Last week's sedra dealt exclusively with the building of the Mishkan and it's vessels, this week the theme continues with the building of the temple and gives over the laws regarding the Kohanim, the priests who would administer the running of the Temple. The Parasha starts with the description of their vestments (or clothes to the less literate) and continues through to their inauguration service by means of which they and their offspring would become confirmed for all times as these unique ministers of Hashem. So what does a sedra which is dedicated almost entirely to the Kohanim start off with?... Commandments regarding the pure olive oil to be lit in the Menorah... So why start here? Surely we should

have just mentioned this last week when we were talking about the construction of the Menorah itself?... Well apart from the obvious fact that it would be the Kohanim who would undertake the arrangement of the oil we also learn that the requirement of pure olive oil (only oil obtained from the first pressing of an olive was acceptable) is a fitting introduction to our sedra based on Kohanim as they, too, must remain pure and separate from the rest of the nation, in the sense that they may not permit unauthorised people to take part in the service. We learn that the use of olive oil rather than any other type is credited to the fact that the Jewish people are likened to an olive. In the book of Prophets, Yirmeyahu [11:15] says... “A fresh olive, a fruit of beautiful shape, did Hashem call your name”. So in what way are we likened to an Olive? The Midrash brings down a few reasons for this comparison. Just as olive oil is the finest of all oils, so is the Jewish people the holiest of all nations,

In order to produce olive oil, olives need to be beat and pressed... so to we have been in a sense purified and have continually returned to Hashem through the banishment from one nation to the next and the beatings, tortures and atrocities taken place against us over time.

Oil is one of the few liquids which doesn't mix, it always stays separate when mixed with others. We are comparable in the fact that we are the only nation in history that was never swallowed up among the nations but has kept, and will forever keep, its distinct identity. Oil when mixed always floats to the top, and so too we see Jews always rising to the top in society whether it be through arts, science or literature.

Just as the oil served to illuminate the Menorah, so too we as Jews serve to illuminate the world through Torah.

The next chunk of the Parasha describes the vestments to be worn by the Kohen whilst performing the service, if he did not wear these vestments then any service he performed was invalid. The mefarshim bring down that a prime reason for having to wear this very unique clothing was to set them apart from others when they performed the service. Through this clear physical distinction the nations had to recognise that there was a spiritual separation in which Aaron and his sons (the Kohanim) were on a high spiritual level and that this was why only they could perform the service. The clothing also made it clear to the Kohanim themselves that they were undertaking a very important task and this provides yet another example of how one's appearance can influence how he will perform the task at hand. Through this we learn that any Jew who prays or involves himself in the performance of other commandments should take care to dress and conduct himself with dignity and respect for 'the One before Whom he stands'. You wouldn't turn up in jeans and a tank top to meet the queen at her palace, so we must not act in such a way when we turn up in Shul or Yeshiva to pray or learn Torah.

When we study the vestment in detail we see that there are some very deep reasons behind what seems on the surface to be quite a strange set of commandments regarding the precise materials and designs of them. We are told through the oral tradition that each of the garments, to be worn by the Kohanim, atoned for a particular sin of the Jewish people and embedded within this are a vast amount of lessons to be learnt. So lets get cracking!

The first of these vestments to be described is that of the Ephod which Rashi describes as similar to the garment worn by women riding on horses which doesn't really help us non-equestrians but it was kind of a half apron which was worn back to front... either way what we are going to focus on is what was on top of it's shoulder straps which was two gold settings which contained the Shoham Stones. According to most commentators these were made of either Onyx or Beryl, and engraved on to them was the names of the twelve tribes, six on one shoulder and six on the other in order of birth. So the obvious symbolism here is that when the Kohen Gadol would wear this he would need to recognise that he had the responsibility of all the nations on his shoulders, probably most prominently on Yom Kippur when he would enter the holy of holies and ask for atonement for the whole of Israel. A deeper meaning is present however... as we previously mentioned, each piece of clothing was an atonement for a sin committed by the Jewish people, the Ephod atoned for the transgression of idol worship. According to Shoftim [18:14] the idol worshippers used to wear a similar type of robe and therefore the Ephod worn by the Kohanim was an atonement for idols which were usually worshipped while wearing this type of garment. On top of the Ephod was the Shoham Stones which were an atonement for the worst of those idol worshipping transgressions, the sin of the Golden Calf. In Parashas Yisro we learn that the Jewish Nation arrived at Mount Sinai united but the result of the sin of the Golden Calf was that the Luchos (Tablets) were smashed by Moshe and we became technically divided by the sin. If we look into the actual word Shoham, שהם, we find that the relationships which were severed between the twelve nations of Israel, Moshe and of course Hashem are reunited through these Shoham Stones... If we rearrange the word Shoham/שהם we can make the words משח... Moshe and השם... Hashem... Thus in these stones we have the reunification of; the twelve tribes of Israel engraved on them, Moshe and of course Hashem, which provides the ultimate atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.

