Parashat Metzora / פרשת מצרע

LET’S STUDY ONKELOS

STUDY GUIDE METZORA (CHAPTER 14:1–15:33) SUMMARY OF THE TORAH PORTION
The purification process of the metzora is outlined; the indigent metzora is allowed to bring fewer sacrifices; a house afflicted with tzara’at has a special purification procedure; the Torah addresses the impurity derived from female and male bodily discharges and under what conditions the impurity is transmitted; distinctions are made between the impurity of a menstruant and the impurity acquired by other body flows; the Israelites are warned to separate themselves from impurity lest they defile the Tabernacle.
THE CASE OF THE EXTRA HAY:
ARE THERE SUPERFLUOUS LETTERS IN THE TORAH?
There is a glaring use of the letter hay in our parashah in chapter 14 that points to a biblical style that needs clarification. Six times, in 14:13 (pages 102 and 103),1 22 (pages 104 and 105), 30 (twice, pages 104 and 105) and 31 (twice, pages 106 and 107), there appears a hay that seems extraneous and unnecessary and our targumist was faced with the challenge of how to treat the letter in his translation. We mentioned
1 All page numbers refer to the Onkelos on the Torah volume.
2
before in our Guides and commentary that Onkelos follows the school of Rabbi Ishmael in seeing the Torah “speaking in the language that human beings would clearly understand” and not agreeing with the view of Rabbi Akiva who considered it necessary to regard every biblical linguistic irregularity as a launching pad for exegesis and interpretation. This orientation may seem strange to us today because, by and large, Rabbi Akiva’s opinion prevailed and the extraordinary expansion of the Oral Law is predicated upon it.
These facts make it important and valuable for us to understand what to expect of the Onkelos translator when he confronted the challenge of the biblical hay that really doesn’t belong in the text. Our examination will help understand the different ways that Torah is interpreted. While we are using chapter 14 as our focus, this phenomenon of apparently superfluous letters is found many times elsewhere in the Torah.
Let us examine the four verses referred to above and the unnecessary hays that are found in them. With regard to the process of purification the metzora must undergo, the Torah states:
13. “He slaughters the lamb in the place where the guilt offering and burnt offering are slaughtered, ‘bimkom hakodesh,’ (literally, in the place of the holy).”
Onkelos, recognizing that the hay of hakodesh is superfluous, drops it and renders the phrase be’atar kadish, in a holy place, as if the Torah had, bimkom kodesh.
22. “. . . one as the guilt offering, (‘ve’ha’echad olah’), and one as the burnt offering.”
Onkelos drops the hay, “the,” and renders as if the Torah read ve’chad.
30. “He prepares the one (‘ha’echad’) of the turtledoves or the pigeons (‘b’nei hayonah’).”
The targumist replaces ha’echad with chad and hayonah with yonah, again removing the superfluous hays.
31. “(He prepares) what he can afford, the one (‘ha’echad’) as the guilt offering and the one (‘ha’echad’) as the burnt offering.”
In both cases, the targumist substitutes chad for ha’echad, “one” for “the one.”
It may seem trivial to stress the liberty taken by the targumist in eliminating a Torah letter in his translation. But, reflect for a moment. What is the halakhah? What if a Torah scroll were found with one of its hays missing from it? The law is that the Torah is pasul, invalid, unfit for use for the public synagogue Torah reading, even if it is the only Torah available. Just one missing letter renders a Torah unfit for use. That is how holy the halakhah considers each and every letter. Yet, here we have a translator eliminating a letter, as if it did not exist, six times in one chapter, in a translation that has been venerated by the sages for sixteen hundred years.
As we note in our “Onkelos Highlight” (page 110):
3
Anyone who has completed a year of Modern Hebrew language study would agree that a “hay” should not be placed where the Torah placed it. This raises two questions (1) Was the Torah wrong by using the “hay” in the passage? (2) How could the targumist be so brazen as to remove a letter that the Torah felt was necessary? There are essentially two approaches to resolving these questions. The first approach accepts the idea that the Torah added “hays” for a purpose, but nevertheless recognizes that the targumist is after all a translator and not a halakhist and he is allowed to remove the “hays” to clarify the verse for his readership. The second approach would argue that the Torah “speaks in human language” and God did not insert every letter to teach halakhic lessons; therefore while the “hays” were appropriate in ancient Hebrew, a translator who wants to make the text clear to modern readers is perfectly free to remove them.
