Thursday, March 2, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Tetzaveh Sh’mot (Exodus) 27:20 – 30:10

Continuing from last week’s Parasha with its long and detailed instructions regarding the Mishkan which was to be constructed, the priests' vestments and their instatement are at the heart of this Parasha – Parashat Tetzaveh. This theme is flanked at each end by, respectively, instructions concerning the oil for the Menorah and the description of the Altar of Incense. But whereas Parashat Trumah started with a free-will offering for YHVH (Ex. 25:2), this one starts with a command to Moshe "to command the Children of Israel to bring [lit. “take”] pure olive oil beaten for the light, to set light perpetually" (27:20 italics added). This order is denoted by "tetzaveh" - "you shall command" - the root being tz.v.h (tzadi, vav, hey). “This type of command connotes instructions given by a father to a son (I Sam. 17:20), a farmer to his laborers (Ruth 2:9), and a king to his servants (II Sam. 21:14). It reflects a firmly structured society in which people were responsible for their right to rule by God’s command. The leader was then in a position to command the people and to expect their obedience”.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament further connects this root with "tzi'yoon"1, which means a “signpost, a mark or a monument” as is found, for example, in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 31:21: “Set up road marks for yourself".  Thus “command”, as in “mitzva”, usually perceived only as a strict order or a dictate, has further and deeper implications. Let us ponder what is implied by the "mitzvah" being a "road marker". Interestingly, “tetzaveh” is not the imperative form for “command,” but is in second person male, future tense (i.e., “you shall command”), which modifies the intensity of this directive.  

The Mishkan, as it was named in the previous Parasha, is now designated, in the very beginning of our text, by a different title: Ohel Mo’ed (27:21). Last week we learned that the edifice of the sanctuary/Mishkan was going be a “tent” – ohel – but now with the addition of “mo’ed” it becomes apparent that it will not only be a “mishkan” – a place of “dwelling” of the Almighty’s Spirit (see also 29:45-46) – but it will also be connected to the “appointed meetings” with Him (ref. 29:42,43). The wording in 29:45-46: “I will dwell among the children of Israel… that I may dwell among them”, reveals an even greater reality – that YHVH desires and promises to dwell in and among His people (hence the need for the perpetual daily burnt offerings, 29:38-42a)!

Last week we compared the Mishkan’s building instructions with the six days of Creation (ref. Ex. 24:16). This week we are also required to make a similar analogy. In Parashat Trumah the Menorah was listed in third place, while here the oil for the "perpetual light" is mentioned first, recalling, of course, the light mentioned at the beginning of the Creation account. The instructions for making the oil emphasize not only its purity and clarity (27:20, the word there being "zach", denoting both) but also that it is to be made by beating or pounding (the olives). This type of oil is therefore named "katit", the root of which is k.t.t. (kaf, tav, tav), meaning to “beat or crush".  Made, as it is by crushing and pounding this oil is to be for a continual light (“ner tamid”, cf. 29:38-42; 30:8, where "tamid" – "continually" is also used). As such it reflects very clearly our unchanging Messiah (Heb. 13:8) Who is without sin and therefore pure (Heb. 4:15b), who was bruised and crushed (Is. 53:4), and is the Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). An analogous description of Him as the Anointed One (Who is also the Word, ref. John 1:1, and the way/path, ref. John 14:6) is found in Tehilim (Psalms) 119:105: "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (italics added).2  It was up to the priests, A’haron and his sons, who were later to be anointed with the anointing oil to "set" the oil and its lighting "before YHVH" (27:21). But whereas this "ner" was lit up by man, another, "ner" is designated as YHVH's, for His purposes. Thus, we read in Mishley (Proverbs) 20:27: "The spirit [lit. Heb. "soul" – neshama] of a man is the lamp of YHVH, searching all the inner depths of his heart".