The next vestment to be described is probably the most famous dress piece of the Kohen Gadol and certainly the most popular for commentary and is that of the חשן משפט/Choshen Mishpat, the Breastplate of Judgement. The Choshen was made of the same material as the Ephod and was folded over in half which formed a pouch, into which a parchment bearing the Ineffable Name of G=d was inserted. This was worn for two reasons, to atone for erroneous decisions made by courts of judgement and it worked to make rulings for the nation. Rashi tells us that the name inserted was called Urim, from the word for light, אור, because it would cause individual letters of the tribal names on the Breastplate to light up; and Tumim, from the word תמים which means completeness, because if read in the proper order, these luminous letters presented complete and true answers to the questions of national import that the Kohen Gadol would ask of G-d. The Vilna Gaon gives a classic interpretation of how the message of the Urim v'Tumim could be misunderstood... when Hannah, the future mother of the prophet Shmuel entered the Temple to pray for a child, the Kohen Gadol Eli saw an unusual demeanour and reckoned her to be a drunkard rather than a supremely righteous woman [Shmuel 1:13]. How did such a mistake happen?... The Vilna Gaon contends that Eli consulted the Urim v'Tumim through the Breastplate regarding Hannah and when the lettersש,כ,ר, and ה lit up he read them as שכרה/shikora (presumably where the Yiddish word 'shika' originates from) which translates as a drunken woman rather than the correct way to read it which would have been כשרה/cashayra which translates as 'a worthy woman'. Ramban notes that only Moshe had the spiritual knowledge and ability to write the Name originally and we don't see the Urim v'Tumim in use past King Josiah who hid it along with the Ark and anointment oil when he realised that Israel was going to be conquered. None of them were found during the period of the Second Temple.

Theחשן /Choshen was to be used with complete belief in Hashem as it required ruach Ha'Kodesh and the knowledge that he is ruling the world in order to give the Kohen Gadol answers. The complete opposite of this would be belief that there is no G-d and that things happen only by chance. It is no coincidence therefore that the word חשן can be re-arranged to spell the word נחש which was the word used for the serpent all the way back in Parashas Bereishis. The serpent tried to take Hashem out of the equation, convincing Eve that she could be greater than him by eating from the tree of knowledge. The word נחש also means superstition, something which denies the existence of Hashem and instead puts things down to 'fate' and 'chance'... terms we do not believe in as Jews. We will see this weekend in the story of Purim how Hamman's biggest downfall was through 'chance' when he drew lots to see what day to wipe out the Jewish nation on, a draw which was clearly controlled by Hashem, giving the Jews ample amount of time to turn events around. The Breastplate was there to show us that Hashem is in control of everything from the major to the minute and that avoiding walking under ladders or putting keys on the table are נחש behaviour characteristics... we must avoid that serpent.

The Torah states... 'You shall make the Robe of the Ephod...' It is described as the מעיל האפוד/me'il (robe) of the Ephod because the Ephod was worn above it. It is brought down in gemara Zevachim [88b] that the me'il was an atonement for Lashon Horra (literally evil speech) and through the Torah's description of this garment we can gain insight into how we should and shouldn't use our gift of speech. When describing the me'il the Torah says... 'it's opening shall have a border all around the may not be torn' [28:32], which we can interpret as us needing to have borders on our mouths and on what we say, it is very clear what opening the Torah is alluding to here. When would it be torn?... when you open it too wide, we are being told not to open our mouths too wide... not to talk to much. The description then goes on further to say... 'you shall make on its hem pomegranates... on its hem all around, and gold bells between them, all around. A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate on the hem of the robe, all around' [28:33-34]. Why does the Torah say that you shall make pomegranates with bells in between them? There is clearly something going on here due to the repetition of the phrase giving emphasis. So, why not say gold bells with pomegranates in between them... a subtle change of the order we would normally expect here gives us incredible insight into how we should speak... for each time you speak you should be silent twice, the bells are in between the pomegranates, one bell for every two pomegranates and what type of bell is it? Golden. When you speak, make sure it is golden speech, don't talk in a vulgar way. The pomegranate also alludes to mitzvahs as the vast amount of pips present in a pomegranate are likened to the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot, so we see from this that we should only open our mouths between mitzvahs, when this is the focus... not for idle chatter, vulgarity or worst of all, Lashon Horra. The possuk on the me'il ends off by stating... 'Its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary before Hashem'... At the most basic level this teaches us that we should not catch people off guard and should let them 'hear' when we are entering (or give them pre-warning), for example knocking on doors and not just walking in and catching people in a vulnerable position. A deeper meaning is brought down by Rabbi Kaplan, however, who explains that we should interpret it as... if you want your voice to be heard when you enter the sanctuary, as in when you daven, then you need to learn the lesson of the Me'il... use your mouth properly in your own pursuits and your teffilah will be heard when you enter. Lashon Horra is said to block teffilah, the only way to truly have your prayers answered is to cut it out and use your mouth properly, then Hashem is all ears.

I hope everyone has an amazing Shabbat and drunken, fun filled Purim with a good recovery week ahead!!

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

Add comment

Have something to say?
Please make your comment below!
All comments are reviewed prior to publication. Absolutely NO loshon hara or anything derogatory or hurtful to anyone will be permitted on the website.

Security code