Torah Thoughts for Today
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
#24: Everlasting Sacrifices: Mystery and Purpose
Everlasting Sacrifices: Mystery and Purpose

(Hi, hope your preparations for Passover are going well. Related to the Torah portion for this week, starting Leviticus – “Vayikra”, chapter 1, verse 1 – chapter 5, verse 26. See English text and commentary of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan at http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=3&CHAPTER=1
About the Hebrew month of Nisan closely tied to Passover, see http://www.ou.org/chagim/roshchodesh/nisan/default.htm Dedicated to my parents.)

Everlasting Sacrifices: Mystery and Purpose

This Parsha commences with what is probably the toughest book for modern Western people to comprehend, let alone accept: The book of Leviticus with its myriad laws and instructions concerning the sacrificial rituals and commands that needed to be performed in the Tabernacle – “MISHKAN” that God had commanded Moses and the Israelites to build in the wilderness after they escaped from ancient Egypt during the Exodus over 3,300 years ago. The sacrifices were continued when they reached the Promised Land and in the Two Jewish Temples, during a total time frame of about 1,300 years.

Most people do not give the subject a moment’s intelligent thought. In some people’s imagination, the animal sacrifices of the ancient Israelites is as archaic and irrelevant as the mystifying habits of the Aztecs and Incas or the obscure rituals of some primitive tribes in far away places. Yet smack-dab in the middle of the Torah is its third book, called LEVITICUS because it deals with the duties of the Tribe of LEVI in the Tabernacle and Temples, entailing many sorts of sacrificial laws of varieties of animals, foods, incense, for all sorts of reasons ranging from the daily and holiday offerings, sin offerings, purification laws and offerings, as well as many related commandments.

Amazingly close to 250 of the Torah 613 permanent commandments – ‘MITZVOT” are enumerated and described in the book of Leviticus. This means that in some sense ALMOST half of classical Judaism’s core commandments are to be found in a very strange primary source.

Now some have been tempted to just “chuck” the whole notion of animal and other related sacrificial offerings “overboard” and prefer, if at all, to look for Judaism’s eternal moral and spiritual teachings un-attached from any cumbersome and hard to explain ancient rituals. After all, the argument goes, for two thousand years the Jews have been in exile and have not had any temple to practice what the Torah preaches in Leviticus, so what counts are the humanistic and moralistic and even spiritual lessons of Judaism. This view is very shortsighted because it suffers from “historical myopia”. Anyone who would care to take a very close look at classical Judaism throughout time, will find that the Jewish People, as a self-described Torah Nation, NEVER DISCONNECTED or ABANDONED THEIR ATTACHMENT TO THE RITUALS OF THE SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS.

The great mystic, philosopher, and Talmudic genius, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (Latvia, England, Israel, 1864 – 1935) the first official Chief Rabbi of then British Palestine now Israel, wrote about this subject in great depth.

For your enjoyment and enlightenment, here are some brief passages as translated and quoted by Chanan Morrison:

“The Purpose of Sacrifices”

“Why did God command Israel to serve Him through sacrifices?”

“ Maimonides [Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, (Spain, North Africa, Egypt, 1135 –1204)] known as The ‘RAMBAM’ (with an ‘M’ at the end) gave a controversial explanation in his ‘Guide to the Perplexed’ (III: 32,46). He wrote that the purpose of sacrifices was to wean the Israelites away from idolatry. Having grown accustomed to this form of worship in Egypt, it was impossible to draw them away from idolatry without a service of sacrifices to God.”

“Other [rabbinical] authorities such as Nachmanides [Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Spain, North Africa, Israel, 1194 – 1270) known as The ‘RAMBAN’ (with an ‘N’ at the end)], and Rabbeinu Behayei [(Rabbi Bachya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda (Spain, c.1050 – c.1120)] categorically rejected this idea. Yet there appears to be a supporting source for Maimonides in the Midrash. After describing the unique Temple service of Yom Kippur, the Torah states, ‘Then the Israelites will stop sacrificing to the demons’ [Leviticus, chapter 17, verse 7). The Sages explained this unusual verse via the following parable: ‘This is like the case of an unrefined prince who would eat un-slaughtered meat. The king said: let him always eat at my table, and automatically he will become accustomed to avoid from such foods. So too, the people of Israel were enthralled with Egyptian idolatry. Therefore God said: let them always bring their offerings before Me.’ [Vayikra Rabba 22:8]”

“The Midrash indicates that God commanded the Jewish people to offer sacrifices in order to wean them from Egyptian idolatry - just like Maimonides! Yet if we examine this Midrash carefully, we will see that it does not truly correlate to Maimonides' explanation for sacrifices.”

“The king requested his son join in the royal meals in order to correct his unruly habits. Yet eating at the king's table is not just a method of discipline. Simply being present at the royal table is in itself a wonderful thing. The true thrust of the parable is this: the prince, due to his inappropriate behavior, did not deserve to eat at his father's table at all meals. The king requested his presence at all times in order to refine his eating habits. Above and beyond its educational value, however, participation in a royal meal is a great privilege.”

