Weekly Commentary


Parashat Tetzaveh — “You shall command”

Torah: (Shemot) Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

Haftarah: Ezekiel 43:10-27


The construction of the Mishkan having been completed, Torah turns to those who will lead the services in the Mishkan: the Kohanim. So, in this parashah, we read about the process of their selection, their vestments, and the inauguration service by which they would be sanctified as ministers of God.

But, just as when God began the creation of the physical world with the command for light, so, too, God begins instructing the creation of the spiritual world with a command for a light, the Menorah. This light is to burn before the sons of Yisrael forever, from generation to generation. The Kohanim could not be consecrated to do their service without this light.

Shemot 27:20-21: "And you shall command the sons of Yisrael, that they shall bring to you pure oil of crushed olive for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the Partition which is before the Testimony, Aharon and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before Yehovah; [it shall be] a perpetual statute throughout their generations for the sons of Yisrael.”

This physical lamp, the Menorah, was to be kindled continually, from evening until morning, every day, including the Shabbat. In the spiritual realm, King David tells us that the word of God written in the Torah is that lamp: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105) and "For You are my lamp, o Yehovah; and Yehovah illumines my darkness.” (2 Shmuel 22:29) We are to kindle this spiritual lamp every day by reading the word of God. We need to be illuminated by His words every day, not just on Shabbat. Because through Torah God is talking to us; through it God is communicating His desires for us and in it we find the path to holiness. We need to read God's word with intentionality and purpose, to discover the character of God and His ethics, and to emulate them because He is Holy and He asked us to be holy too.

This light was not intended only for the sons of Yisrael, though. Later in the Scriptures, in the book of Yeshayahu, God twice describes the Israelites as a “light unto the nations.” God asks the Jewish people to continue the work of this spiritual creation through a daily effort to spread His light unto other people, to spread the teaching of His word, the Torah. Further still, we find in the Brit Chadashah that the word of God becomes flesh in the Person of Yeshua and Yochanan tells us that: He [Yeshua] was the lamp that was burning and was shining.” (Yochanan 5:35) Thus, similarly, we are now to spread this “light” – Yeshua’s teachings – to everyone around us. With the advent of Yeshua the physical Temple fulfilled its purpose and a new Temple was formed in which all believers are to be sanctified as ministers of God. But, just as the priests of old, so, we, too, cannot begin our service without being illuminated and we cannot be His ministers without the guidance of the light of His word. We must read the Scriptures with a desire to know more.

This beginning passage of the Parashah, Shemot 27, is full of spiritual meanings and the sages, zealous in basking in His light, gave us some interesting analogies. Here are some of them.

"And you shall command" – “ve’atah tetzaveh.” Why does Yehovah use the word "tetzaveh" in preference to the more commonly used words "tomar" and "tedaber"? The word "tetzaveh" is related to the word "tzava'ah" — "a will." It is common for a parent to leave a will containing instructions for his children. Since Moshe was like a father to the Jewish people, thus, Yehovah is telling him, "There will be a time when you will not be physically with B'nei Yisrael, therefore, ve'atah tetzaveh — you should leave the following instruction to be willed from generation to generation.”

"They shall bring to you pure oil of crushed olive" - “veyikchu eilecha shemen zayit zach." Oil does not mix with any other liquid, but rather separates and rises to the top. This reminds the Jewish people that their calling as a “holy nation” is unique. They cannot mix the holy with the profane; they are to rise above it. So, too, the believers are instructed to separate themselves, not from the world, but from the sins of the world. We are called to be pure and holy. We are called to be an example to the world: Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” (1 Timothy 2:8) Lift up holy hands and bring actions - mitzvoth, and words which are pure, which will illuminate the darkness that it is in the world. But why is the word “olive” in its singular form? In the literal sense, to obtain the purest oil for the Menorah of the Mishkan, the Israelis were pressing every olive individually. In the spiritual sense, we are individually called to bring our best. We are not to look of what other people are doing, but to do what it is right based on God's standards even if we are the only ones doing it.

Crushed for illumination" - "katit lema'or." The "ma'or" represents the light of Torah, as stated in Proverbs (6:23), "Torah is light —'or' (Hebrew)." In order to truly succeed in Torah study, one needs to "crush" oneself, one needs to dedicate to this effort the best time of the day. Also, the sages thought that: “When one speaks crushing words of rebuke, it must be with the sole purpose of enlightening, illuminating and uplifting one's fellow. Never, God forbid, to humiliate and break him.” How true are these words describing our Messiah: A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.” (Yashayahu 42:3) Yeshua did not come to judge us but to be “crushed” for us so we can be “illuminated.” With His compassionate words, He is encouraging every dimly burning wick to burn brighter, to be up-lifted, and to be a light to the world.

"Pure olive oil, crushed for illumination." The Menorah is the prototype of spirituality. It represents Torah and mitzvoth, as King Shlomo states, "Ner mitzvah veTorah or" — "A candle is a mitzvah and Torah is light" (Proverbs 6:23). There are people who plead poverty when they have to spend money for Torah and mitzvoth, but have plenty of money when it comes to personal matters. From the way things were done in the Mishkan, we can learn true priorities. For Torah and mitzvoth we should spend more of our resources and use the best and purest. For personal pleasure, one should practice restraint and learn to suffice with less. But not all men are alike. Yehovah does not expect one person to be like another, but He does expect one to achieve his or her utmost. The famous tzaddik Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli once said, "When I come before the Heavenly tribunal, I am not afraid they will demand of me, 'Why wasn't Zusha like the patriarch Avraham?' But I am afraid lest they ask me, 'Why wasn't Zusha as Zusha could have been?' " When we are going to appear in front of the judgment seat of Messiah are we going to also shrink because we have not done our utmost? For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

"To kindle a lamp continually" - "leha'alot ner tamid." The "lamp" represents the soul of the Jew — "Ner Yehovah nishmat adam" — "The lamp of Yehovah is the soul of man." (Proverbs 20:27) The purpose of the Jew in this world is "leha'alot ner tamid" — to continually elevate his soul. The word "leha'alot" means, to kindle until the flame rises up by itself. Only if we abide in Him and are “kindled” every day with the light of His word our faith will be able to stand on its own and not be blown by every wind of false doctrine.

"And you shall command ... to kindle a lamp continually." This passage instructs us about the kindling of the Menorah in the Mishkan and later in the Beit HaMikdash. When Yehovah told Moshe to teach the instructions for building the Mishkan, He said: "Make for Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them" — "veshachanti betocham." Grammatically, it should have said, "that I will dwell in it" — "veshachanti betocho." Yehovah was hinting that He wants every Jew to make himself and his home a Sanctuary for Him, because He wants to dwell among them, not in a building. In the absence of the Beit HaMikdash, the table in the Jewish home is compared to the altar for worship and study. The Shabbat candles parallel the Menorah, therefore, it is customary in all Jewish homes for mothers and daughters to light Shabbat candles.

Even if the lighting of the Shabbat candles is not a biblical commandment, it is a beautiful symbolism of the promise of a home to be guided by the light of the word of God.

The Rabbinic tradition states that we have lost the knowledge of pronouncing the tetragrammaton name of God, YHVH, and that when Moshiah will come He will tell us how to pronounce it. In the meantime, most of the time, it is read as HaShem, the Name. Well, in my commentaries I want to stress the fact that the Moshiah already came, therefore, based on the opinion of some Hebrew scholars, I am transliterating YHVH as Yehovah.


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