Hebrew Insights into Parashat Tetzaveh – Sh’mot (Exodus) 27:20 – 30:10
The priests' vestments and their instatement are at the heart of Parashat Tetzaveh, while this theme is flanked at the beginning and end by the respective citing of the oil for the Menorah, and the description of the Altar of Incense. The previous Parasha started with a free-will offering for YHVH (Ex. 25:2) – ‘trumah’ – whereas this one starts with a command, to "bring … pure olive oil beaten for the light, to set light perpetually" (27:20 italics added). This order is denoted by "tetzaveh" - "you shall command," the root being tz.v.h (tzadi, vav, hey). “This type of command connotes instructions given by a father to a son (I Sam. 17:20), a farmer to his laborers (Ruth 2:9). and a king to his servants (II Sam. 21:14). It reflects a firmly structured society in which people were responsible to their right to rule by God’s command. The leader was then in a position to command the people and to expect their obedience.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament further connects this root with "tzi'yoon"1, which means a “signpost, a mark or a monument” as is found, for example, in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 31:21, “Set up road marks for yourself." Thus “command,” as in “mitzava,” usually perceived only as a strict order or a dictate, has further and deeper implications. Interestingly, “tetzaveh” is not the imperative form for “command,” but the second person future tense, in this way diminishing from the intensity of the wording.
Last week we compared the building instructions for the Mishkan with the six days of Creation (ref. Ex. 24:16). This week we are also required to make a similar analogy. In Parashat Trumah the Menorah was listed in third place, while here the oil for the "perpetual light" is mentioned first, recalling of course the light on the first day of Creation. The instructions for making the oil emphasize not only its purity and clarity (the word there being "zach," denoting both), but also that it is to be made by beating or pounding (the olives). This oil is named "katit," the root of which is k.t.t. (kaf, tav, tav), meaning to “beat or crush." This pure oil, made as it is, by crushing and pounding, is to be for a continual light ("ner tamid"). As such it reflects very clearly our unchanging Messiah (Heb. 13:8) Who is without sin and therefore pure (Heb. 4:15), had been bruised and crushed (Is. 53:5), and is the Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). An analogous definition of Him as the Anointed One Who is also the Word (John 1:1) is found in Tehilim (Psalms) 119:105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path".2
It was up to the priests, A’haron (Aaron) and his sons, who were later to be anointed with the anointing oil, to "set" the oil and its lighting "before YHVH" (27:21). Afterwards Moshe was "to bring near A’haron… and his sons" to "himself" (literal translation for "summoning" or "take for yourself"). In the process of sanctifying the priests, Moshe was also told to…"take one bullock … two perfect rams … unleavened bread, and unleavened cakes poured over with oil, and unleavened waters anointed with oil," to make them of "fine wheat flour" and to "put them into one basket" which he was, again, to “bring near" (29:1-3). Immediately after that, he was told once again "to bring near A'aron and his sons to the opening of the tent of meeting…" (v. 4, literal translation, emphasis added). In all three cases the verb is "karev," of the root k.r.v (kof, resh, bet/vet), meaning to “bring near or close.” This root is also the root for "korban," a “sacrifice” or an “offering.” In 29:8, A'aron's sons were to be "brought near," as was the bullock which was to be slaughtered after the priests laid their hands on it (v. 10). This is the first instance of "laying of hands" – “samoch” (s.m.ch, samech, mem, kaf/chaf), with the primary meaning of the verb being to “lean upon." In the case of the "laying of hands," as is seen preformed here by the priests, there is an identification with the "korban" which is about to give up its life, symbolizing ultimate submission. Thus, the particular selection of verbs used here forms an introduction to the sacrificial system and to its significance. It is by virtue of the sacrifice that a “drawing near" to the Father can occur, followed by "leaning" and "relying" on Him. According to King David, “though [a man] falls, he is not cast down; for YHVH upholds - "somech" - his hand” (Psalms 37:24). In Tehilim 145:14 we read again: “YHVH upholds all who fall.”
