This portion continues the themes of last week’s portion, describing the clothing the priests must wear to serve in the Tabernacle, the process by which they are to be consecrated, and the offerings they must bring, both when they are appointed and on a daily basis thereafter. It ends with a description of the Altar of Incense which Moses is commanded to build.
Following closely on the heels of last week’s portion, Tetzaveh opens with a command to prepare pure olive oil for the eternal lamp which the priests must light in the Tabernacle. From there, the Torah goes on to describe the clothing which must be made for the priests.
God tells Moses that his brother Aaron and his four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, must be consecrated as priests. To do so, Moses must make for them special priestly garments. Aaron is to serve as High Priest, and will wear eight special garments, while his sons will minister under him and wear four garments.
All priests will wear tunics, sashes, headdresses and breeches. On top of that, the High Priest will also wear a breastplate, an ephod (a special garment to attach the breastplate), a robe and a head-plate. These garments are described in great detail in the text.
The Torah says these special garments are to be worn “for splendor and for beauty”, or in Hebrew, for kavod and for tiferet. The Israel Bible asks, what is the difference between these two? Rabbi Meir Leibush Weisner, also known as the Malbim, defines kavod as the honor one receives for the gifts they are born with, while tiferet is the glory they receive for the results of their own efforts and hard work. The priestly garments signify both the God-given splendor of the priest’s position and the beauty of the energies they invest in the service.
Points to Ponder
The High Priest’s robe is to be hemmed with pomegranates and bells so that he makes a sound when he enters and leaves the “holy place” and thereby “that he die not”. Why do you think he needs to make a sound?
Consecration of the Priests
The Torah goes on to detail the process by which Aaron, his sons and their descendents will be anointed as God’s priests for all eternity. They must bring an offering consisting of a young bull, two unblemished rams, and a basket of different kinds of unleavened bread with oil. They must come to the entrance of the Tabernacle, where they will be washed and dressed, then anointing oil will be poured over them. The animals and the unleavened loaves will be brought before God in a specific manner to atone for their sins and to consecrate them. Portions of the meat are designated for the priests’ consumption, and they must be eaten in holiness on the day of the offering. Leftovers must be burned the next morning. This service will not only inaugurate the priests themselves, but also the altar upon which the sacrifices are brought. The entire process is to take seven days. Sons inheriting their fathers’ priesthoods must undergo a similar process in the future.
God introduces the consecration process by saying this is the “thing” that must be done. As the Israel Bible points out, the Hebrew word for “thing”, davar, can also mean “word”. The Sages refer to this verse to teach that today, when there is no longer a Tabernacle or Temple service, God is still accessible to the people through words and prayer.
Points to Ponder
God requires Aaron and his sons to lay their hands on the animals of the sacrifice as they are being slaughtered. What purpose do you think this serves?
Once the consecration of the altar has been described, the Torah goes on to tell us what it will be used for in the future. Two lambs are to be offered on the altar daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The lamb offering will be accompanied by a flour offering mixed with oil and a wine offering.
If the offerings are maintained consistently, God says, He will meet with the Children of Israel in the Tabernacle and sanctify it with His glory. He will dwell among the people and they will know that He is the one who brought them out of the bondage of Egypt that they may serve Him.
Points to Ponder
In a discussion between Sages about the most important verse in the Torah, one Rabbi Ben Pazzi identified Exodus 29:39, “The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the other lamb thou shalt offer at dusk,” which appears in this section, as the all-encompassing concept of the Torah. Why do you think he chose this verse?
Altar of the Incense
The portion of Tetzaveh ends with the command to build another altar, this time a smaller one for bringing incense. It is to be built of acacia wood and covered in gold. It will have four raised corners, or horns, a crown of gold, and gold rings through which the gold-plated wooden staves will be threaded to carry the altar. Only incense may be brought on this altar, and it must be brought daily, when the High Priest lights the lamps. The specific recipe for the incense will be laid out in next week’s portion, but the Torah tells us no other combination must be brought. The Altar of the Incense will also figure in the special services for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think incense was part of both the daily service and the special atonement service of Yom Kippur?