In our Preface to Leviticus (pages xv and xvi) we clarify the targumist’s approach, lest it be considered irreverent, which it most certainly is not:
The targumist’s acceptance of Rabbi Ishmael’s view does not mean that he rejected the entire body of law, theology, and values that emanated from the exegetical genius of the sages who extracted mountains of halakhah and aggadot not evident in Scripture itself. Onkelos, we believe, would certainly have acknowledged these rabbinical interpretations that comprise this Oral Law and tradition.
Our contention is that the targumist did not want to incorporate these laws into his translation, not because he rejected them, but because he did not view the teaching of the Oral Torah to be his task. He was a translator. He wanted to provide a literal understanding of the text on its own terms. Yet, notwithstanding the fact that the targumist ignored the oral traditions, which did not directly reflect the literal understanding of the text, the sages who wrote the Talmud and Midrashim that contained their teachings gave Onkelos their “seal of approval” without feeling at all uncomfortable that their exegesis was not incorporated into it.
They obviously felt that it is vitally important for every lover of the Bible to focus with as much fervor on the plain meaning of the text as on the multitudinous interpretations of the text. “Peshat”—that is, the literal meaning of Scripture—is, after all, the first of the four accepted categories of biblical understanding known as “pardes,” which refers to “peshat,” “remez,” “derash,” and “sod,” the literal, allegorical, homiletical, and mystical discernment of Torah.
The rabbinic mandate of “shnayim mikra v’echad Targum,” the imperative of reading the Torah portion twice in the Hebrew and once with Onkelos, is especially relevant today so that our immersion in commentaries and exegesis, in the spirit of “hafoch bah v’hafoch bah, d’kulay bah,” “search well in the Torah for everything is in it,” will not deflect us from attempting to first grasp the plain meaning of Scripture.
4
ADDITIONAL DISCUSSIONS
ON ONKELOS
We focused on the seemingly superfluous hay in this Guide. We showed, in essence, that biblical Hebrew is different than contemporary Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew inserts the definite article hay, “the,” in places that modern Hebrew would not place it. Languages change. Some rabbis and scholars ignore this idea and read significant, legal and homiletical lessons into the superfluous hay. But our targumist, as a translator, while respecting the legal and homiletical lessons, does not place them into his translation.
This situation with the hay is not unique. Another, more prevalent situation is the letter vav, which means “and,” “but,” “however,” “then,” and the like. Biblical Hebrew introduces many sentences with the letter, even when contemporary Hebrew would not use it. Again, as with the hay, many rabbis and scholars read lessons into the usage (readers may want to see an example in our commentary on Exodus 21:1, and look again at the example in the Tzav Guide on page three about the vav). Onkelos generally retains these vavs, but does not insert or even hint at the lessons others read into the letter. Do you think that the targumist was justified in disregarding the biblical style in regard to the hay? Why?
GENERAL DISCUSSION
Many people consider the Torah message relevant for all times. Does the fact that the Torah was written in biblical Hebrew, which is different than contemporary Hebrew, threaten this idea in any way? Or, should we say that the Torah had to be written in a language that the people who received it could understand?
FOR FURTHER STUDY
1. See 14:12 and commentary, “PENALTY OFFERING” (page 103). Why does the metzora bring an asham (penalty offering)?
2. See 14:16 and commentary, “HAND” (page 102). A characteristic change made by the targumist when Scripture uses a figure of speech, a part that represents a whole.
3. See 15:11 and commentary, “WITHOUT RINSING HIS HANDS” (page 112, continuing on page 115). Onkelos misses a chance to clarify a perplexing phrase