“Similarly, the service of God through sacrifices is a truly wonderful matter. Through this form of divine service one merits experiencing sublime holiness. It is like ‘eating at the table of the king’, where one benefits the illuminating favor of the King of life. This Midrash does not refer to the Temple service in general, but rather to a specific situation immediately following the Exodus from Egypt. During their 40-year sojourn in the desert, the Israelites were not allowed to eat meat unless it came from a sacrifice offered in the Tabernacle (see Deuteronomy, chapter 12, verse 20 allowing them to eat meat when they get to the Land of Israel). This was a temporary measure for that generation alone.”

“Why was non-sacrificial meat forbidden to them?”

“Having just left Egypt and its idolatrous culture, it was necessary to stop the Israelites from worshipping foreign gods. Therefore God commanded that generation to eat only meat from sacrifices offered in the Tabernacle, insuring that none would privately continue the idolatrous practices of Egypt. This is precisely the point of the Midrash. The requirement to eat only sacrificial meat was a special decree for the generation leaving Egypt, weaning them from idolatry. Yet the fundamental concept of offering sacrifices in the prescribed times and situations as set down by the Torah - this has its own sublime goal.”

“Perhaps this was also the intention of the prophet Jeremiah, who tried to discourage the people from offering unwanted sacrifices: ‘So said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, [it would be better that] you eat the meat. For I did not speak nor command your fathers concerning burnt-offerings and sacrifices when I took them out of Egypt. This is the thing I commanded them: Listen to My voice, and I will be your God and you will be My people.’ (Jeremiah, chapter 7, vs. 21-23)”

“How could the prophet say that God did not command sacrifices?”

“The people of Jeremiah’s day wanted to emulate the holy practices of the Israelites in the desert, only eating sacrificial meat. The prophet therefore explained to them that the special decree at that time was not for reasons of spiritual elevation, but in order that the newly freed Israelites would abandon idolatry and listen to God's voice. [(Translated from Rabbi Kook’s) ‘Midbar Shur’ pp. 158-9]. [1]

So what is “The Goal of Sacrifices?”

“Sacrifices are not an innovation of the Jewish people.”

“Noah also offered sacrifices to God. Yet not all offerings are of the same quality. As the Midrash illustrates: ‘There was once a king who had two cooks. The first cooked a meal that the king ate and enjoyed; and the second also cooked a meal that the king ate and enjoyed. How do we know which meal the king enjoyed more? When the king subsequently commanded the second cook, ‘Make for me again the dish you prepared’, we know the second was the king’s preferred dish.’ According to the Midrash, the very fact that the Torah commands the people of Israel to offer sacrifices indicates that God prefers their offerings to those which Noah initiated on his own accord.”

“How do we evaluate the relative worth of different sacrifices? What distinguishes the service of Israel from that of Noah?”

“We can assess offerings according to their ultimate goal. The more elevated the goal, the more acceptable the offering. Noah’s objective differed greatly from that of the people of Israel. Noah sought to preserve the physical world. He wanted to protect it from Divine retribution. ‘God smelled the sweet fragrance and said in His heart, ‘I will no longer curse the land because of man’. (Genesis, chapter 8, verse 21).”

“The offerings of Israel had a far more sublime goal. They sought to establish divine providence amongst mankind. Their goal was to uplift the individual to levels of divine inspiration and prophecy. ‘Make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst.’ (Exodus, chapter 25, verse 8). This distinction between the objective of Noah’s offerings and those of Israel is reflected in the unique phrases the Torah uses to describe them. Noah’s offerings had a ‘sweet fragrance’, while those of Israel are referred as ‘My bread’ (Numbers, chapter 28, verse 2).”

“What is the difference between a fragrance and bread?”

“When an animal eats vegetation, the plant life is absorbed and transformed into part of the animal. In this way the plant has achieved a higher state of being. When an animal is consumed by a human, the animal is similarly elevated as it becomes part of that human being. This transformation to a higher state through consumption corresponds to an offering which strives towards a higher state of existence. The offerings of Israel are appropriately called ‘My bread’, as the change to which they aspire - perfection as prophetic beings - is similar in magnitude to the transformations of plant to animal and animal to man.”

“The offerings of Noah, on the other hand, had only a ‘sweet fragrance'’. They gave off a wonderful smell and appealed to the natural senses, but did not attempt to effect a change in nature. Their purpose was to maintain the natural world, to perfect man within the framework of his normal intellectual capabilities. In fact, the offerings of the Jewish people encompass both of these goals. Therefore they are described both as ‘sweet fragrance’ and ‘My bread’, as we aspire to perfection in two areas: natural wisdom and divine prophecy. [(Translated from Rabbi Kook’s) ‘Midbar Shur’ pp. 155-158] [2]


Here is Rabbbi Kook’s fascinating, partial, reply: “[(Chanan Morrison says that) ‘Rabbi Kook’s views on the Temple service are sometimes misunderstood. A superficial reading of a passage in (Rabbi Kook’s work) ‘Olat Ri'iah’ (I, p. 292) indicates that only grain offerings (‘menachot’) will be found in the reinstated Temple service. To properly understand Rabbi Kook’s opinion on the matter, it is necessary to examine his essay on the sacrificial order in ‘Otzarot Hari'iah’, pp. 754-6.’]”

