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Why we could really use the Urim v’Tumim today Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 February 2024

In Parhsat Tetzaveh (Shmot 28:29-30) we read:

Aharon will carry the names of B’nai Yisrael on the Choshen HaMishpat (breastplate of judgment), over his heart, when he comes into the Holy sanctuary, as a constant remembrance before God. Place in the Choshen the Urim v’Tumim, and they will be over Aharon’s heart when he comes before God. Aharon will carry the judgment of B’nai Yisrael over his heart, before God always.

The Torah does not explain exactly what the Urim v’Tumim are.

According to Rashi, the Urim v’Tumim is the inscription of the Explicit Name (written on parchment) which was placed into the folds of the choshen.

Ramban (Shmot 28:30) agrees with Rashi’s statement and adds:

The proof for this is that in the work of the craftsmen, the Urim v’Tumim is not mentioned at all. It says in Shmot 39:2, 8: “And he made the ephod…and he made the choshen” but it does not say “and he made the Urim v’Tumim.”

It only says “Place in the choshen the Urim v’Tumim” since they were not the work of craftsmen. Neither craftsmen nor B’nai Yisrael had any part whatsoever in the making of this donation, for they were a secret transmitted by God to Moshe and he wrote them in holiness.

The Urim v’Tumim were the holy Names of God, and it was by virtue of the power residing in these Names that the letters inscribed upon the stones of the Choshen would light up  before the eyes of the of the kohen who inquired of their judgment.

We see in Bamidbar 27:21 that on account of this inscription it is called judgment: “Before Elazar, the Kohen shall he (Yehoshua) stand, who shall inquire for him the judgment of the Urim before God…”

When they inquired in Shoftim 1;1: “Who shall go up (ya’aleh) first to fight against the C’naanim?” the kohen fixed his thoughts on those Divine Names which were on the Urim (lights) and the letters forming the name of the tribe of Yehuda lit up before his eyes. For the word ya’aleh (go up), the letter “yud” lit up from the word Levi, the “ayin” from Shimon, the “lamed” from Levi etc. The Tumim (perfection) helped the Kohen figure out the sequence of the letters.

The Mishna in Yoma 71b gives us some background on what the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) needs to wear and how the Urim v’Tumim are used:

The Kohen Gadol serves in eight vestments and the common Kohen in four. A common Kohen serves in a tunic (kutonet), breeches (michnasaim), a turban (mitznefet) and a belt (avnet). The Kohen Gadol, in addition to these, wore another four vestments: The choshen, the ephod, the robe (meil) and the tzitz. Dressed in these eight vestments the Kohen Gadol is consulted for the discussion of the Urim v’Tumim. And they would not consult them on behalf of just anyone, but only for a king, or on behalf of someone that the public needs.

How do the Urim v’Tumim work?

The answer is explained in Yoma 73a:

The one consulting (the king or the head of the Sanhedrin) faces the one being consulted (the Kohen Gadol), and the one being consulted faces the Shechina (Divine Presence). The one consulting says: “Shall I pursue this troop?” and the one being consulted responds: “Thus said God: Go up and triumph!”

When the wars of Israel were fought in the Land of Israel, religion and state were united. This concept is totally different from how the rest of the world works where there is a separation of religion and state

The Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 7:3 asks:

Why are they called Urim?

They are called Urim (light) because they were enlightening Israel.

Why are they called Tumim?

They were called Tumim (complete) because they were straightening out the way before them. As long as B’nai Yisrael were following the straight path, they would be shown the correct way.

Imagine if we had the Urim v’Tumim today where we could be shown by God how to fight this war!

The Colors of Royalty Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 February 2022

In Parshat Tetzave, we learn about the special clothing that would be needed for Aharon and his sons, Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar and the future Kohanim (Priests) that would come after them.

The items of clothing as well as the materials and colors that were used- techelet (blue), argaman (purple) and tola’at hashani (crimson) remind us of the clothing of royalty from Biblical times and beyond.

One item that specifically stands out is the Meil (Robe of the Ephod) in Shmot 28:31:

Make the Meil (robe) of the Ephod (garment that Aharon wore on top of the tunic and robe) completely out of techelet (blue wool).

Techelet is extremely expensive as its dye comes from the Chilazon, a snail which many scientists today believe is the murex trunculus. To dye an entire robe with techelet would take a tremendous amount of snails and cost a fortune.

Rashi emphasizes that the Meil did not have any other kind of material aside from techelet mixed into it.