Parshas Tazria-HaChodesh

Parshas Tazria

Note: The Shabbos Torah Reading is divided into 7 sections. Each section is called an Aliya [literally: Go up] since for each Aliya, one person “goes up” to make a bracha [blessing] on the Torah Reading.

1st, 2nd and 3rd Aliya: The laws of purity and impurity as they pertain to childbirth are discussed. The basic laws of Tzaras, its diagnosis by a Kohain, the possibility of a quarantine, and the laws of Tzaras as it relates to healthy and infected skin are discussed.

4th, 5th, 6th, & 7th Aliyot: The laws of Tzaras as it relates to a burn, a bald patch, dull white spots, and the presence of a Tzaras blemish on clothing is detailed.


Maftir HaChodesh

This week, in addition to the regular Parsha, we read the section known as HaChodesh. The additional sections of Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and Chodesh are read prior to Pesach for both commemorative and practical reasons.

This additional section from Shemos, Parshas Bo, Chapter 12, is read on the Shabbos before the month of Nissan, or on the Shabbos of Rosh Chodesh Nissan. This section is an account of the very first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a nation. It includes the concept of Rosh Chodesh – the New Moon, as well as the basic laws of Pesach and the Pascal Lamb. Being that Pesach starts on the 15th of Nissan, this section is read about two weeks before Pesach begins. As with Parshas Parah, Chazal wanted the reading of this Parsha to be a reminder that Pesach is almost upon us! Only two more weeks to make the necessary arrangements to get to Yerushalayim and bring the Paschal Lamb! Only two more weeks and your house had better be in order! (are you panicked yet?)

It is interesting that Hashem selected the Mitzvah of the New Moon as the first national Mitzvah. Basically, the Mitzvah required two eye witnesses to testify before Beis Din that they had seen the tiny sliver of the new moon’s crescent that is the very first exposure of the moon’s new monthly cycle. The Beis Din would then declare the start of the new month.

The most obvious consequence of this procedure was the 29 or 30 day month, otherwise identified by a one or two day Rosh Chodesh. A two day Rosh Chodesh is comprised of the 30th day of the previous month and the 1st day of the new month. A one day Rosh Chodesh means that the preceding month was only 29 days long making Rosh Chodesh the 1st day of the new month. This would have an immediate effect on the scheduling of Yomim Tovim and other calendar ordained activities. It underscores from the very inception of the nation that the Beis Din, representing the Rabbinic leadership of the nation, were the single most important factor in guaranteeing the practice of Torah throughout time. It was as if G-d would wait for Beis Din to notify Him when His Yomim Tovim were to be.


Haftorah HaChodesh
Ezekiel Chapter 45

This week’s Haftorah is from Yechezkel – Ezekiel Chapter 45 and is related to the reading of Parshas Hachodesh. The latter chapters of Yechezkel describe the future Bais Hamikdash and the service that will take place once Mashiach has come and the Jews have returned to Eretz Israel. The Haftorah describes the offering that the Prince (the King or the High Priest) will bring on Rosh Chodesh – the New Moon.

This selection from Yechezkel is especially appropriate for the Shabbos that precedes or coincides with the beginning of the month of Nissan. The month of Nissan is known as the month of redemption. Our exodus from Egypt took place in the month of Nissan. The Mishkan was first assembled on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The Mizbeach was inaugurated into service during the first 12 days of Nissan. Therefore, we hope that this year, in the month of Nissan, we will again merit to be redeemed from exile, rebuild the Bais Hamikdash, and again inaugurate the Mizbeach by bringing the Rosh Chodesh offering in the service of G-d.

Parsha Summary, Copyright &copy 2016 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org.

Parshas Shemini

Parshas Shemini

Note: The Shabbos Torah Reading is divided into 7 sections. Each section is called an Aliya [literally: Go up] since for each Aliya, one person “goes up” to make a bracha [blessing] on the Torah Reading.
1st & 2nd Aliyot: The Parsha begins on Nissan 1, 2449. The seven-day inauguration of Aharon and his sons was completed and the ceremonies for the Mizbeach’s consecration had begun. Over 40 offerings would be brought on that first day, each requiring the direct ministrations of Aharon. Aharon blessed the nation with the standard priestly blessing after which Moshe and Aharon blessed the nation with the special Bracha of Psalm 90.

3rd Aliya: The deaths of Nadav and Avihu are recorded at the very same time that fire descended from heaven to light the Mizbeach. Their cousins removed the bodies of Nadav and Avihu from the courtyard of the Mishkan. Moshe instructs Aharon and his two remaining sons, Elazar and Isamar, that they are forbidden to overtly mourn the deaths of Nadav and Avihu in the standard manner. It is from here that we are taught the standard practices of tearing Kriyah and of mourners not cutting their hair.