Following these instructions Moshe was told, "to bring near A’haron… and his sons" to "himself" (literal translation for "summoning" or "take for yourself", 28:1). In the process of sanctifying the priests, Moshe was also to, “take one bull and two rams without blemish, and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil", to make them of "fine wheat flour" and to "put them into one basket" which he was, again, to “bring near" (29:1-3, the translations may omit “bring near”). Immediately after that, he was told once again "to bring near A'aron and his sons to the opening of the tent of meeting…" (v. 4, literal translation, emphasis added). In all three cases, the verb is "karev", of the root k.r.v  (kof, resh, bet/vet), meaning to “bring near or close”. This root is also the root for "korban", “sacrifice” or “offering”. In 29:8 we are told that A'aron's sons were to be "brought near", as was the bull, which was to be slaughtered after the priests were to lay hands on it (v. 10). (It is also in YHVH’s hand that the two trees/branches/sticks of Ezekiel 37:19 become one. But just beforehand, in v. 17, when they are still in the hand of the prophet, the latter is told to “bring close” – ka’rev – those branches, one to the other, commonly translated as “join”.)

This is the first instance of the "laying of hands" – “samoch” (, samech, mem, kaf/chaf), with the primary meaning of the verb being to “lean upon" or “support”. In the case of the "laying of hands", as is performed here by the priests, there is an identification with the "korban" which is about to give up its life, symbolizing ultimate submission. Thus, the particular selection of verbs used here forms an introduction to the sacrificial system and to its significance. It is by virtue of the sacrifice that a “drawing near" to the Father can occur, followed by "leaning" and "relying" on Him. According to King David, “though [a man] falls, he is not cast down; for YHVH upholds - "somech" - his hand on him” (Psalms 37:24). In Tehilim 145:14 we read again: “YHVH upholds all who fall”. 

The blood of the second ram, of the two that were to be slaughtered, was to be put on the priests' right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe (29:20). In their service to YHVH these servants' relationship with Him, was to be marked by listening and obeying (which is denoted by one and the same word in Hebrew), by doing His deeds, and walking in His paths.3

The priests' special vestments signified their unique position, while each of the several items with which they were attired had its own particular purpose. "And you shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for glory and for beauty" (28:2, 40 although the actual execution was up to "all the wise of heart" and "full of the spirit of wisdom", lit. Heb.). The word here for "beauty" is "tif'e'ret", of the root p.a.r (pey, alef, resh), which means to “beautify” and also a “turban”. Our High Priest says of Himself in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 61: "The Spirit of YHVH is on Me because YHVH has anointed Me to… appoint to those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty - p'er - instead of ashes the oil of joy instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of the spirit of infirmity, so that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of YHVH, in order to beautify - lehit'pa'er - Himself" (vs. 1,3). Once clothed in “beauty” these ones were to display YHVH's beauty of holiness while exclaiming: "I will greatly rejoice in YHVH. My soul shall be joyful in my Elohim. For He clothed me with garments of salvation; He put on me the robe of righteousness, even as a bridegroom puts on – literally “ministers as a priest” - his ornament - p'er - and as the bride is adorned with her jewels" (Is. 61: 10 italics added). The clothing items in this verse: garments – b’gadim, robe - m’eel, and the “ornament” denoted by “p’er” are all mentioned in our text too, in Sh’mot 28:2, 4. Notice in particular how the Yishayahu's text associates the bridegroom with the priesthood, thus clearly foreshadowing Messiah as the Bridegroom and High Priest.

Indeed, these garments were “for glory and for beauty”, but if we pause to look again at “garment” – be’ged - we may discover an additional element. The root b.g.d (bet, gimmel, dalet) means “to betray” (e.g. Ex. 21:8, Is. 33:1). How is that connected to the official attires? Is it because he who betrays (the priests not being exempt), or is unfaithful, like any other sinner, requires a “covering” to hide the guilt and shame of his betrayal? Similarly, the “robe” mentioned in 28:4 – “m’eel” - shares its root (m.a.l, mem, ayin, lamed) with “me’eela” which means “to deceive, cover-up”, such as in Vayikra (Leviticus) 5:15, translated “trespass” or “unfaithfully”. Thus, the priests' garments constitute a symbolic covering of their spiritual and moral nakedness, so that they can minister and interpose between an equally sinful people and a Kadosh Elohim.

Last week we noted that in the present Parasha Moshe was told (literally) to clothe A’haron and his sons (28:41) recalling B’resheet (Genesis) 3:21, where we read: "And YHVH Elohim made coats of skin for the man and his wife, and clothed them". It was the actions of “the man and his wife” (sin) that made necessary the ministry of interposing between man and Elohim which was being entrusted now to A'haron and his sons, who too were “clothed” by YHVH's command.