Rashbam explains that the Meil was specifically techelet (like the strings of the tzizit) and not argaman or tola’at hashani (which are not required to come from a specific snail) since we learn in the Talmud, Menachot 43b concerning the tzizit: The techelet is similar in color to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky and the sky is similar to the Throne of Glory.

In the Talmud, Menachot 44a, the rabbis taught that the Chilazon’s body resembles the sea, its form resembles a fish, it emerges once in seventy years and with its blood (mucus) one dyes wool techelet (sky blue for tzizit). It is scarce and therefore it is expensive.

Both techelet and argaman continued to be the colors of royalty. According to the Ptil Tekhelet timeline, Caesar (100 BCE-44 CE) and Augustus (63 BCE-14 CE) restricted the use of dyes and Nero (37-68 CE) decreed that only the emperor had the exclusive right to wear blue and purple. Under Constantine (272-337 CE) the restrictions against using techelet were strictly enforced. An edict in 383 CE by Gratian,Valentinian and Theodosius made the manufacture of higher quality purple and blue a state monopoly.

We see from here that the respect for techelet went beyond the Jewish religion. Techelet was a universal color of royalty and it was therefore fitting that the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would wear a Meil made exclusively of techelet when he entered the restricted area.

May we merit to see the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) speedily in our days and the return of the service of the Kohanim in their royal garments.

The Biblical Tailors Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 February 2019

In Parshat Tetzave, there are almost 40 verses that deal with the clothing of the Kohen. As we read through the articles of clothing that are mentioned (Shmot 28:4), a few words jump out at us: “These are the garments that they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe (meil), a checkered tunic (ktonet) a turban and a sash belt. Have them make sacred garments for your brother Aharon, and for his sons to serve me as kohanim.”   

The words “meil”, robe or coat and “ktonet”, tunic or undercoat are familiar to us.

The word “kutnot” (plural for the word ktonet) is first seen in Breisheet 3:21: “And Hashem, God made ‘kutnot ohr’, garments of skin for Adam and his wife and He clothed them.” Even though Adam and Chava sinned, God took care of them by lovingly making them clothing and dressing them.

What was the original clothing made out of?

Rashi quoting Breisheet Raba 20:12 states that they were garments as smooth as fingernails, cleaving to the skin. Others say that they were made of material that comes from the skin like the hair of hares (soft and warm).

In the Talmud, Sotah 14a, Rav and Shmuel disagree as to the meaning of garments of skin. Rav says that they were made of something that comes from the skin (according to Targum Yontan, snakeskin which sheds off) and Shmuel says that they were something from which the skin benefits (comfortable material like linen).

Notice that none of the opinions brought here say that they wore leather as at that time animals were not yet being killed for food or any other purposes.

The next time that we see someone lovingly make a “ktonet” is Yaakov (Breisheet 37:3) “Now Yisrael loved Yosef best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he made him a ‘ktonet passim’, an ornamented tunic.”

Just as God lovingly made the “kutnot” for Adam and Chava, so too did Yaakov lovingly make the “ktonet” for Yosef.

In the story of Shmuel (Shmuel Alef 2:19), we see his mother, Chana who prayed for a child and then selflessly dedicated him to work in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) affectionately preparing a “meil”, robe for him: “His mother would make him a small robe “meil” and bring it up to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to slaughter the annual offering.”

According to Metzudat David, she brought him a new “meil” each year since he was growing boy.

Radak points out that usually only the adults who worked in the Mishkan would wear this type of robe. However, since she loved him so much and since he was serving God she would bring the robe up to Shilo for each holiday and then take it back home with her since it was a robe that was not in use the rest of the year.

We see from here the love that Chana put in to preparing and delivering the “meil”.

Today as well, people knit, sew, crochet or buy clothing for their loved ones or for those in need. When we lovingly give clothing as a gift, we are emulating God, the first tailor.

Why is a person compared to a candle? Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 February 2016

In memory of Tuvia Katz z”l who spread light throughout Israel


Parshat Tetzave opens with the mitzvah to kindle the ner tamid, the everlasting flame.


The act of lighting candles has great significance in Judaism. We light candles to bring in Shabbat and holidays as well as to end Shabbat.  We light Chanuka candles to remember the rededication of the Beit Hamikdash. Memorial candles are lit to remember those who passed away during shiva, yahrzeit and on the eve of the holidays when Yizkor is recited.


How are we compared to candles?