4th & 5th Aliyot: Moshe instructs Aharon and his sons to continue the service of the Mizbeach’s consecration. The first recorded difference in Halachik rulings is recorded between Moshe and Aharon as it pertained to the eating of the Rosh Chodesh offering. (Note 16-20, Stone Edition ArtScroll pg. 595)

6th Aliya: The basic laws of Kosher and non-Kosher animals, fish, and fowl are recorded. Note that verses 11:4-7 is one of the established proofs for the divine authorship of the Torah.

7th Aliya: The basic laws of purity and impurity are recorded. It is important to clarify that the Torah does not associate “Tummah” impurity and “Taharah” purity with good and bad. The entire process involves the concept of life and death and the symbolic emphasis that the Torah places on serving G-d with optimism and vigor. So long as there is life there is the opportunity to grow in our relationship with G-d.

The question of “Why are we commanded to keep Kosher?” is answered in 11:44-47. The Torah clearly states that the reason to keep Kosher is to emulate G-d’s sanctity. Sanctity “Kedusha” means being set apart and different. Just as G-d is apart from all things and divine in every way, so too are we to be set apart from all other nations and be different in the manner of our eating.


Maftir Parah

This week, in addition to the regular Parsha, we read the section known as Parah. The additional sections of Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and Chodesh are read prior to Pesach for both commemorative and practical reasons. Shekalim, the first additional section, dealt with the 1/2 Shekel and the public sacrifices. The reading of the second section, Zachor, facilitated our fulfillment of the Mitzvah to remember the evil of Amalek. The two sections of Parah and Chodesh are directed toward our preparations for Pesach.

On Parshas Parah, we read the section found in the beginning of Parshas Chukas known as Parah. This section discusses the necessary steps that had to be followed to remove the impurity which caused by having had contact with a dead person. This process involved a seven day period during which the impure – Tameh person underwent a process involving the ashes of the Red Heifer. The process was facilitated by a Kohen, and had to take place in Yerushalayim.

The status of being Tameh restricted a person from entering into the Temple compound and / or participating in certain select activities. Although these restrictions are less applicable today because we do not have the Bais Hamikdash; nevertheless, it is incumbent upon all people, male and female, to keep these laws to the degree that they do apply.

In the time of the Bais Hamikdash it was required of every male adult to visit the Bais Hamikdash and offer a sacrifice a minimum of three times a year: Pesach, Shevout, and Succoth. However, it was even more important to be there on Erev Pesach to sacrifice the Korban Pesach – Pascal Lamb. Anyone who happened to be Tameh, from having had contact with a dead body, would have to undergo the process of the Parah Adumah – the Red Heifer, to remove the status of Tameh and be allowed to bring his Pascal Lamb to the Bais Hamikdash.

The Talmud tells us that the furthest point in Israel from Yerushalayim was a two weeks travel. If so, a person who was Tameh living two weeks travel away would require a minimum of three weeks to arrive in Yerushalayim with sufficient time to go through the one week process of the Red Heifer and be able to offer his Korban Pesach. Therefore, Chazal ordained the reading of Parah on the week before the reading of Chodesh as a public reminder to those who are Tameh that they must immediately arrange to get to Yerushalayim so that they can purify themselves in time to bring the Korban Pesach.

Summary of The Haftorah:

Haftorah Parah
Yechezkel 36:16

This week’s Haftorah reflects the reading of Parshas Parah. Yechezkel, the prophet, berated the people for their defection away from G-d. Their behavior defiled Eretz Yisroel rendering them unfit to remain within her boundaries. Therefore, the Jews had to be exiled from their land and dispersed among the nations. The exile and the consequent suffering while in exile would serve as a process purification process for the nation. In essence, the exile would be a national Parah Adumah – Red Heifer.

Central to the theme of the Haftorah is the fact that Hashem ultimately redeems the nation, “for His own sake.” While in exile the Jews are able to spread the word of G-d and teach His existence to the other nations. However, exile will also take its toll on the Jews. The Jews interaction with other nations will result in furthering the very defection which caused G-d to first punish the nation.

