Shabbat Shalom! This week’s parshah title according to the Kabbalist Hayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar, also known as the Ohr HaChaim, has multiple meanings. The Ohr HaChaim states, “The word tetzaveh, “to command,” also means “to connect” and “to bond.” The opening pasuk of Tetzaveh is translated as, “You shall further command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly”. However, Exodus 27:20 can also be read as G-d saying to Moses: “And you shall connect with the Children of Israel…” How significant is this change?
I would propose that this change in how we translate Tetzaveh is significant. To be commanded is a one-way street. There is the commander and the commandee. When we put commandments into the context of connecting and bonding it becomes less about the action and more about the result. Yet in this same parshah we are introduced to a priestly class. How are we able to connect and bond when we are now divided into different categories as a nation? Yes, there were the twelve tribes which preceded the priestly class, but we are shown the unification of the tribes on the breastplate that is worn by the high priest. Due to the dispersement of the tribes, today there are three categories that Jews often identify as, cohen, levi, or b’nai yisrael. This is reflected in the Torah service at conservative, orthodox, and some independent communities.
What is the origin of the priestly class? It can be found in Exodus 28:3, “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.” Aaron and his sons have been selected for prominent positions and they must be properly dressed in order to serve God. The clothing is not made by Aaron and his sons, but rather is made from a communal effort. The skilled workers that have been given the knowledge of artistic design and metallurgy create the holy vestments. The raw materials that are repurposed by these skilled workers are from the children of Israel. Even though Aaron and his family represent the priestly class, the entire community is needed to facilitate his family’s ascension. The interconnectedness of our community is demonstrated through the creation of these vestments, everyone is necessary in order for the Priests to be consecrated and perform their holy duties in creating a holy community.
Everyone in the Jewish community was responsible for creating the Priestly vestments with the exception of two items hidden on the breastplate. Do you know what these items are? Do you believe in magic? Just as I have shared that all Jews come together to form a holy community, these two hidden items represent God. God is necessary to establish holiness. Exodus 28:30, “Into the Breastplate of Judgment shall you place the Urim and the Tumim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart when he comes before Hashem; and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the Children of Israel on his heart constantly before Hashem.” The Urim signify light and the Tumim signify completeness. Together these two items signify the light of completeness because the high priest would ask questions to these magical objects they would provide answers. However, the answers were not direct but rather in code. Just like magic the only people who could decipher the code were the cohanim. According to RAMBAN, Moses wrote the names of God on these sacred object, thereby endowing them with magical powers. Like all things magic they are lost to oblivion. These sacred items, according to tradition, were hidden by King Josiah during the first Temple era when Israel was under siege and have never been found.
It is my belief that the Urim and Tumim were not lost to history. Rather it is my understanding that the Urim and Tumim became part of the Jewish people providing us with the spark of holiness connecting us all to one another and to Hashem. This is the meaning of Tetzaveh.