In This Issue:
Rabbi Chaim Poupko
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Great comedians often make very astute observations. For instance, Bill Cosby imagined what it would have been like had there been a coin-toss at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, as there is at the beginning of a football game. Clearly, the colonists won the coin toss, as it provides the only explanation as to how the colonists managed to wear the camouflage they wanted, and ambush the British as they pleased, while the British soldiers remained out in the open in their bright red uniforms.
The British weren’t the only ones in history to be over-dressed for battle. At the beginning of World War I, the French army was still wearing its stylish red pants and blue coats that it had been wearing for centuries. When the minister of defense attempted to change the uniforms, he was rebuffed with the assertion that “red trousers are France!” With the severe losses the French army suffered during the war, naturally their uniform was changed.
The mistake of these two armies is related to a key lesson that emerges from this week’s Torah reading. Parashat Tetzaveh describes at length the uniform that the Kohanim wore during their service in the Mishkan. Moshe is commanded “VeAsiti Bigdei Kodesh LeAharon Achicha LeChavod ULeTiferet” “and you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother for honor and beauty” (Shemot 28:2).
In other words, the primary function of the clothing they wore was to bring honor and beauty to their service. That’s why the Ramban suggests that the clothing the Kohanim wore was characteristic of royal garments. In this light, clothing can be understood as a means of fostering a certain attitude or atmosphere. They are a means to achieve a certain goal, but they are not the goal in and of themselves. This was the mistake of those armies who chose fashion over function for their uniforms. Instead of looking at the function of their clothing – and whether it was serving a greater purpose – they looked at their clothing and its style as a goal in and of itself.
Clothing is not only crucially important for service in the Mishkan, clothing represents how we project ourselves to those around us. While no one should be judged strictly by what they wear, it would be a mistake to ignore the messages we convey to others by our clothing. Just as the uniform of the Kohanim projected honor and beauty, what we wear projects our values and our attitude towards ours surroundings. The aphorism “don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t apply here. Instead, one’s outer appearance should reflect their inner attitude. It’s the reverse of Rabban Gamliel’s standard by which he measured people. He insisted that one should be Tocho KeBaro – one’s inner sincerity should match their outer deeds and words. We learn the reverse from the clothing of the Kohanim that the way one projects him or herself on the outside should match what they believe in the inside.
When the Torah gives instructions about the building of the Mishkan, it usually uses words like “VeAsu,” “VeAsita” and “Taaseh,” which are fairly indirect commands all meaning “and make.” However, in our Parashah, different wording is used. For example, the Pesukim of “VeAtah Tetzaveh Et Bnei Yisrael VeYikchu Eilecha Shemen Zayit Zach,” “And you shall command Bnei Yisrael, and they shall take for you pure olive oil (Shemot 27:20), “VeAtah Hakrev Eilecha Et Aharon Achicha,” “And you, bring near to yourself Aharon your brother” (28:1), and “VeAtah TiDaber El Kol Chachmei Lev…VeAsu Et Bigdei Aharon,” “And you shall speak to all the wise hearted people…and they shall make the clothing of Aharon” (28:3) all use the more direct language of “VeAtah...,” “and you...”. Why does Hashem directly command Moshe regarding gathering oil for the Menorah, appointing the Kohen Gadol, and preparing the Bigdei Kehunah? What makes these tasks so important that Moshe is specified as the only one capable of performing them?
Rav Elchanan Sorotzkin says that since these three objects represent essential parts of Judaism, therefore Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people, needs to do them. The oil represents the light of Torah which is constantly bathing the world with its pure light. Just as the oil of the Menorah has to be sealed by the Kohen Gadol, a spiritual leader, to attest to its purity, so too the Torah has to be completely free of outside influences which might interfere with its purity. The Torah here is telling us that Torah learning should always be done under the supervision of a Torah leader of Bnei Yisrael.
The next commandment to personally appoint the Kohen Gadol is symbolic of the appointment of Torah leaders from generation to generation within Bnei Yisrael. Since the Torah must remain unadulterated, its leaders must remain pure as well. This is evidenced by the Kohanim Gedolim who purchased their position during the late period of the second Beit HaMikdash, causing tremendous spiritual damage. These Kohanim were not appointed by people like Moshe, but by corrupt leaders who were not dedicated to Torah values. Here the Torah is highlighting the terrible outcomes that will occur if Bnei Yisrael’s Torah leaders do not remain committed to Hashem. Therefore, Hashem Hashem by asking Moshe, His most loyal servant, to appoint the Kohen Gadol, the precedent was set of keeping the leadership pure.
