Chapter “Tetzaveh”

The first verse in this week’s torah portion, תצוה פרשת (Parshat Tetzaveh) goes as follows: ואתא תצוה את בני ישראל ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך כתית למאור להעלות נר תמיד , Now you shall command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure olive oil, pressed, for illumination, to kindle a lamp continually. When looked at in context the placement of this verse is very perplexing. The structure of last week’s parsha (torah portion) is very simple, first God commands the Jewish people to build the Mishkan (tabernacle), and then the Torah goes on to describe the building of various parts of the Mishkan (tabernacle), including the Menorah. This week’s parsha (Torah portion) starts off with the above quoted verse, in other words, the commandment to light the menorah everyday, it then goes on to describe the clothing of the priests, and then eventually the ins and outs of the daily services. So why put the candle lighting ceremony in the middle? Shouldn’t it be places after the description of the Menorah? Or better yet at the end of our parsha with all the other ceremonies!

There is a Midrash (1) in Bamidbar Rabbah (2) that describes how each of the items in the central building of the Mishkan corresponded to a particular “crown”(3). The menorah corresponded to the “crown of the good name”, and was representative of a performer of mitzvoth (good deeds/commandments). There is also a Mishna in Pirkei Avoth(4) that says that the “crown of the good name” is placed higher than the other 3 crowns. The Maharal of Prague(5) explains that while the other three items in the Mishkan had actual crown-like structures at their heads, the menorah didn’t. The “crown” of the menorah, according to the Maharal, is the flame that is lit daily, that constantly rises up higher and higher into the air. So too, the Maharal explains, is the nature of the “crown of the good name”, the כתר שם טוב, that one can keep rising constantly higher and higher in his fulfillment of mitzvoth all the way to אין סוף ( Ein Sof (lit. “Without End”), a kabalistic name for God.

This insight of the Maharal is the key to answering our question. Once one understands what the lighting of the Menorah represents it becomes clear that this verse is not out of order at all, and in fact is placed perfectly within the chronology of the building of the Mishkan. First, God commands the people to build his house of worship, then the structures are described, afterwards this verse appears followed by the discussion of the clothing of the priests, and then finally the details actual services are explained. The actual structures are external, they do not really have any connection with the inner state of their builder, the sacrificial services on the other hand, are a completely different story. But before they perform these services, the Cohanim (priests) have to don their holy garbs, and before these articles of clothing are actually described we are informed about the lighting of the Menorah. As we have established the flame of the menorah is symbolic for one who performs mitzvoth. In other words, the pre-requisite for a Cohen (priest) putting on his special clothing, is that Cohen possessing the “crown of the good name”, that Cohen being one who performs the mitzvoth. That’s why the lighting of the candle was placed before the description of the clothes. To teach us, that the Cohen, before putting on the special clothing, must become a doer of mitzvoth. It is just one more step in the process, first the buildings are built, then the Cohanim perfect themselves, after that they put on their holy clothing, and only then do they perform the services.

However, there is a greater message to be learnt form all this, a message that effects every individual member of the Jewish nation. There is a verse in last week’s parsha that reads: ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, And let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. There is a Midrash on this that explains that since the verse says “dwell among them” rather than something along the lines of “dwell inside of it”, the verse is implying that the building of the Mishkan isn’t so much so that it can be a place for God to dwell, but rather so god can dwell amongst each and every single Jew. So essentially the purpose of the Mishkan building process described in this week’s parsha is so that God may dwell among each individual Jew. Part of this process is the lighting of the Menorah, which as we have discussed represents one who does Mitzvoth. Therefore, an integral, if not the integral, part of the process of having God dwell inside of you is doing his mitzvoth. This is what I think the Maharal meant when he said that one can keep rising higher and higher in the level of his performance of Mitzvoth until he reaches the “Ein Sof”, or God. In other words you can keep on perfecting your performance of the mitzvoth until the point where you’re so perfect that God actually comes to dwell inside of you. May we all merit to get as close as possible to this eventual goal of having God dwell inside of us by constantly performing our performance of Mitzvoth on every increasing levels.

(1) A homiletic teaching (commentary) on the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), in the form of legal, ritual, legendary, moralizing, folkloristic, and anecdotal (Haggadah) parts, usually attributed to either the sages of the mishna, or the sages of the talmud.

(2) A collection of ancient midrashim book of Numbers.

(3) The Ark being the “crown of torah”, the Table being “the crown of Kingship”, and the Altar being “the crown of Priesthood”.

(4) A tractate of the Mishna composed of ethical maxims of the Rabbis of the Mishnaic periodJudah Lew ben Bezalel (”Judah Loewe son of Bezalel”, 1525 – 17 September 1609 or 18 Elul 5369 according to the Hebrew calendar)[citation needed] was an important Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher who served as a leading Rabbi in Prague (now in the Czech Republic) for most of his life. He is buried at the Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague in Josefov, and his grave with its tombstone intact, can still be visited.

(5) Judah Lew ben Bezalel (”Judah Loewe son of Bezalel”, 1525 – 17 September 1609 or 18 Elul 5369 according to the Hebrew calendar)[citation needed] was an important Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher who served as a leading Rabbi in Prague (now in the Czech Republic) for most of his life. He is buried at the Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague in Josefov, and his grave with its tombstone intact, can still be visited.

– Alex Likhtenstein