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Parshat Tetzaveh Shemot (Exodus) 27:20 - 30:10

You shall Make

This parsha is mainly concerned with the making of priestly vestments and the ordination of the kohanim (priests) that will be working daily within the Mishkhan (Tabernacle) and future Beit HaMikdash (Temple).

It lays out HaShem’s requirements for their priestly vestments in very fine and in depth detail particularly those of the Kohen HaGadol (High Priest).

While reading this exquisite detailed account one cannot help but appreciate the seriousness and layered symbolism of holiness it reveals. From head to toe the kohanim serving in the Sanctuary of Adonai were to be clothed with holiness since it was they, especially the Kohen HaGadol that would appear before HaShem on behalf of the people once a year in the Kodesh HaKodeshim (Holy of Holies) before the Ark of the Covenant.

Everything within the confines of the Tabernacle (and future Temple) must be of absolute purity — from the oil produced right up to the very heart and soul of the kohen.

As far as those chosen to, not only build the Tabernacle, but also those who would make and prepare the vestments, clothing, turban precious stones and metal workings to be worn by the kohanim — they were to be skilled in all those crafts. What we learn from this parsha is that any skill one has requires wisdom, particular to that skill and the ultimate Source of that wisdom is Adonai.

“And speak to the wise-minded people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the vestments of Aharon, to sanctify him to minister to Me.” Shemot (Exodus) 28:3

This is a truth that remains always. Whatever skill we possess we must give glory to HaShem for imparting to us the wisdom it takes to be skillful in that craft or endeavor.

As to the clothing worn by the kohanim during their priestly duties in the Tabernacle; no other garb or type of clothing could be on their person at the time of service before HaShem. Nothing could stand between their flesh and their holy vestments. Why? Because their bodies while enwrapped by that holy raiment made them holy and acted as one organism in the service of HaShem while performing their Divinely ordained tasks of fulfilling His will on earth. He is One and they were to be one in their service to Him and His people, Israel.

The Kohen HaGadol, along with his vestments, turban, Head Band of Gold Engraving (“Holy to Adonai”); also wears something called the Breastplate of Judgment, also known as The Chosen Mishpat of Judgment. It is worn on the chest of the Kohen HaGadol and was an extremely important piece. It was covered in twelve different types of precious stones — each stone representing the character of each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and each engraved with the name of the tribe into the stone face. This Breastplate served a two-fold function:

[1] It provided for atonement for any sinful or erroneous rulings/judgments made by the judicial courts (later known as the Sanhedrin).

[2] And, through the use of something named the Urim and the Tumim, which is placed inside the Breastplate fold, questions or concerns raised on a national level could be answered as accurately, completely and truthfully as the spiritual condition of the Kohen HaGadol at the time could allow (another reason why the High Priest needed to keep himself holy and above reproach).

How the Urim and Tumim worked isn’t completely known or understood in our day. However, our Sages of Blessed Memory have purported that Moshe Rabbenu created it by placing the Ineffable Holy Name and some other letters of the Hebrew alphabet (unknown to us today) on a parchment and placed it within the Breastplate for the Kohen HaGadol to consult when a question of national import was directed to him from the people or tribal leaders. According to the Rambam and to Rashi when the Kohen HaGadol would consult the Urim and Tumim certain letters on the parchment would light up spelling out HaShem’s will on the matter. To our way of thinking in the 21st Century this seems all kinds of strange and mystical mumbo jumbo — but may I quote HaShem —

“Is anything too wondrous for Adonai?” Bereshit (Genesis) 18:14

I think a Supreme Being Who can create this vast, ever expanding universe out of nothing but a word, or Who can cause a 100 year old man and his 99 year old wife to conceive and bear a son that would one day become a nation of millions will have little problem making a few letters light up on a parchment in order to give direction to His people.

In Shofetim (Judges) Chapter One verses one and two it is implicit in the text that the Urim and Tumim were used to know HaShem’s will for which tribe should lead the people into battle. One of the greatest sages and scholars of blessed memory was the Vilna Gaon. According to him the Kohen HaGadol Eli used the Urim and Tumim to determine if Hannah (the future mother of Samuel) was drunk or holy. This point is important because it reveals how even the High Priest can be fallible. He read HaShem’s message all wrong and decided she was a drunkard. Eventually he came around to the truth and gave a blessing to her from HaShem and even though up in age and barren she bore Samuel, the last of the Judges and the prophet used by HaShem to anoint both King Shaul and King David as Israel’s leaders of the new monarchy, ending the rule of the shofetim.

What became of the Breastplate of Judgment, the Urim and Tumim and the Ark of the Covenant with its contents? With the handwriting on the wall — so to speak — King Josiah witnessing the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah unfolding before his eyes had them all removed from Solomon’s Temple and hid them where they remain hidden to this very day awaiting the coming of Mashiach and the Third and final Temple which will remain forever. They will be miraculously located and placed back in their rightful and holy place.

The remainder of Parsha Tetzaveh covers the priestly ordination process, pure olive oil preparation for the Menorah and the construction of the incense altar which stands in front of the curtain separating the HaKodesh (Holy Place) from the Kodesh HaKodeshim (Holy of Holies).

Next week we learn of the very few times it is allowed to take a census of the people of Israel.

Until then — Shabbat Shalom.

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