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Parashat Tetzaveh sets Aaron and his sons up as the priests and goes into great detail regarding their vestments and their consecration as priests. We are also given very detailed instructions as to how to build the altar.

Another voice

Tetzaveh by Julia Neuberger :: 5768

Baroness Neuberger DBE was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge and Leo Baeck College, London. She became a rabbi in 1977, and served the South London Liberal Synagogue for twelve years. She is an author, broadcaster and social commentator. She is currently chairing the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, is President of Liberal Judaism, and has recently been appointed the Prime Minister's Champion for Volunteering. She was created a Life Peer in June 2004 (Liberal Democrat) and was Bloomberg Professor of Divinity at Harvard University for the Spring Semester 2006. In her spare time she likes swimming, gardening, family life, opera and Irish life.

This parashah is difficult, with its relatively technical detail about the robes for Aaron and the priests, and its account of the sacrifice of a bullock and two rams, with the blood of one ram to be sprinkled around the altar, some of it having already been used to put on the tip of Aaron's right ear, and on his sons' ears too. Meanwhile, the blood already on the altar was to be used, alongside the oil, to sprinkle over Aaron and his sons, in order to make them 'kadosh', holy.

But it is fascinating material. At least three elements deserve close attention here. First, the blood being sprinkled on Aaron and his sons to make them 'holy' is not as strange as it seems. The nature of 'kodesh', loosely described as holiness in our translations, is really something to do with separateness. A man who betroths, 'mekudeshet', a woman makes her separate from other women, special for him. When, in Leviticus chapter 19, we are told to be 'k'doshim', because God is himself 'kadosh', it means a combination of holy and separate - the Israelites are to be separate from other peoples both physically and in behaviour. When Aaron and his sons are sprinkled with blood, they are being singled out from other people as priests, and made different. And blood itself is 'special'. As Jews we do not eat it, but soak it away. Originally, we dashed it against the side of the altar. "....for the blood is the life; and thou shalt not eat the life with the flesh...." (Deuteronomy 12:23), and it is special, separate, holy. So it should not seem so strange for it to be used to make Aaron and his sons separate, particularly as our understanding of concepts of purity, separation and danger is growing as a result of Mary Douglas' work on purity and danger.

Two other features are worth noting. First, from the beginning of Exodus to the beginning of Deuteronomy, only in Tetzaveh is Moses' name is not mentioned; many scholars draw attention to this. Some say it is because we read Tetzaveh near the 7th Adar, the date of Moses' death. More likely, it is because this is about the establishment of the priesthood, under Aaron. Moses was not to stand in Aaron's shadow at this stage, nor did he require a mention, when the priesthood was destined to continue in perpetuity, not Moses' own lineage. This is about the relationship between God and the priesthood, and Moses is irrelevant to it, just as he gets no mention in the Haggadah at Pesach, where the relationship is between God and the Jewish people.

This parashah also describes the 'ner tamid', the everlasting lamp, first in the sanctuary, then in the Temple, and now of course in the synagogue. So the parashah demonstrates God's presence amongst us, in our synagogues, in our hearts and minds. Moses is absent, but Aaron is there. Though the rituals seem strange to us, the idea of separateness is important - those differentiations between ourselves and others are as essential to us as the more generic moral teachings of right and wrong.


More by Julia Neuberger

Another voice by Micah Gold

Tetzaveh begins with the commandment to the Israelites to kindle the Tabernacle lights regularly. The Hebrew, ner tamid, used here has been transposed over time to refer not to an act to be performed perpetually, but to an object that should be always present. So the eternal light we have in shul is there to maintain the sense of this original commandment. There is also an expression "Every Jew must light the ner tamid in his or her own heart", and in Isaiah 42:6, God speaks of Israel as a "light unto the nations".

To me, lighting the ner tamid in our own hearts means that somehow we should find a way of maintaining our relationship with God. The ner tamid is perhaps an expression of that relationship or our belief. If we are going to be a light unto the nations, then surely the first step, and our perpetual challenge, is to ensure that the ner tamid in our own hearts stays alight. For me, and perhaps for those of us involved in Limmud, I also suspect that if we as a people are to be a light unto the nations, the parallel step in this process has to be about learning to live together as Jews, learning, understanding and finding our ner tamid for each other.


More by Micah Gold

Other Divrei Torah on Tetzaveh

  • 5766 (Chaim Weiner)
  • 5766 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5767 (Marc Saperstein)
  • 5769 (Shlomo Riskin)
  • 5769 (Natasha Cowan)
  • 5770 (Ellen Flax)
  • 5770 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5771 (Lea Mühlstein)
  • 5771 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5772 (Eliezer Shore)
  • 5772 (Daniel Lichman)
  • 5773 (Steve Miller)
  • 5773 (Limmud On One Leg Team)
  • 5774 (Joanna Bruce)
  • 5775 (Shlomo Riskin)
  • 5775 (Miriam Edelman)