The Midrash, Shmot Rabba 36:3 explains: In Mishlei (Proverbs) 6:23 we read: “Ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr”, “For the commandment is a candle and Torah is light”, meaning that whoever performs a mitzvah has kindled a candle before God and revives his soul as it says in Mislei 20:27, “Ner HaShem nishmat adam”, “The soul of man is the candle of God.”


Shmot Rabba continues, “For the commandment is a candle and Torah is light” teaches us that man’s heart frequently prompts him to perform a mitzvah, but the evil inclination inside of him says: Why should you perform a good deed at the expense of your pocket? Before you give to others, give to your children. But the good inclination says to him: Give for a mitzvah as it says: “For the commandment is a candle.” Just as the light of a candle remains undimmed, though myriads of wicks and flames may be lit from it, he who gives for a worthy cause does not make a hole in his pocket.


Nechama Leibowitz points out that the light of the candle differs from all other material benefits in the world which if man shares with his fellow, his portion decreases and his fellow’s increases. The light of the candle, on the other hand, supplies light to others without diminishing its own light in any way. If a good deed has been performed- though it might have involved a loss of time and money- the doer has not really lost. His neighbors and friends whether they benefit directly from the good deed or bask in its light- all of them light their candle from his, effecting a general increase in light.


Just as candles spread light, we must strive to give of ourselves and help others as much as we can, serving as an “ohr lagoyim”, a light unto the nations. 

Was Moshe Supposed to be a Kohen? Print E-mail
Thursday, 06 February 2014

Parshat Tetzaveh  is focused on the Kohanim and describes how they were selected, what they wore and how they were inaugurated.


What is not mentioned in Parshat Tetzaveh is Moshe’s name. This is the only parsha of the last four books of the Torah that doesn’t mention Moshe by name.


Cassuto points out that while Moshe’s name is not mentioned at all in this parsha, Aharon’s name is mentioned seven times!


Nehama Leibowitz explains that this was an opportunity for Aharon to get his chance to be in the limelight.


According to Midrashei HaTorah, the absence of Moshe’s name shows how humble he was. Originally, Moshe was supposed to be the Kohen but then God changed the plan and made Moshe the leader who would take B’nai Yisrael out of Egypt. At that point God made Aharon and his sons the Kohanim.


We learn this from the Talmud, Zevachim 102a: The question of whether Moshe was a Kohen was disputed by the Tanaim as recorded in the following Braita:


After God summoned Moshe at the “burning bush” to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, Moshe repeatedly begged to be relieved of the mission until God became angry with him as it says in Shmot 4:14: “God displayed anger (vayichar af HaShem) toward Moshe and said, ‘Is not Aharon the Levi your brother? I know that he knows how to speak. Behold he is setting out to meet you and when he sees you he will rejoice in his heart.’”


The Gemara continues, Every time “the burning of anger” is mentioned in the Torah, a mark is mentioned in regard to it. But this burning anger has no mark with regard to it.


Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: Actually in regard to this one too a mark is mentioned as it is stated that God then said to Moshe: “Is not Aharon the Levi your brother?” Why did God refer to Aharon as the Levi, wasn’t he a Kohen?


God was really saying: “I said that you (Moshe) were to be the Kohen and he (Aharon) was to be the Levi. Now that you have aroused my anger, he (Aharon) shall be the Kohen and you (Moshe) shall be the Levi…


Some say: The Kehuna ceased only with Moshe’s descendents, but Moshe himself was a Kohen all of his life. As it says in Divrei HaYamim Alef, 23:14: “But as for Moshe, the man of God, his sons are reckoned among the tribe of Levi.” This implies that only Mosh’s sons were Leviim while Moshe himself was a Kohen. Tehillim 99:6 states: “Moshe and Aharon were among his Kohanim and Shmuel among those who invoke His name.”


The fact that Moshe’s name is not mentioned in our parsha reminds us that even if Moshe did serve as a Kohen in some capacity during his lifetime, the Kehuna would not be passed down to his children.

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Bringing a Little Bit of Light into the World Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 February 2011

In Parshat Tetzave we are commanded to light the Ner Tamid, eternal light in the Mishkan (Tabernacle).


A question is asked in Vayikra Raba 31:7 why God commands us to have an eternal light. After all, God can create as much light as he wants to. God separated light and darkness when He created the world, He created the sun and He creates lightning. Why do we need to be involved?


Rabbi Shmuel ber Nachmani explains in the Gemara in Menachot 86b that the words “vayikchu elecha”, “bring for your self pure olive oil” mean that it is for your benefit as God does not need any light.


According to the Meshech Chochma, a person’s mind is only clear when it is light and we associate light with joy.