Among the mysteries of the Parah Adumah is the fact that the Kohen who administers the ashes becomes impure while the recipient of the ashes becomes pure. In essence this is the experience of the Jew in exile. The Jews have brought knowledge and understanding of G-d to the nations wherein which they were exiled, while at the same time suffering terrible persecution and assimilation through their association with the non-Jewish world. The nations have become pure while the Jews have become impure.

In the end G-d will redeem the nation and gather them in from the four- corners of the earth, “for His own sake.” The time will come when the purpose of the Jew in exile will have been fulfilled. Then, there will be no further reason for the Jew to remain among the other nations and G-d will renew His covenant with the Bnai Yisroel and return them to Eretz Yisroel.

Parsha Summary, Copyright &copy 2016 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org.

Shabbat Parah / שבת פרה

Shabbat Parah (“Sabbath [of the] red heifer” שבת פרה) takes place on the Shabbat before Shabbat HaChodesh, in preparation for Passover. Numbers 19:1-22 describes the parah adumah (“red heifer”) in the Jewish temple as part of the manner in which the kohanim and the Jewish people purified themselves so that they would be ready (“pure”) to sacrifice the korban Pesach.

Shabbat Parah begins at sundown on Fri, 01 April 2016.

Parashat Tetzaveh / פרשת תצוה

“The fourth row of stones [in the breastplate] was chrysolite,
onyx, and jasper.” (28:20)

QUESTION: The Jerusalem Talmud (Pei’ah 1:1) says we can
learn a lesson i n kibud av — honoring one’s father — from a
non-Jew by the name of Dama ben Netina. Once, the yashpeih
(jasper) stone of the breastplate got lost, and Dama ben Netina
happened to have one. When the Jews came to him, he refused
to sell i t , even at a very large profit, because the key to his safe
was under the p i l l ow upon which his father was sleeping.
Why was a lesson i n kibud av — honoring one’s father
conveyed specifically through the stone yashpeih?

ANSWER: On each of the 12 stones of the breastplate was
written the name of one of the 12 tribes. The stone yashpeih had
on it the name “Binyamin.” The numerical value of “yashpeih”
ישפה) ), counting the wo r d itself as one, is 396.

By plotting against Yosef and selling him, the brothers
caused much grief to Yaakov. Thus, their performance of the
mitzvah of kibud av was lacking. Binyamin was the only one who
had absolutely no part i n his brothers’ thoughts or activities
against Yosef. Consequently, he surpassed his brothers i n the
observance of the mitzvah of kibud av, and it is therefore most
appropriate that a lesson i n kibud av should be learned from the
stone which bore his name.

Parashat Tetzaveh / פרשת תצוה

UNIVERSAL TORAH: TETZAVEH

By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

Torah Reading: TETZAVEH Exodus 27:20-30:10
Haftara: Ezekiel 43:10-27.

LIFE IN THE HOUSE

In last week’s parshah of TERUMAH, the Torah taught us the form and shape of the House of G-d with all its vessels. In this week’s parshah of TETZAVEH, we receive instructions about the daily activities that are to take place in that House. The central core of the parshah is taken up with detailed instructions about the making of the garments of those who are to be the ministering attendants in the House — Aaron and his sons, the priests — and about the sacrifices that were to be offered during their seven-day initiation.

It may help us to grasp the overall structure of TETZAVEH by again using the “sandwich” idea. In this case, the top and bottom of the “sandwich” would be the opening and closing sections of the parshah, which give instructions about the “daily life” in the House. TETZAVEH starts by introducing in its two opening verses (Ex. 27;20-21) the daily lighting of the Menorah candelabrum in the House using the choicest oil — this opening section would be one side of the “sandwich”. Then at the end of TETZAVEH (Ex. 29:38-45; 30:1-10) we come to the other side of the “sandwich”. This consists of the sections dealing with the daily animal sacrifices, meal, oil and wine offerings on the outside Altar, the pleasing fragrance (the incense burned in the House on the golden Incense Altar) and finally (returning to the parshah’s opening theme), the daily lighting of the Menorah.