In 28:12 and 28:29 A'haron is told to carry the names of the sons of Yisrael (engraved in precious stones) whenever he enters the Holy Place, as a memorial on the shoulders of the ephod and on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, while the breastplate was also for "a continual reminder before YHVH" (italics added). Interestingly, the names of the sons of Yisrael (Jacob, the tribes) were to be engraved according to the order of their birth, which in Hebrew is "ketoldotam" (v. 10). "Toldot" also means the "account of the generations" (e.g., Gen. 25:19; 37:2), and hence its usage here may also be portraying (even if symbolically) the entire annals of each of the sons' future descendants.  

Further, Moshe was told to "put the Urim and the Thummim into the breastplate of judgment; and they shall be on the heart of Aaron in his going before the face of YHVH. And Aaron shall bear the judgment of the sons of Israel on his heart before the face of YHVH continually" (v. 30 italics added). What is so meticulously to be prefigured here by A’haron was fully consummated by Yeshua (see also 28:38). Although there is no specific description of the “Oorim” and “Toomim” (as they are pronounced in Hebrew), the etymology of these terms is very interesting. "Oorim" is of the root "or" – light - albeit in plural form, as is "Toomim". The root of "Toomim" is "tom," meaning “integrity, perfection, complete, entirety, and finished”. In short, these items stand for "light and perfection, or completion". Once again, we see a picture of Yeshua, who is the Light, as well as the epitome of perfection. Another rendering of the Messiah’s figure is presented in the very spelling of these words, with the first letter of Oorim being ‘aleph’ (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), while the first letter of Toomim is ‘tav’, being the last letter. Thus, Yeshua is seen here as the ‘aleph and the tav’, the “beginning and the end” (Rev. 1:8), the light of the first day of Creation, and the completion thereof; “for all things were created by Him… all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16).

Golden bells and pomegranate-shaped ornaments were to be attached alternately to the bottom of the High Priest's garment (28:33-35). The word for "bell" is "pa'amon", its root being p.a.m. (pey, ayin, mem) which means “foot, step, anvil, and time”. Unlike other words for Time, “et”, "zma'n", and “mo’ed”, which point to specific times, "pa'am" refers to "pulse" or "beat", and thus to Time's continuous motion. “Once” (as pertaining to time) is also “pa’am” (e.g. Gen. 18:2). With this meaning of “pa’amon”, making reference to the marking of the passage of time, it is interesting to note the function of its sound in this particular case. The bells were to "be heard in his [Aharon's] going into the sanctuary before the face of YHVH and in his coming out, that he [Aharon] should not die" (v.35, italics added). The pomegranates, shaped as they are with little crowns were used frequently as a decorative motif (e.g., Jer. 52:22ff).

The last article mentioned in this Parasha is the Altar of Incense. In 30:7-8 we learn that while attending to the altar, A'haron was also to attend to the lights:  "And Aaron shall burn incense of perfume on it morning by morning; when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it" (30:7). Thus, our Parasha comes round full circle from its beginning (with the lights/lamps) to the end. "When he dresses the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it; which he did every morning when he went into the holy place, where the candlestick with its lamps was. These he trimmed and dressed, snuffed those that were ready to go out, lighted those that had gone out, supplied them with oil and wicks, and cleared the snuff dishes, and the like. Now near to the candlestick stood the altar of incense, so that when the priest looked after the one, he did the service of the other. Hence, we learn that our intercessor and lamplighter is one and the same; he that was seen amidst the golden candlesticks dressing the lamps of them appears at the golden altar with a golden censer, to offer up the prayers of his saints" (emphasis added)4, whose prayers are, of course, compared to incense (see Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4).


   1 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris,

      Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.

   2 "In this world you stood in need of the light of the Temple and other

      lamps are lit from its light. But in the world to come, by virtue of that

      lamp ["ner" - light], I shall bring you King Messiah who is likened to

      a lamp, as it is said (Ps. 132:17): "There I will cause to flourish a horn

      for David, I will set a lamp for Mine anointed" (Tanhuma Tezaveh 8 –

      an ancient commentary). Quoted from New Studies in Shmot Part 2,

      Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department

      for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc.,

      Brooklyn, N.Y.

  3  Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit,

      Jerusalem, 1976, 1999.

  4  Gill commentary, Online Bible.



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