Our parsha, which primarily discusses the kohanim, their work, and their inauguration, starts out on a seeming non sequitur:
וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית–לַמָּאוֹר: לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר, תָּמִיד ְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד מִחוּץ לַפָּרֹכֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָעֵדֻת, יַעֲרֹךְ אֹתוֹ אַהֲרֹן וּבָנָיו מֵעֶרֶב עַד-בֹּקֶר–לִפְנֵי ה’: חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתָם, מֵאֵת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
Now you shall command the Israelites and they shall take for you pure olive oil, pressed for lighting, to kindle an eternal light. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the Partition, near the Aron Ha’eidut, Aharon and his sons shall arrange it from evening until morning, before Hashem, an eternal decree for their generations, from the Israelites. (שמות כז:כ-כא)
These two pesukim are so seemingly unrelated to the rest of the parsha that the Christians, when they arranged Tanach into chapters, grouped these verses with the previous ones which discuss the construction of the Mishkan. Nonetheless, nothing in the Torah is ever done by accident, leaving us to wonder; why did Chazal group the two pesukim of gathering olive oil with those of the Kohanim, when they would seem to be so unrelated?
Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra, learning from the context of the remainder of Parshat Tetzave, answers that the juxtaposition of the oil and the Kohanim teaches an important lesson in their leadership. The shemen zayit that is commanded to be lit in the Menora eternally is one which is pressed, a process which is much more time-consuming but ensures absolute purity, free of not only foreign particles but also of the olive sediment and impurities that would naturally be in oil from crushed olives. This high level of purity is also befitting the highest level of leadership, the Kohen Gadol, whose job description is given in the remainder of the parsha. The Kohanim must enter the job pure of heart, and stay that way, without any undue influence from either the people (“foreign intrusions”) or even other Kohanim (“olive sediment and impurities”).
This message is an important lesson to leaders of the Jewish People. It is very easy for one’s judgment to waver under influence, whether from constituents or fellow leaders- sometimes it’s easier to be influenced, at the expense of those who are represented. However, the shemen zayit teaches us that it is imperative to stay free of these “impure” influences, even if the result is a more difficult leadership. It behooves each and every individual who represents our interests to keep their judgment as pure as the shemen zayit at the beginning of our parsha, free of any impurities.
This idea sheds an interesting new light on the Kohen Gadol. His job description, based on Ibn Ezra, would be to represent the Jewish People before G-d, without listening to or getting involved with them- he is supposed to be like the shemen zayit, only burning light for G-d without any foreign interference. However, the High Priest’s outfit shows a slightly different attitude. The most holy and religious authority among the Jews, the one who enters the Kodesh Hakadashim annually on Yom Kippur, even while wearing a crown of Kodesh La’Hashem, also wears another important garment; the ephod. This breastplate has the names of each of the shevatim engraved on precious stones and embedded in it- even as the Kohen Gadol is separate, and keeps his interests separate from outside influence, he wears the names of the Jewish people on his person at all times, showing that he still cares for them and represents them. His personal glory seems to be non-existent, his only purpose bridging the gap between the ephod and the tzitz (between G-d and the Jews). This level, an ideal for all Jewish leaders, is the ability to represent the Jewish people’s interest without undue influence, pride or prejudice- as purely concerned for their needs as the shemen zayit.
While this model of leadership is for the most part present in the Jewish community, it’s ironically and unfortunately missing from leaders of other nations, something which has especially come to light in the news this past week.
SodaStream, a sixty year old company famous for its more natural soda-making machine, has been in the spotlight recently because of its hiring of Scarlett Johansson as its first global ambassador. This has revived the controversy surrounding the UK company ever since it opened its primary manufacturing plant in Ma’aleh Adumim, considered by many to be in illegal occupied territory. One of Johansson’s other ambassador gigs, the famous philanthropy group Oxfam, demanded that she quit SodaStream as it is located in “Israeli occupied territory” and helps support the “illegal and immoral occupation of the Palestinian people.” In response, Johansson quit Oxfam, leaving with the following statement:
SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day.