In the middle of this “sandwich” are two considerably lengthier sections. The first gives instructions in fine detail for the making of the garments of those who are to minister in the House — Aaron and his sons, the priests. The second gives the detailed instructions for what was to be a one-time event in the Wilderness: the 7-day initiation of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood that was to lead up to the permanent induction of the Sanctuary on 1st Nissan. (Because of the central importance of this day in the Torah, we will be returning several times in later parshahs to the description of its events – in PEKUDEY at the end of Exodus as well as in several parshahs in Leviticus and Numbers.)

* * *

THE ATTENDANTS — AARON AND HIS SONS

A basic assumption underlies all sections of our present parshah of TETZAVEH, from beginning to end. The assumption is that the attendants conducting the daily life of the House, about whose daily activities, garments and induction-day we read in such detail, are to be none other than Aaron and his sons.

Throughout our parshah, the entire focus is upon Aaron and his sons, their activities, garments and induction. Indeed it is a fact that the actual name of Moses does not appear anywhere in our parshah from beginning to end, though he is addressed directly in its opening words, VE-ATAH TETZAVEH, “And YOU shall command…” and moreover, he was to be the central actor in the priests’ induction. [It is said that one reason why Moses’ actual name was left out of this week’s parshah is because Moses was later to pray — in next week’s parshah Ex. 32:33 — “blot me out from Your book.”. However, that prayer had already been answered before it was said, since G-d “blotted out” Moses name by not writing it anywhere in this week’s parshah!]

Addressing now the central assumption — that it is to be Aaron and his sons who will play the role of ministers in the House of the dwelling of the Holy Presence:

It must be understood that EIN MUKDAM O ME-UCHAR BATORAH: “There is no ‘before’ and ‘after’ in the Torah”. The reason for the appointment of Aaron and his sons and none other to be the priests ministering in the House does not become apparent in the Torah narrative until next week’s parshah of KI TISA, with the account of the sin of the Golden Calf. Yet even before the reason became manifest, their appointment was already conceived in the mind and will of G-d prior to that event, as we see from this week’s parshah of TETZAVEH.

The first-born of the Children of Israel were originally offered an opportunity to become the ones who would serve as the priests. Indeed at the Giving of the Torah, it was the first-born — the “lads” (Ex. 24:5) — of the Children of Israel who officiated at the sacrifices, as we read in MISHPATIM. However, with the sin of the Golden Calf (told next week in KI TISA), the first-born of the Children of Israel failed the crucial test. From that time on, the Priesthood was given to Aaron and his descendants as an hereditary gift for all time.

* * *

HEREDITARY PRIESTHOOD

In an era when public office in virtually all “advanced” countries is theoretically open to all citizens, the role of an hereditary priesthood, which is at the very center of the Torah’s system of penitence — the Sanctuary and Temple rituals — calls for some explanation.

Much of Genesis is taken up with disputes about who is to serve in the role of the “priest”. Cain struggled with Abel. Ishmael fought against Isaac. Esau fought against Jacob. Reuven was the first-born, but Levi took the initiative, Judah, fourth in line, became the leader, while it was the righteous Joseph (against whom all the brothers struggled) who received a firstborn’s double portion of two-tribes. And then Ephraim took priority over firstborn Menashe.

In Exodus: Levy’s second son, Kehat, took priority over Levy’s firstborn, Gershon. Amram was indeed Kehat’s firstborn, yet while the priesthood went to Amram’s older son, Aaron, the latter was secondary in prophecy to his younger brother, Moses. The firstborn of the Children of Israel had a brief taste of the priesthood at the time of the Giving of the Torah, 50 days after having been saved from the plague that killed all the Egyptian firstborn. However the Israelite firstborn were displaced from their “birth-right” — hereditary priesthood forever — owing to the sin of the Golden Calf.

This raises the question of the nature of the priesthood in Judaism, which is relevant to our parshah of TETZAVEH, all of which is devoted to the daily duties of the priests, their garments and their induction service.

It is true that the tribe of Levi (who did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf), and the Kohanim are in many respects separate hereditary castes. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the ideal social structure of the Israelites as envisaged in the Torah is remarkably free of the social hierarchies and inequalities that characterize even the most “democratic” societies.

