayers have replaced the temple service, but the site of the Holy Temple is still the conduit for our prayers to reach Hashem, and the source of blessing to the world.

The Torah tells us (Leviticus 19:30):  

ל) אֶת שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ וּמִקְדָּשִׁי תִּירָאוּ אֲנִי יְדֹוָד

30) Keep My Sabbath, and fear My Holy Temple, I am Hashem. 

The Sages wonder about the juxtaposition of the Shabbat to the Holy Temple. What does keeping the Shabbat have to do with the Holy Temple? Why are these two seemingly unrelated topics placed in the same verse? 

Rashi explains: 

ואע”פ שאני מזהירכם על המקדש את שבתותי תשמורו אין בנין בית המקדש דוחה שבת:

Although I have warned you about the sanctity of the Holy Temple’s importance, nevertheless, keep my Shabbat. This teaches us that the construction of the Holy Temple does not override the Shabbat, and you may not construct it on Shabbat. 

This can be understood on a deeper level. Hashem warns us to keep the Shabbat twelve times in the Torah. Keeping the Shabbat means that we must refrain from doing מלאכה” – forbidden acts.” (I am deliberately not translating that word to mean work. See below for its true understanding.) But the Torah doesn’t spell out for us which acts are forbidden and constitute a violation of the Shabbat. There is just one verse (Exodus 35:3), which clearly states a prohibited act, Do not burn a fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” But there are 39 different categories of forbidden acts on Shabbat. Where are the other 38 from? 

They are derived from the verse quoted above. Fear my Sanctuary, and keep My Shabbat. The way you keep my Shabbat is by refraining from doing the constructive actions you employed in constructing the Mishkan. 

Analyzing the Mishkan’s construction, the Sages broke it down to its basic categories of creative activity. For example, the curtains were made of wool and woven on a loom. This required 8 of the 39 categories of creative work. 

1. Shearing the wool 

2. Cleansing it 

3. Combing it 

4. Dying it 

5. Twining it into threads 

6&7. Setting up the loom 

8. Weaving the curtain 

This is how all 39 categories of forbidden activity were derived. 

When we apply the idea that the construction of the Mishkan was the creation of a miniature world, which corresponds to Hashem’s creation of our world, the deep connection between the two ideas becomes clear. Just as Hashem rested from creating the world when  Shabbat commenced, so, too, we must rest from creating the – the Mishkan – the miniature world, when the Shabbat enters.

There is yet another layer of depth. Rabbi Yitzchak Issac Chaver (Student of the Vilna Gaon) writes. 

ספר ביאורי אגדות (אפיקי ים) – שבת דף קד ע”א

 וז”ס המשכן שבו הי’ נכלל כל הבריאה שלכן נסמכה פ’ שבת למלאכת המשכן שהם הל”ט אבות מלאכות שהי’ במשכן, שהם עצמם שהיו בו’ ימי בראשית ששבת מהם בשבת

This is the secret of the Mishkan; it included the entire creation. This is why Shabbat was put next to the building of the Mishkan, because those 39 categories of creative actions that were necessary for the Mishkan’s construction are the very same actions that Hashem used during the six days of creation from which Hashem rested on Shabbat. 

When we keep the Shabbat and refrain from doing any of the 39 categories of forbidden actions, we are mirroring what Hashem did when He rested from creating anything new on the Shabbat. Indeed, we are actually refraining from the very same actions that Hashem refrained from when He, so to speak, rested on Shabbat. 

This defines for us what types of actions are called “מלאכה-melacha” on Shabbat. Melacha doesn’t mean “work.” Destructive  or uncreative work is not forbidden on Shabbat.  For example, let’s say I am having guests for the Shabbat afternoon meal and I must bring tables and chairs up from the basemen to accommodate them. Even though the tables are heavy and may cause me to sweat from exertion, it would be permissible to do so on Shabbat, because there is no creativity involved. It is just moving something from one place in the house to another. The type of acts that are forbidden on Shabbat are creative acts, similar to what Hashem did when He created the world, and similar to what Betzalel and his helpers did when they created the Mishkan. Boring grunt work should not be done unless necessary for Shabbat, but nevertheless is not a violation of the Shabbat since there is no creativity involved.

This is why the Hashem places so much importance on keeping the Shabbat. Refraining from the 39 categories of creative activity has its roots deep in creation; Hashem Himself refrained from using them, and the existence of the entire world depends on it. 

The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir Hakohen Kagan, d. 1933) compares Shabbat to the heart of the Jewish people. Imagine a person who was in a serious accident. A team of doctors converges on the patient, each a specialist in an specific organ of the body, to examine him. All of a sudden, the doctors all make way for another doctor. He is the heart doctor. If the heart is no good, all the rest of the doctors are irrelevant. This is why the Shabbat is such an important part of Judaism. The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir Hakohen Kagan, d. 1933) compares Shabbat to the heart of the Jewish people. Imagine a person who was in a serious accident. A team of doctors converges on the patient, each a specialist in a specific organ of the body, to examine him. All of a sudden, all the doctors make way for another doctor. He is the heart doctor. If the heart is no good, the rest of the doctors are all irrelevant.

After creating man on the sixth day, Hashem told him (Genesis 1:28).  

כח) וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹקִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹקִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבְכָל חַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל הָאָרֶץ

(28) And Hashem blessed them and Hashem said to them. Be fruitful and multiply fill up the earth and conquer it, and rule over the fish in the seas, the birds in the heavens, and all living creatures that roam the earth. 

