Parshas Tetzaveh - Honor and Winning The Battle Against Angels

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 02/20/18

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1) Bigdei Kehunah Ramban (Shemos 20:2) tells us that the garments of the kohein are “l’kavod u’l’siferes”, for honor and beauty. What does that mean? Ramban explains that you should look honorable and beautiful when you’re wearing these exquisite garments like the pasuk says “k’chosson yechayhein p’ear” (Yeshaya 61:10), like the bridegroom, yechahein, he is wearing this beauty. It’s hinting to the kohein. These begadim reminded everyone of royalty.

The lesson here is very simple that the ovdei Hashem and the kohanim dress in a most dignified manner. “Ki sifsei kohein yishmiru da’as v’Torah yevakshu m’piyhu.”  He was a talmid chacham and a leader of the Jewish people and had to dress accordingly.

Alexander the Great and Shimon HaTzaddik

We know the story (Gemara Yuma) about how Alexander the Great was greeted by Shimon HaTzaddik who was the kohen gadol. Alexander came down to his feet and bowed and said this is the man that I see in my dreams every time I go out to battle and he tells me I’m going to be successful.

Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that gemara very deeply. It’s always “zeh l’umas zeh asah Elokim”. There always has to be somebody that combats evil in order to allow it to exist, and there's always a good and a bad. The fact that Alexander the Great, who was an evil apikores, was able to conquer the world was only because Shimon Hatzaddik existed. This allowed him to be successful so the opposing evil could exist. Even when Alexander the great met Shimon Hatzaddik, the kohen gadol, he was able to acknowledge that this man was greater than him, and the kohen wore garments. It must have been an amazing sight to behold Shimon HaTzaddik decked in his full kehunah garb being bowed to by the King. “Ein kavod elah Torah,” the ultimate respect goes to those who upkeep the Torah.

2) The Workings of The Urim v’Tumim

“V’asisa lachoshen hamishpat es haUrim v’es haTumim” (Shemos 28:30). There’s just a very fascinating discussion about exactly what the Urim and the Tumim are.  Ramban brings down the Ibn Ezra and many other p’shatim about what they were and how they operated. The kohen gadol would use kabbalistic names and think about the sheimos that were in the Urim, and that would make certain letters light up from, we know that the Choshen had the twelve stones and the twelve stones had almost every letter of the alphabet between all the names of the shevatim, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, shivtei yishurun, the words etched on it. First, the Urim would make certain letters light up, but those letters didn’t mean anything.  It was like a jigsaw puzzle, and the Tumim, the sheimos of the Tumim, would help the kohen gadol in his heart to construct the phrase being expressed.

For example, when they asked who should go out to battle, and it replied, “Yehuda ya’aleh”, so there’s a million ways to put those words together, so the Urim made certain letters of Yehudah ya’aleh light up, but then the Tumim sheimos helped the kohen gadol determine what it actually said. Rabbeinu Bechaya talks about how the kohein gadol would purify himself and the king would stand behind him and ask him the shayla on his mind.

3) Place of Anointing

“V’lakach es hashemeh hamishcha v’yatzakta al rosho (Shemos 29:7).” Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra says that before you put the kohen’s mitznefes, hat, on his head, you would first anoint him because that’s where the oil went.  But, Ramban says this is wrong because there are many times that the mitznefes was there while they were still anointing him. Rather, they would put it right in between, in the open area of the head that was underneath the mitznefes, underneath the hat, and, like Rashi explains that the yetzikah was in the place of where they put the tefillin which was left open, and then they would make an x, “k’min ki”, like the letter “ki” which is x, and that would end up touching more parts of the head as well.

Tefillin shel Rosh to Connect to Hashem

What’s the p’shat here? The oil was being used to anoint the kohanim and create holiness. The oil was poured onto the makom of hanachas teffillin.  Everybody should see that their kedusha and their holiness is coming because they connect with Hashem. That’s what the tefillin shel rosh is: the place that a man expresses himself as a human being and is meshabeid himself to Hashem. ‘Eileh tefillin shebirosh’, like the Vilna Gaon’s famous story that a non-Jewish thief saw him wearing his tefillin, and wsa scared off. Someone asked: Why was he afraid of you, but he wasn’t afraid of anyone else? Other Jews present were also wearing their tefillin too? The Gra said: I wear mine sh’b’rosh.  I wear it in my head.  I carry Hashem’s message in me, thus they are “v’yaru mimeka”, and then I have the pasuk that says they’ll see the tefillin on me and they’ll be afraid.  But, if you don’t wear it in your head, and in your heart as a part of you, then it doesn’t have any protection.

4) Hashem Wants to Dwell Amongst Us

“L’shachni b’socham” (Shemos 29:46). I want to dwell among the Jews. Ramban says that the Shechinah is here in order to elevate our lives.  Not because He needs to be here. Yisrael asher b’cha espaear, Hashem makes as if: I (Hashem) need you.  Hashem wants to dwell here, and, therefore, Hashem says: I want to be among you.  Invite me in. That’s the purpose of the mishkan to invite Hashem into this world, and Hashem makes it as if I want to be with you.  Of course, Hashem doesn’t need anything.

5) Why Mizbeiach HaKetores in Parshas Tetzaveh?

