Five Rashis, Tetzaveh: It All Comes Together

A project in memory of Baruch Leib HaKohen b. Mordechai Yidel ve-Dobba Chaya

Always Isn’t Forever

Three times in this parsha, the Torah uses the word תמיד, which means always but, as  Rashi points out, has various connotations. In 27;20, the Torah speaks of using pure oil for a נר תמיד, a permanent light, but Rashi says that means lighting it each night.

The daily sacrifice, also described as happening “always” (as in 29;42 and Bamidbar 28;6),  was one lamb in the morning and one in the afternoon, as was the High Priest’s daily flour offering (Vayikra 6;13), half in the morning and half in the afternoon.

In the case of the לחם הפנים, the show-bread (25;30), תמיד means it was switched out once a week, which Rashi sees as different than what we’ve seen until now. Finally, the מצנפת, the metal plate the High Priest wore on his forehead is described by 28;38 as being there תמיד, even though he only wore it when serving in the Temple. Rashi explains that the atonement offered by the מצנפת occurs always, regardless of whether the High Priest or the plate is present.

Always can be always, twice-daily, once daily, or weekly. For Rashi, it means regularly, without fail, at whatever interval is appropriate for that activity.

Necessarily Practical Education

Rashi notices that 28;41 speaks of ומלאת את ידם, you shall fill their hands, and comments that that phrase implies חנוך; when a person starts a task or role that will be his or hers from that day forward, it refers to it as filling that person’s hands.

French has a similar usage, Rashi says, where the custom was to place a leather glove in the person’s hands, a symbol of that now being his or hers to handle. The glove was a gaunt, in Rashi’s rendering, a seeming precursor of phrases like throwing down or taking up the gauntlet—the glove in the hand was a sign of a challenge to be fulfilled.

What struck me here was the implication for our contemporary use of the word חינוך, education. If filling the hands is what was done for חנוך (by which Rashi means setting someone up to fulfill a job, not education in the modern sense), there is a hint that education, as we speak of it, should have some kind of a practical application. I don’t mean to deny the value of תורה לשמה, or general knowledge for its own sake, but to suggest that it can go too far, become too disconnected from reality.

For the priests, their חנוך, their filling of their hands, was to ready them for fulfilling the tasks they had been assigned.  There is a different mindset between studying it for theoretical purposes, or studying it to be ready to apply it should it become relevant. There are disciplines where the first has proven valuable, but Torah has always been about building a theoretical construct we then attempt to actualize in the world.

It’s a מילוי ידים, a filling of our hands with the readiness to do what we can to bring Torah alive, to foster a world that runs as Hashem wants.

Pleasant Smell

I have tried to avoid “famous” Rashis in this series, but in 29;18 and 25, and again in Bamidbar 28;8, Rashi attributes the pleasantness of the smell of various offerings, described as  ריח ניחוח, to the person offering it having fulfilled Hashem’s Will (it’s a נחת רוח to Hashem, a pleasure to Hashem, that His dictates were obeyed).

It’s a Rashi that stands out because he is not generally among the most philosophical or rationalistic of commentators. The anthropomorphism in Hashem enjoying a smell wouldn’t necessarily have jumped out at him to be avoided, and yet it was. (And that, likely, because Sifrei to Bamidbar said it first).  Even without any overtly philosophical or rationalistic leanings, Judaism has known to reject the idea of God savoring smells themselves. It’s our obedience, our submission to Hashem’s Will, that’s important.

Clothes Make the Man

Another three times in this parsha-28;35, 28;43, and 29;29 (interestingly, he doesn’t say it on 29;9, which Zevachim 17b sees as the source for the idea that when their clothes are on them, their priesthood is on them), Rashi records the Rabbinic inference that clothes are indispensable to priesthood. Aharon and his successors’ hands are filled (as we saw above) by virtue of the clothing, and must wear the clothing to avoid incurring capital liability.

Note that the Torah could have said that failure to wear the proper clothing is a capital crime, like failure to keep Shabbat. But the Gemara’s actual phrasing (which Rashi reflects in the case of Aharon) is that without clothing, the priests aren’t actually priests. Despite the obvious genetic component, the Torah said that in terms of Temple service, the clothing literally makes the man, that without the right clothes, he is no more a priest than any other Jew.

The Three Crowns

Finally, for this week, the Torah three times refers to a זר, a sort of crown over one of the furnishings of the Mishkan. Two were back in Terumah, the Aron in 25;11 and the Shulchan, the show-table, in 25;24. In our parsha, 30;3 speaks of putting a crown around the מזבח הקטורת, the inside altar that was used primarily for offering incense.

For each of those, Rashi records a symbolism from earlier sources. When Rashi does that, we might think that’s the symbolism of these items, but it’s not quite that; they are a well-attested and therefore very traditional version of what these furnishings epitomized. At the same time, Torah leaves itself open to multiple acceptable readings and meanings.

Nonetheless, this is one important one. The crown on the altar (in this week’s parshah) a sign of the crown of priesthood, the crown on the Aron was a sign of the crown of Torah, and the crown on the Shulchan was a sign of the crown of monarchy, because the Table emblemized wealth and prominence, two characteristics of monarchy.

There’s more to say about that last one, but I want to stick to the three, which reflect the three crowns that R. Shimon notes in Avot 4;13 (where he adds that the crown of a good name is better than any of them). Without calling them crowns, Avot 6;5 points out that  Torah has forty-eight component factors, while the other two have twenty-four and thirty ways of establishing themselves.

In terms of our parshah, it reads the inside of the Mishkan (and, eventually, Mikdash) as housing items representing each of those crowns.  It suggests to me that the backbone of a well-functioning Jewish society, at least in terms of its Mikdash relationship with Hashem, was in having each of these parts of society represented, of each of these crowns being whole. With a well-running monarchy, priesthood, and Torah (personified by the Great Sanhedrin), the Jewish people would be on firm footing, crowned in all the proper kinds of glory.

In one sense, we covered much more than five Rashis this week, but we did it more briefly than usual, and the other Rashis we cited all shed light on the original Rashi in this week’s parsha. Because sometimes it all comes together, and many Rashis flesh out five central lessons.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein has served in the community rabbinate and in educational roles at the high school and adult level. He is an author of Jewish fiction and non-fiction, most recently "We're Missing the Point: What's Wrong with the Orthodox Jewish Community and How to Fix It." He lives in Bronx, NY with his wife and three children.