The irony is a little bit overwhelming; Oxfam, an international group dedicated to fighting injustice and poverty, was against a plant that in fact helps employ Palestinians to solve their poverty. In effect, Oxfam’s Anti-Israel bias, very apparent since 2009 where they were accused of aiding terrorists in Hebron against the “Israeli Occupation,” has this time caused it to betray what it is supposed to represent. This is very much against the ideal set out in Teztave for leaders who purely represent their constituency without any personal or foreign influence.
Another ironic player in the recent controversy was the Palestinian BNS Committee’s Campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel. This group, which has zealously been pursuing boycotts of products from “the entity occupying Jerusalem” since 2002, attempted to use Scarlett Johansson’s new role as a means for starting another media campaign against “Israeli occupied goods,” saying that the SodaStream plant’s location is bad for the Palestinian cause. However, an investigative report by Chrstian Science Monitor showed that opposite was in fact true:
Those most familiar with the factory – Palestinians who work there – largely side with Ms. Johansson. “Before boycotting, they should think of the workers who are going to suffer,” says a young man shivering in the pre-dawn darkness in Azzariah, a West Bank town cut off from work opportunities in Jerusalem by the concrete Israeli separation wall. Previously, he earned 20 shekels ($6) a day plucking and cleaning chickens; now he makes nearly 10 times that at SodaStream, which also provides transportation, breakfast, and lunch.
Why would a group so dedicated to the Palestinian cause so strongly push to move the factory out of the “occupied territories,” a move which SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum said would hurt the Palestinians, because “I just can’t see how it would help the cause of the Palestinians if we fired them?”
A look back into recent history shows that, unfortunately, Palestinian leadership seems to care very little for their actual constituents. Immediately before the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jews of the British Mandate were in a seriously dangerous situation. The surrounding Arab countries, with whom they’d been fruitlessly negotiating for the past several decades, had already begun smaller-scale attacks on the Jews of the region of Palestine. However, with the presentation of the UN Partition plan designating a second Arab/Palestinian state (Jordan was the first in 1937) and a Jewish state , upon the imminent termination of the British Mandate, the Middle-Eastern Arab countries united to mount an attack on the soon-to-be Jewish State. In preparation for the onslaught, they advised Arabs living in Israel to leave- they would be allowed to return after the Holy Land became Judenrein. The majority of the Arab residents of Palestine left, voluntarily fleeing for Jordan, Syria or Egypt, and after Israel’s unlikely victory, they were left homeless. These, soon-to-be-coined, “Palestinian Refugees” have only wanted to live comfortable lives- independent polls have found that they care less about their old abandoned homes in Israel than they do about pursuing happiness. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority, in coordination with the Israel’s neighbors, have refused to grant them citizenship, leaving them to live in designated refugee camps where their lifestyle almost as luxurious as living on the street. Why would these leaders give their constituents such terrible treatment? Because as soon as the refugee problem is solved, there is no longer any moral equivalency argument to justify terrorist attacks, and there is no longer a reason to boycott Israel. In effect, the Palestinian Authority, in its attempt to solve the refugees problem, has ensured that they continue to remain refugees- they care more about their message than the people themselves.
It because of groups like Oxfam, BDS, and the Palestinian Authority that the symbolism behind the Kohen Gadol is so important. Why is it so crucial for the High Priest, who represents Kodesh LaHashem, yet wears the Ephod, to be pure like the shemen zayit? Because, in a job which requires a delicate balance of interests, any improper influence, any “impurities,” can tip the balance and lead to the type of leadership that makes the aforementioned (whom I would never, G-d forbid, compare to the High Priest) so focused on their pre-determined goal that they end up hurting those they represent in the process.
With the recent media attention that these causes have been receiving, their hypocrisy is slowly but surely beginning to be revealed. Mainstream news sources like New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times, usually the first to criticize Israel, have been publishing articles which show the fallacies in the claims of BDS and the PA. Unfortunately, with the twenty-four hour news cycle and Twitter, news stories can be buried very quickly and very quietly, and I predict that the mainstream media will have moved onto something different very soon, leaving the injustice against Israel and the Palestinian People unchanged. With G-d’s help, we will see the Palestinian refugee problem being solved despite the best efforts of the Palestinian Authority and other Arab leaders, so that “human rights groups” like BDS and UNWRA will no longer have any excuse to impede Israel’s economic, population, and spiritual growth.