When you look at the pesukim (Shemos 30:1), they’re describing the Mizbeiach Haketores, and, if you think about it, the Mizbeiach Haketores is one of the inner vessels of the mishkan, and that should have been listed with the Shulchan, Menorah, all the way back, earlier, in the last parsha, so what’s p’shat that it’s over here? There are many different p’shatim said. One of the p’shatim is that it was a place, like the Ramban himself starts to mention, that the ketores were brought there. This parsha of Tetzaveh is all about Aharon Hakohen, so it’s all about his vestments. It’s a whole parsha about Ahron, and so, therefore, the ketores were shayach to Aharon because he’s the one that stops middas hadin.  “Yasimu ketora b’apecha.” Therefore, it belongs here.

The Mizbeiach Haketores Ultimate Invitation

Ramban explains that the whole purpose of the mikdash was “v’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’socham”, I want to be among Bnei Yisrael. Therefore, you need to make a Mizbeiach Ketores because that is the ultimate invitation that brings Hashem there.  So, that’s the whole climax of all the kelim until now, and all of the vestments of the kohein gadol is to bring Hashem down.

Moshe Vs. The Angels

What does that mean? Rav Moshe Shapiro has a beautiful shtikel where he explains Purim in a very profound way. It’s relevant every day. The Gemara (Shabbos 88b) says that when Moshe came up to accept the Torah, the angels said: What’s this human being doing up here.  Send him down.  Moshe said:  I’m here to get the Torah.  And, they said: We want the Torah.  We’re not giving it to you. Hashem told Moshe: Grab onto my kisei hakavod and answer them. So, Moshe said: Well, you guys don’t have a yetzer harah; we do, and we need the Torah. This won the argument. “Klume yetzer harah yeish lachem.” It says that at that point the malachim gave him gifts, and the Satan gave him this gift of the ketores that if there’s ever a plague you could stop me by taking out the ketores, and that’s what ended up happening.  Moshe had Aharon take the ketores and that stopped the plague and saved many Jewish lives.

Hashem’s Reply

So, there’s a lot of questions on this gemara.  We’ve talked about in the past: First of all, why didn’t Hashem answer?  Why does Moshe have to give the answer?  Hashem was right there.  Divrei harav v’divrei hatalmid, divrei mi shomin. We talked about the Maharal who said Hashem really did answer. Hashem said: Echoz b’kisei kevodi, you have the ability to grab onto the kisei hakavod, and, therefore, you’re mekadeish my name. The malachim, they’re just angels, they just follow me. But, you have the power to grab onto my kisei hakavod and Hashem says that you give me power because I choose to allow the jewish people to have power. “Tenu oz l’Elokim.” Hashem empowers us that our actions and sins give power and take away power from Him kaviyachol (Ramchal, Derech Eitz Chaim).

How Do Angels Give Gifts

The other question is: What’s this p’shat that they gave him gifts?  What does that mean?  How do angels even have anything to give? There is no gift. More so, it’s odd that the malach hamaves gave Moshe the gift of life? The malach hamaves’s job is to kill us.  The gemara in Bava Basra says straight out: He makes us sin as the yetzer hara. Then, he’s mekatreig against us as the Satan (prosecutor) saying  we deserve to die because of our sin. He then gets permission to kill as the Malach HaMaves! So why here was he giving out antidotes?!

Malachim Mission

Rav Moshe Shapiro explains, first of all, a malach doesn’t have anything to give.  A malach is what he is.  But, the point is that the malach hamaves and all the angels, once they saw that Moshe was G-dly because Hashem allows him to emulate Him and to be like Him and to have freewill, unlike what the angels have, so then the angel’s mission becomes in line with humans as well. Thus, by default, the angels gave themselves over and said: We are you servant because you are a servant of God. Just like the Midrash says that the malachim, when they saw Adam who was created, they wanted to sing shira to him.  But, Hashem showed that: No, no. He goes to sleep; he’s human. The point is that the malachim felt that they were part of Adam’s life, and they were because Adam is subservient to God, therefore the malachim are subservient to us as well. That’s the first thing.

Satan’s Motivation So To Speak

The second thing is the Satan doesn’t want to kill us.  He wants to do ratzon Hashem.  His job is to do ratzon Hashem. Really by him challenging us and giving us challenges in life, he brings us the ultimate life, and that’s what ketores is. Ketores is the ultimate sweet smelling spice which stands in diametric contrast to the worst smelling thing in the world which is a human corpse. People are repulsed by the smell, rachmana l’tzlan, because it means death and it means lack of freewill and lack of ability to move forward in life, and that’s why it’s so repulsive. We don’t want that. That’s not our goal in life.  Our goal in life is to accomplish.  So, ketores is the ultimate good smell.  The ultimate life.  That’s why we find “chayev inish l’besumei” a person should “smell good” on Purim. We’re supposed to bring life to ourselves.  We find the whole idea of ketores on Yom Kippur there’s so much avodah that revolves around Ketores because it’s life and it’s sweet smelling. “Eizeh davar sh’haneshama neheneh mimenu, havei omer zeh raiyach.”  That’s what smell is.  It’s Yom Kippurim.

Climax of Man’s Potential

The whole purpose of life is to follow ratzon Hashem, and when we fight against the Malach Hamaves, the Satan, the Yetzer Harah, that’s how we elevate the whole world and we bring out Hashem’s name.  That’s the purpose. That’s what the Ramban is hinting to over here that the whole purpose of the Mishkan is to bring down Hashem’s name, and that’s what the ketores is all about, the climax of bringing out man’s potential as being a bocheir b’tov, to choose good. We bring down Hashem’s Shechinah to be mekadeish Sheim Shamayim every day.  


Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rav and psychotherapist. Learn more and subscribe at ParshaThemes.com