The last job assigned to Moshe is the preparation of the Kohen’s clothing. Just as Korbanot atone for our sins, the clothing of a Kohen atones for us as well. If a Kohen lacks the proper clothing, he is disqualified from performing the service in the Mishkan. This emphasis on the clothing teaches us the importance of wearing the proper clothing in our lives. We have to wear the clothes that identify us as Jewish: Kippah, Tzitzit, and Tefillin. If we don’t wear these, we disqualify ourselves from being able to properly learn Torah.
There is an obvious question which one must ask himself on Purim: why would the chachomim instruct us to get drunk? The Biur Halachah answers simply that since all of the miracles of Purim were done through wine, the commemoration of the events should be done with wine as well.
A second answer can be found in this week’s Torah reading. This week, we will read Parashat Zachor in which the Torah says “Zachor,” “remember” [what Amalek did to you], followed by “Lo Tishkach,” “do not forget.” The double language seems to be redundant; why are both necessary? It is possible to suggest that the word “Zachor” is meant to direct our attention to the use of the same word in the Aseret HaDibrot regarding Shabbat. We learn from this connection that just as we do the mitzvah of Zechirat Amaleik, the remembrance of Amalek using words, we also do the Mitzvah of Kiddush using words. Perhaps one can further the connection by noting that just as on Shabbat, we drink wine to recall the significance of the day, on Purim, when it is crucial for us to remember Amaleik, wine is also used.
This alternative is quite compatible with the Gemara (Megillah 7b) which discusses the Halachah of drinking on Purim. Rava states that there is an obligation to become intoxicated on Purim until one does not know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.” The Gemara proceeds to relate a story involving Rabbah and Rabi Zeira. At their Seudat Purim, Rabbah arose and slaughtered Rabi Zeira. On the next day, Rabbah davened and Rabi Zeira was brought back to life. Perhaps Rabbah acted so radically because he became so drunk that he mixed up “cursed is Haman” with “blessed is Mordechai” and thought Rabi Zeira was Amalek, so he killed him as the Torah commands. However, according to Rabbeinu Ephraim, this story serves as a refutation to Rava’s statement to demonstrate the dreadful results of drunkenness.
The Magein Avraham (60:2) states that one fulfills the Mitzvah of Zechirat Amalek by praising Hashem with the words “LeShimcha HaGadol,” “to your great name,” in the Berachah of “Ahavah Rabbah.” If this is the case, it would explain why many other authorities believe that on Purim the mitzvah is not specifically to get drunk, but to express happiness. This would also fit perfectly with the language used by the Meiri as quoted by the Beur Halachah, who explicitly states that we should not just be happy about “Shtus” (meaningless frivolities), but out of our love of Hashem and what He did and still does for us.
We learn from this that Judaism, unlike other religions, fights evil not only by destroying it, but by smothering it in goodness, Torah, and Mitzvot. It is imperative that we keep this in mind constantly as we strive to be an Or LaGoyim (light to the nations).
In this week’s Torah portion, not only do we read the Parashah of Tetzaveh, but we also read the portion of remembering Amalek, the nation that needlessly attacked Bnei Yisrael in the desert. Because of the attack, Hashem commanded us to eradicate the nation of Amalek both physically and mentally. The Torah conveys that Hashem will also eliminate the memory of Amalek from the world in the Pasuk, “VaYomer Hashem El Moshe Ketov Zot Zikaron BaSeifer VeSim BeOznei Yehoshua Ki Macho Emcheh Et Zecher Amalek MiTachat HaShamayim” “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘write this in the book and relay it to Yehoshua because I will erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens” (Shemot 17:14).
Rav Nachum Mordechai Friedman asks that if God joins us in this endeavor to forget Amalek, why has it become so difficult to defeat Amalek and other nations similar to it? He explains that it is a two-sided agreement between God and us. Hashem will erase the memory of Amalek by physically destroying the nation and other similar nations only if we, the Jewish people, destroy the internal “Amalek,” our evil inclinations and Yeitzer HaRah. Once we destroy our internal bad, God can destroy our external and physical enemies.
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