In particular, Israelite society is envisaged as one that should be free of any kind of extensive hierarchical network of full-time religious functionaries who act as intermediaries between the people and G-d, and whose service before their passive congregants takes the place of the individual’s personal relationship with G-d.

This is true, notwithstanding the fact that only the Kohanim (male descendants of Aaron), and members of the tribe of Levy could actually serve in the Temple, and only the Kohanim could perform certain vital ritual functions (such as purification from leprosy). Nevertheless, the Temple itself had a relatively small number of permanent priestly officials who were responsible for the maintenance of the House. The actual sacrificial services in the House were conducted by different priests every day. Each of the 24 contingents of priests into which the Kohanim were divided served for two weeks out of the year and on festivals, spending the rest of their time teaching Torah among the people in the localities where they lived. The only outstanding exception to this rule, besides the small core of permanent Temple staff, was the High Priest, who spent all his time in Jerusalem, most of it in the Temple itself.

It is certainly correct that the Kohanim were an hereditary priestly caste, who received TERUMAH, the first gift from everyone’s crops, as well as portions of meat, wool and various other gifts. This is what they lived off. The purpose of providing the members of this caste with their material needs was to enable them to devote themselves to a higher-than-average level of devotion (as expressed in eating of Terumah and sacrificial portions in ritual purity) and to the study of the Torah. It was the Kohanim who were expected to be able to play the role of the Torah judges (see Deuteronomy 19:17) in cases of disputes. They were also to play the central role in the “diagnosis” and “purification” of leprosy and other maladies (Leviticus Ch. 13ff.)

Nevertheless, it remains true that despite their exclusive role in the Temple sacrificial services and in the purification from leprosy, the Kohanim were not religious intermediaries who in some sense REPLACED the personal connection of the individual with G-d.

The Children of Israel were envisaged as a nation of free, independent small land-owners, each farming his own and sitting under his vine and fig-tree. Only in dire circumstances would one be sold as a slave to another (as instituted in MISHPATIM). Even one who fell into slavery would eventually go free at the end of seven years or in the Jubilee year. In the seventh year, all debts were to be cancelled. Those who had sold their land would get it back in the Jubilee year. The vision was not of a country where most of the wealth is permanently concentrated in the hands of a small elite.

Just as all of the Children of Israel heard the First Commandment, so they were all commanded to serve the One G-d, each through his own prayers and acts of service. The Torah commands that all of the Children of Israel must be holy (Leviticus 19:2). Everyone must strive to go in G-d’s ways. Becoming a Nazirite is considered an excess — the Nazirite must bring a sin-offering! There are no monks in Judaism.

Outside of the Temple itself, Israelite life was intended to be free of an elite of religious functionaries. Although the Kohen and Levy are honored by being called first and second to the public Torah reading, the actual synagogue and its services are run by its members, the majority of them Israelites. The service can only take place if a quorum of 10 Israelites is present. There is no need for an official rabbi as long as somebody present — any Israelite — knows how to lead the service and read from the Torah. The “functionaries” in Israelite society are the “captains of tens”, “captains of fifties”, “captains of hundreds” and “captains of thousands”. These must be “men of valor, G-d-fearing, men of truth, hating gain” (Ex. 18:21) — but they do not have to be Kohanim. In the Torah vision of the Israelite state, membership of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the state, is not to depend on heredity or wealth but only on Torah wisdom and personal sanctity.

What then is the role of the hereditary Kohanim, whose Temple service, garments and induction are the subject of our parshah of TETZAVEH?

The key concept necessary to understand the role of the Kohen, particularly that of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), is the concept of KAPARAH — atonement. This and related concepts recur several times in our parshah. The purpose of the precious stones that were attached to the High Priest’s shoulders and bore the names of the tribes of Israel was that they should be “remembered” by G-d with favor. The wearing of the TZITZ, the head-plate inscribed “Holy to HaShem”, was to secure atonement for impurity. The closing verse of our parshah speaks of how the High Priest must annually sprinkle the golden Incense Altar with the blood of the Day of Atonement sin-offering in order to bring about KAPARAH — atonement.