Hashem instructed man to “conquer the earth!” This means that we are commanded to mine the ores in the earth and use the extracted metals as we please. We are allowed to kill animals and use their skins for shoes, their flesh for dinner, and their wool for clothing. We are allowed to cut down trees to use their wood for building, furniture, and paper. Man has done a marvelous job of fulfilling this command of Hashem. A brief look around will reveal the many ingenious ways man has used the raw materials that Hashem has put into the earth. Hashem gave man mastery over His world. 

Hashem then said (Exodus 35:2), “Six days you may do melacha, but the seventh day will be a holy day for you, a Shabbat to Hashem, who ever does melacha will be punishable by death.” You may use My world creatively for the six days of creation, but on the seventh day, just as I did not create, you must also refrain from doing any creative activity. I created the world, and I give you permission to be creative with it, for only six days of the week. On the seventh, Shabbat, you must acknowledge Me as the Creator and Master of the world, by following My instructions not to use My world creatively on this day. 

This is why flipping on a light on Shabbat is forbidden. People erroneously say, “Where’s the work? It’s a whole lot easier than schlepping tables!” But think about how many patents went into the system that allows light to come from a light bulb when you flip the switch. Every single component of that elaborate and complex system was created by man’s ingenuity and creativity. This is the meaning of melacha. Therefore, just turning on a light which incorporates so much ingenuity and creativity is forbidden. 

Take a look around you. Notice the different types of materials that the various objects you see are made of. Some are metal, some are plastic. There are literally thousands of different materials, many natural, and many man-made. Even those that occur in nature require refining and crafting by the human being. Now pay attention to the design of the various items. Is any detail of the design an accident, or was painstaking care taken to create a product that would not only be functional but also aesthetically pleasing? Of course, we know that much care and thought went into the crafting of each of the nifty objects that we observe.  

The only creature on the planet capable of creating aesthetically pleasing functional durable items is the human being. This is part of what being human means, i.e., being creative, and the more creative the better. This marvelous ability, the spice of life, is a present from Hashem. In a way it is part of our צלם אלקים  “image of Hashem”– the ability to create. 

Hashem is the ultimate creator, the One who created this magnificent world and all of the miraculous items in it. He rested from His creative actions on Shabbat, and He commands us to do the same. If it was important to Me to refrain from creating on the Shabbat, says hashem, the same should apply to you. 

This is why the Sages tell us, “Whoever desecrates the Shabbat, it is as if he has worshipped an idol and has denied the existence of Hashem.” How is that? 

When a person rents a car from a rental company, he must sign a contract to uphold the company’s conditions. What gives them the right to impose conditions on him? Well, since it’s their car, they will only allow him to rent it if he accepts their conditions. When he violates the conditions of the contract, it is like he is saying, “Who are you to impose restrictions on my use of this car? Is it yours?” 

In the same vein, Hashem as the Creator and Master of the world has told us we may not use His world creatively on the Shabbat. This is the condition the owner of the world has put on it. Since it’s Hashem’s world, we must defer to Him as its owner and Creator. If we do as we please with Hashem’s world and ignore his instructions to us, it is like we are saying to Him, “What right do You have to tell me what to do with my possessions? They are mine and I can do with them as I please. You have no authority to tell me what to do with them!” In short, we are denying Hashem as the Creator.

There is yet another deep connection between the Mishkan and the Shabbat. 

The Mishkan represented the dwelling place for Hashem’s holy presence. There were different degrees of holiness as one proceeded into the Mishkan. Only a tahor, טהור  – spiritually clean – Cohen was allowed in. If he entered when he was not tahor, he was liable to the death penalty. The most inner area, the קדש הקדשים  – Holy of Holies, where the Holy Ark resided, was off limits even to the High Priest, also upon penalty of death, except for on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. The area within the walls of the Mishkan was sacred because Hashem’s Holiness dwelled there. 

This is where a person went to rejuvenate his connection to Hashem. The presence of Hashem was tangible there. If you ever felt something stir inside of you at the Kotel Hamaaravi, – the Western Wall – multiply that by a hundred times! 

The Shabbat also represents a sanctuary for Hashem’s holiness. The Mishkan was a sanctuary in space, and the Shabbat “is a sanctuary in time.” From sundown Friday night, until stars-out Saturday night, the day of Shabbat is permeated with Hashem’s holiness. It is a day that we must guard from unholy influences so that we can derive the maximum benefit from the holiness that it has to offer. Just as when the Holy Temple stood people would go there to infuse themselves with its holiness and help them stay close to Hashem, so, too, we retreat to the holiness of Shabbat every week to infuse ourselves with the holiness of Shabbat and to reconnect to Hashem. Not only do we reconnect to Hashem on Shabbat, we also reconnect to our loved ones – our spouses, children, parents and friends. When the Shabbat enters, all of our work is done. There is nothing more that we can do. So after a whole week of running around from one important matter to another, we are finally able to relax and forget about the matters that occupied us all week and enjoy the time with the family. We are very careful not to allow the distractive noise coming from the world around us to enter our homes and disturb the tranquility of the Shabbat.

Where did the holiness from the Holy Temple go when it was destroyed? It was divided among all the Shuls and batei midrash (Torah study halls). Every Jewish home is also a minor sanctuary. Hashem’s presence also dwells within the walls of a Jewish home, when that space is compatible and appropriate for the Hashem’s Holy Presence to be there. 

Although we no longer have the Holy Temple, we can still derive inspiration from the holy places present today, the Shuls, batei midrash, and even our own homes. We also have the sanctuary of the Shabbat, which inspires us every week, to connect with Hashem and to connect with our loved ones and family. Let’s use these tools to inspire ourselves until the third Holy Temple is built speedily in our days. 

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