As part of the consecration, two rams were also being slaughtered. The blood of the second one was to be put on the priests' right earlobe, right thumb, and the right big toe (29:20). In their service to YHVH, these servants' relationship with Him was marked by listening and obeying (which is denoted by one and the same word in Hebrew), by doing His deeds, and walking in His paths.3
The priests' special vestments signified their unique position, while each of the several items with which they were attired had its own particular purpose. "And you shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for glory and for beauty" (28:2). The word for "beauty" here is "tif'e'ret," of the root p.e.r (pey, alef, resh), which means to “beautify” and a “turban.” Our High Priest says of Himself in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 61: "The Spirit of YHVH is on Me, because YHVH has anointed Me to… appoint to those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty - p'er - instead of ashes the oil of joy instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of the spirit of infirmity, so that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of YHVH, in order to beautify - lehit'pa'er - Himself" (vs. 1,3). Once clothed in “beauty,” these ones render glory to YHVH, while exclaiming: "I will greatly rejoice in YHVH. My soul shall be joyful in my Elohim. For He clothed me with garments of salvation; He put on me the robe of righteousness, even as a bridegroom puts on – literally “ministers as a priest” - his ornament - p'er - and as the bride is adorned with her jewels" (Is. 61: 10 italics added). The clothing items in this verse: garments – b’gadim. robe - m’eel - and the “ornament” denoted by “p’er” are all mentioned also in Sh’mot 28:2. Notice in particular how the Yishayahu text associates the bridegroom with the priesthood.
In 28:29, A'haron is told to carry the names of the sons of Yisrael on the breastplate of judgment whenever entering the Holy Place, and that it was to be as "a continual reminder before YHVH" (italics added). Further, Moshe was told to "put the Urim and the Thummim into the breastplate of judgment; and they shall be on the heart of Aaron in his going before the face of YHVH. And Aaron shall bear the judgment of the sons of Israel on his heart before the face of YHVH continually" (v. 30 italics added). Although there is no specific description of the “Oorim” and “Toomim” (as they are pronounced in Hebrew), the etymology of these terms is very interesting. "Oorim" is of the root "or" – light - albeit in plural form, as is "Toomim." The root of "Toomim" is "tom," meaning “integrity, perfect, complete, entirety, and finished.” In short, these items stand for "light and perfection, or completion." Once again, we see a perfect picture of Yeshua, who is the Light, as well as the Epitome of Perfection. Another rendering of the Messiah’s figure is presented in the very spelling of these words, with the first letter of Oorim being ‘aleph’ (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), while the first letter of Toomim is ‘tav.’ being the last letter. Thus Yeshua is seen here as the ‘aleph and the tav,’ the “beginning and the end” (Rev. 1:8), the light of the first day of Creation, and the completion thereof, “for all things were created by Him… all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16).
Golden bells and pomegranates were to be attached alternately to the bottom of the High Priest's garment (28:33-35). The word for "bell" is "pa'amon," its root being p.a.m. (pey, ayin, mem) which means, “foot, step, anvil, and time.” Unlike other words for Time, “et,” "zma'n" and “mo’ed,” which point to specific times, "pa'am" refers to "pulse" or "beat," and thus to Time's continuous motion. With this meaning of “pa’amon,” marking the passage of time, it is interesting to note the function of its sound here. The bells were to "be heard in his [A’haron's] going into the sanctuary before the face of YHVH and in his coming out, that he [Ah’aron] should not die" (v.35, italics added). The pomegranates were used frequently as a decorative motif (e.g. Jer. 52:22ff).
The fact that Moshe was told (literally) to clothe A’haron and his sons (28:41) recalls B’resheet (Genesis) 3:21, where we read: "And YHVH Elohim made coats of skin for the man and his wife, and clothed them." It was the actions of “the man and his wife” (sin) that had actually necessitated the ministry of interposing between man and Elohim, which was entrusted to A'haron and his sons.
The last article to be mentioned in this Parasha is the Altar of Incense. In 30:8 we learn that while attending to the altar, A'haron was also to attend to the lights: "And Aaron shall burn incense of perfume on it morning by morning; when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it" (30:7). Thus, our Parasha comes around ‘full circle’ from its beginning (with the lights/lamps) to the end. "When he dresses the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it; which he did every morning when he went into the holy place, where the candlestick with its lamps was. These he trimmed and dressed, snuffed those that were ready to go out, lighted those that were gone out, supplied them with oil and wicks, and cleared the snuff dishes, and the like. Now near to the candlestick stood the altar of incense, so that when the priest looked after the one, he did the service of the other. Hence we learn that our intercessor and lamplighter is one and the same; he that was seen amidst the golden candlesticks dressing the lamps of them appears at the golden altar with a golden censer, to offer up the prayers of his saints."4 (emphasis added).
1 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris,
Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.
2 "In this world you stood in need of the light of the Temple and other
lamps are lit from its light. But in the world to come, by virtue of that
lamp ["ner" - light], I shall bring you King Messiah who is likened to
a lamp, as it is said (Ps. 132:17): "There I will cause to flourish a
horn for David, I will set a lamp for Mine anointed" (Tanhuma
Tezaveh 8 - an ancient commentary). Quoted from New Studies in
Shmot Part 2, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner
Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the
Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
3 Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit,
Jerusalem, 1976, 1999.
4 Gill commentary, Online Bible.