The institution of the priesthood was not intended to replace individual attachment to G-d on the part of each person through his own devotions. While the Kohanim are charged with maintaining the Holy Temple as the central focus of Israelite and indeed world religious life (for “My House is the House of Prayer for all the Nations), their role in the devotional life of the individual is of significance primarily when the individual, independent “citizen” TURNS ASIDE from the path and falls into sin. He is then unable to help himself. If he is liable to bring a sacrifice, he needs a Kohen to offer it for him. If he has what he thinks is a leprous patch on his skin (a sign of a personal deficiency), he needs a Kohen to make the determination and a Kohen to purify him.

The Kohen can play his role as functionary in the Temple services and bringer of ATONEMENT only through standing aside from the rest of the people and demanding more of himself. The Kohanim were distinguished by their unique genetic inheritance as direct male descendants of Aaron, and they protected this inheritance by adhering to higher levels of personal sanctity (such as that a Kohen may not marry a divorcee, etc.).

The rich, colorful ritual garments of the High Priest embody this concept of separateness, sanctity and atonement. So too, the induction of the priests during their Seven Days of Initiation was characterized by separation, sanctity and the atonement accomplished through the offering of the ox sin offering (atoning for the sin of the Golden Calf) and the eating of peace offerings.

Atonement depends upon the priestly garments and the priests’ consumption of sacrificial portions. The original sin of Adam — of which the sin of the Golden Calf was a “repetition” — came about through eating. After Adam and Eve sinned, G-d gave them CLOTHES in order to cover over their nakedness and begin the process of atonement. The priests continue this process of atonement through wearing their unique garments while eating their portion of the sinner’s sacrifice.

The hereditary inheritance of the priesthood — Temple SERVICE — by the sons of Aaron is justified by the fact that Aaron joined himself to the Torah inheritance through his choice of a wife to mother his sons. For “Aaron took Elisheva the daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon as his wife, and she bore him Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar” (Ex. 6:23). Elisheva’s father, Aminadav, was the Prince of Judah, the tribe to whom Jacob entrusted with guardianship of the Torah, while her brother Nachshon was the first to jump into the Red Sea. Torah knowledge is indispensable for the proper functioning of the priesthood. Without Torah, the priest is helpless — an ignoramus priest needs a Torah scholar to teach him how to make the correct determination in cases of leprosy.

Through the merit of our Torah study, may we see the Holy Temple rebuilt quickly in our times!!!

Shabbat Shalom!!! Happy Purim!!!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum

Parashat Mishpatim / פרשת משפטים

Parshas Mishpatim Note: The Shabbos Torah Reading is divided into 7 sections. Each section is called an Aliya [literally: Go up] since for each Aliya, one person “goes up” to make a bracha [blessing] on the Torah Reading.


The following Aliya summary will list the numerous laws detailed in Parshas Mishpatim. A total of 53 Mitzvot are commanded.

1st Aliya: The Jewish slave, Jewish maidservant, manslaughter, murder, injuring a parent, kidnapping, cursing a parent.

2nd Aliya: Killing of slaves, personal damages, injury to slaves, the killer ox, a hole in the ground, damage by goring, penalties for stealing.

3rd Aliya: Damage by grazing, damage by fire, the unpaid custodian, the paid custodian, the borrowed article, seduction, occult practices, idolatry and oppression, lending money.

4th Aliya: Accepting authority, justice, strayed animals, the fallen animal.

5th Aliya: Justice, the Shmitah (7th) year, Shabbos, Pesach, Shavous, Succos, prohibition against milk and meat.

6th Aliya: Hashem (G-d) instructed the nation to respect the authority of His messengers, the Prophets and Rabbis. He promised to chase out the seven nations who inhabited Canaan and forewarned us against making a treaty of peace with them, or being influenced by their practices and values.

7th Aliya: Hashem stated the means by which the seven nations would be chased out of Israel, and promised that if we do as instructed no woman would miscarry. The borders of Eretz Yisroel (The Land of Israel) were defined. The conclusion of the Parsha returns to the aftermath of Revelation. Moshe built an altar, offered a sacrifice, and in 24:7 the nation proclaimed “we will first obey Hashem’s commands and then attempt to understand”. Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and the 70 elders have a shared vision in 24:10 and then Moshe is told to ascend Sinai where he would remain for 40 days and nights.


Parsha Summary by Rabbi Aron Tendler