Weekly Torah Commentary — Tetzaveh February 22, 2013

TETZAVEH Exodus 27:20-30:10

While last week’s reading discussed the materials needed to construct the Tabernacle and its utensils, this week, our attention is turned toward the kohanim – Aharon and his sons.

And take to you Aharon your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, that he may serve me as a kohen; Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar, Aharon’s sons. And you shall make holy garments for your brother Aharon for splendor and for glory. (Shmot/Exodus 28:1-2)

The Torah then describes the clothing of the kohanim:

And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and an embroidered tunic, a turban, and a sash; and they shall make holy garments for your brother Aharon and his sons, to serve me as kohanim. And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet wool, and fine linen. (Shmot/Exodus 28:4-5)

Very interestingly, these instructions include a combination of materials that is prohibited in all other garments:

You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with mixed seed; nor shall a garment mixed of linen and wool come upon you. (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:19)

Why would something which is forbidden in one context be deemed not only permissible, but a crucial part of divine service, in another context? Why would Hashem declare the combination of linen and wool to be inappropriate in every day clothing yet approve of it in the Divine Service? What underlying truths are contained in both the prohibition and its exception? Perhaps if we try to understand why the Torah prohibits making garments from a mixture of wool and linen, we will be better able to understand why that prohibition is set aside for the priestly clothing.

However, we have a problem because this commandment is included in the list of those instructions whose rationale is beyond our understanding! While the reasons behind laws of this type, called hukim in Hebrew, are not expressly stated in the Torah, our sages have offered some suggestions for our consideration.

In general, “Mishpatim” are laws which might logically or naturally spring from the necessity to regulate and organize human interaction. Devoid of any divine imperative, people could have or would have created laws similar to those categorized as mishpatim. Their rationale is logical, clear, and would likely have been dictated by human nature and the necessity for a “social contract”. Laws prohibiting murder, theft and adultery would easily fit into this category.

“Hukim” are laws which operate on different strata; often, they are symbolic representations of larger ideas. These laws are not intuitive, nor would human intelligence alone enable us to anticipate their necessity. However, we must not dismiss them as impenetrable or beyond our understanding. And in these verses we have a perfect example of why: Wool comes from the animal kingdom, while linen grows from the ground. Early writings explain that these two divergent sources represent two individuals, who at the dawn of history delved into these two respective realms.

And she (Eve) again bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

Cain was a farmer, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. Each of them, apparently independently, attempted to bring an offering to worship God. This is the first time in history that men initiate sacrifice as a means of coming closer to God.

And Cain brought some of his crops as an offering to God. Abel also offered some of the firstborn of his flocks and from the fattest ones, and God paid heed to Abel and his offering. And to Cain and his offering God paid no heed, and Cain became furious and crestfallen. (Bereishit/Genesis 4:3-5)

Although each of the brothers hoped to serve God in his own way, jealousy plagued their relationship, and soon Abel became the victim of his brother’s rage. The Midrash explains that as a result of this senseless murder a new law was introduced – a law that preserves and separates the two different realms of Cain and Abel, represented by wool and linen.

One of the suggestions given for our meditation is that Cain’s offering of agricultural produce that he had personally cultivated expressed an inner attitude that said: “Look at the results of my hard work and bless me. I deserve it.” Abel, on the other hand, took a tender lamb from the flock that he tended, presented it to Hashem with an inner attitude that said: “You created this world and all that is within it, including this lamb. I give him back to You as an expression of my gratitude for all that You have provided.” In other words, Cain’s offering was motivated by personal gain; Abel’s offering was motivated by love and gratitude.

When the High Priest entered the Temple, he did so in holiness and for Divine Service. Therefore, it was entirely appropriate for him to bring into the presence of Hashem both ‘wool and linen’ – representing the gifts of creation as well as the work of man’s hands.

However, in our day to day life, we are challenged to reconcile those two aspects, a challenge we often find difficult. Therefore, we are told to avoid ‘mixture’.

We work hard at our profession and complain when the recognition we think we deserve is not forthcoming. In our better moments, we joyfully give thanks to Hashem for all that He has given us – health, family, friends, etc.

Could it be that the prohibition of mixing wool and linen in day to day garments is intended to remind us that in ALL things and at ALL times, our hard work is to be elevated to the status of Divine service by a consistent attitude of joy and thanksgiving, even when external circumstances would dictate otherwise?

You see, circumstances don’t give meaning to your life; you are to give meaning to your circumstances. Whether you live your life as a scoundrel or a saint has nothing to do with your theology and everything to do with your inner integrity.

Daily life is not meant to be clothed in ‘mixture’. Singleness of purpose, clarity of direction, simplicity of expression are all part of the outward manifestation of a pure soul.
Too many people live conflicted lives in which motives, decisions, actions and words betray an inner disagreement. We say what we think someone else wants to hear instead of what we truly think. We worry more about what others think about us than living out of an inner honesty. The ‘mixed multitude’ is not just a group of people who came out of Egypt long ago.

The ‘mixed multitude’ is us.

In Tune with Torah this week = are we living from an inner sanctuary of truth, wholeness and simplicity? Does our outer person reflect the inner person? Or are we actors on the stage of life?

Shabbat Shalom

Parshat Tetzaveh describes the clothing worn in the Temple, and these clothes are necessarily different from our normal attire. Ours is a world steeped in petty jealousy and hatred, a world driven mad by the confusion between good and evil. The prohibition against shaatnez is a symbolic reminder of the confusion that leads to death. As we are diligent in our dress, and we take care to maintain the distinction between the realms represented by wool and linen, we make a symbolic commitment. Through observance of the laws of shaatnez in our daily comportment, we remind ourselves that the hatred and jealousy between Kayin and Hevel resulted in fratricide, and we commit ourselves never to repeat this sin.(7)

Life within the confines of the Temple is quite different. The Temple is our meeting place with God. Here, as we approach God, confusion is dispelled. Within the Beit HaMikdash, wool and linen can be combined, must be combined. Here, sanity reigns; clarity triumphs. The Temple is a place of unity, straddling the territories of Yehuda, son of Leah, and Binyamin, son of Rachel.(8) Here, brothers are united; here, even Kayin and Hevel can exist side by side. This unity is the defining trait of Mordechai:

There was a man of Yehuda in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shim’i, son of Kish, a Benjaminite. (Esther 2:5)

Like the Beit HaMikdash itself,(9) Mordechai is both of Yehuda and of Binyamin. Mordechai represents unity and harmony, reconciliation and clarity. He was uniquely capable of seeing through the confusion. He was a symbol of the Temple, and of the Kohen Gadol. Like the incense that brought about forgiveness for the people, Mordechai was an agent of healing. He was the rightful owner of the ‘garments of splendor and glory,’ the rightful heir of the Kohen Gadol who used incense to dispel the confusion that causes sin. In truth, the holy clothing in which he was eventually adorned were an expression of his own inner ‘splendor and glory.'(10)

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