Light brings happiness.


Light can be compared to the Torah.


In Shmot Rabba 36:3 we learn that a person who does not study Torah is left to stumble in the dark while a person who studies Torah is able to see the light and does not stumble.


Even though we don’t have the Mishkan or Beit HaMikdash today, we do continue to follow this mitzvah by lighting a Ner Tamid (a lamp that is continuously on) in our synagogues.


May we all be blessed with opportunities to study Torah and may those who feel in the dark have the opportunity to come out and see the light.

What Our Clothing Says About Us Print E-mail
Wednesday, 13 February 2008

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The fact that we as humans wear clothing distinguishes us from the animal world. After Adam and Chava ate the forbidden fruit, (Breisheet 3:7) they sewed together a fig leaf to wear. In Breisheet 3:21, God made them garments of skin and clothed them (more durable and more modest!).

According to Benno Jacob (1862-1955), a Geman-Jewish Bible scholar quoted by Nechama Leibowitz:

Clothing is not merely a protection against cold or ornamentative. It constitutes the primary and necessary distinguishing mark of human society. In the moral consciousness of man it serves to set him higher than the beast. The status and glory of man are reflected in the character of his attire. Just to be clothed already lends dignity to man. The kohanim (priests) were given special garments (Parshat Tetzaveh – Shmot 28:2) “Lechavod u’letifaret”, for splendor and for beauty. The highest status that a mortal can attain is that of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. He is then clothed in white as a symbol of purity and light.

Ramban points out (Shmot 28:2) that the styles of clothing that the kohanim wore for their service- breastplate, ephod, robe, tunic of a box-like knit, a turban and a sash, as well as the materials that were used, gold, turquoise, purple and scarlet wool, and the linen were similar to what was worn by royalty. The clothing of the Kohanim enhanced the dignity and prestige of the wearer and his sacred office in the eyes of the people.

In Tehillim- Psalms 104:1 we read in reference to God “You are clothed in majesty”, Hod v’Hadar lavashta.

In the Proverb “Eshet Chayil”, Woman of Valor, we read the words “Shesh v’argaman levusha”, she wears linen and purple as well as “Oz v’hadar levusha”, strength and majesty are her raiment. In these words we see that her outward dress is like royalty, like the Kohanim and even Godly. However, it is not what she is wearing on the outside; rather it is her true character on the inside that counts. We find this towards the end of the Proverb “sheker hachen v’hevel hayofi, isha yirat HaShem hee tithalal”, False is grace and vain is beauty, a God fearing woman-she should be praised.

So go to Bloomingdales and buy yourself that great new outfit but remember- in the end it’s what is on the inside that really counts.

Oil and Water Don't Mix Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Parshat Tetzaveh (Shmot 27:20) starts off with the words "You shall command B.nei Yisrael and have them bring you .shemen zayit zach., pure olive oil made from olives that were crushed for lighting, to keep the lamp (ner tamid) burning constantly."

HaRav Yosef Potznovsky points out that the book of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 11:16 compares the Jewish people to an olive tree- "God called your name .zayit ra.anan., a green olive tree fair with goodly fruit".

Why did Yirmiyahu compare the Jewish people with the olive tree?

According to Midrash Raba, Tetzaveh 36, in the same way that oil does not mix with other liquids but rather remains on top, the Jewish people do not mix with the other nations.

Yalkut Shimoni (Mishlei 9) teaches that in the future (in the final redemption) all of the holidays will be annulled except for Purim.

HaRav Potznovsky explains the reason why Purim will endure forever. In the story of Purim we saw the essence and strength of the Jewish people. After Haman declared that he wanted to annihilate the Jewish people, the Jews stood their ground and did not try to convert in order to avoid Haman.s decree. On the other hand, at the end of the Purim story, we read (Ester 8:17) "And in every province and in every city wherever the kings commandments and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness a feast and a holiday. Many of the people of the land became Jews because the fear of the Jews fell upon them". When the Jews were able to stand up for themselves and fight their enemies, many of the gentiles took it upon themselves to convert to Judaism. In one day, they left their gods and joined the Jewish people.

The holiday of Purim will remain in order to teach us that no matter what, the Jewish people will always remain separate in the same way that olive oil will not mix with water.

How wonderful is it in Israel where every Jewish child celebrates the holiday of Purim! How wonderful is it to go into Toys .R Us in Adar, not in October and find the store bursting at the seams with all of the latest costumes! How wonderful is it to be able to buy any Kosher wine or grape juice that you could possibly want in your local supermarket!