“In the future, the Cabalists teach, the entire world will be elevated. Even the animals in that future era will be different; they will be similar to people nowadays. [In the work: ‘Shaar Hamitzvot’ of the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria (Yitzhak ben Solomon Ashkenazi), (Egypt, Israel, 1534 – 1572)]. Obviously, no sacrifice could be offered from such a humanlike animal. It is about this period that the Midrash states, "All sacrifices will be annulled in the future" [Tanchuma Emor 19, Vayikra Rabbah (9:7)].”

“The prophet Malachi similarly predicted a lofty world in which the Temple service will only consist of grain offerings, replacing the animal sacrifices of old: ‘Then the grain-offering (‘MINCHAH’) of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to God as in the days of old, and as in ancient years’. (Malachi, chapter 3, verse 4).”

“In the current state of the world, however, when man is both physically and ethically weak, the time for dealing with animal rights has not yet arrived. We still need to slaughter animals for our physical needs. In addition, man needs moral boundaries to distinguish between the distinct sanctity of human and animal life. At this point, to advocate protection for animals in God’s service would be both wrong and dishonest. What sort of morality would permit man to be cruel to animals for his own physical needs, yet forbid their use for his spiritual service, in his sincere recognition and gratitude for God's kindnesses?”

“If, on the other hand, one’s moral stance against the slaughter of animals stems not from weakness of the spirit and cowardice of the heart, but rather from recognition of the issue’s fundamental divine justice - then the first step towards its fulfillment should be to stop animal slaughter for food. If we feel an emotional discomfort with the slaughter of animals, it is not because the time for full animal rights has already arrived. Rather, it comes from our anticipation of the future, already ingrained in our souls, like many other spiritual aspirations.” [3]


“Sacrifices vs. Fasting”

“When the Talmudic scholar Rav Sheshet fasted, he would add the following request to his Amida (Standing) prayer: ‘Master of the Universe! You know that when the Temple stood, a person who sinned would bring a sacrifice. The fat and blood would be offered on the altar, and the person would be forgiven. Now I have fasted, and my fat and my blood have shrunk. May it be Your Will that the lessening of my fat and my blood should be considered as if I offered them on the altar, and my sacrifice was accepted.’ [(Talmud, Tractate) Berachot, 17].”

“Rav Sheshet's prayer is inspiring, but it raises a few questions:”

“Why bother bringing sacrifices if we can achieve the same atonement through fasting?”

“Why were the fat and blood of the sacrifices the only parts offered on the altar (for sin and guilt offerings)?”

“Rabbi Kook writes that there are two major categories of transgressions. The first type are sins which are the result of excessive involvement in sensual pleasures, luxuries, etc. These sins are atoned via the fats of the offering. The second category of transgressions are motivated by actual need: hunger, poverty. Such physical or financial pressures can persuade one to lie, steal, even murder. The atonement for such sins is through the blood of the offering.”

“By fasting, we can imitate the sacrifice of fat and blood in the Temple. However, there is an important difference. An actual sacrifice served to humble the negative traits and desires. Fasting, on the other hand, weakens the entire body. Just as chemotherapy poisons other parts of the body as it fights the cancer, so too the fast serves to sap both positive and negative emotional energies. The desire to help others, to do ‘mitzvot’ – commandments, to study Torah, etc, are also reduced by the fast. Therefore Rav Sheshet used to pray that his fasting would achieve the redemptive value of an offering in the Temple, without the negative side-effect of sapping positive energies and desires. (Translated from Rabbi Kook’s) Ayn Aya I: 82].” [4]

The magnificent teachings of the great Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook cover some of the most important dimensions of the relevance of the subject of Sacrifices for our times!
May we merit to internalize and rejoice with his holy words!

Have a great Shabbat, and please let me know what you think!

[1] Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, as quoted and translated by Chanan Morrison, http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/AHAREI63.htm
[2] Ibid., http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/VAYIK62.htm
[3] Ibid., http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/VAYIKRA58.htm
[4] ibid., http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/VAYIKRA59.htm
Thursday, March 18, 2004
#22-23: Seeing Double: Perfect Ideal - Imperfect Reality
Seeing Double: Perfect Ideal - Imperfect Reality

(Related to the DOUBLE Torah portions of Vayakhel-Pekudei (“Assembled”-“Instructions”), Exodus, chapter 35, verse 1 – chapter 40, verse 38, concluding the Book of Exodus. Dedicated to my parents. English text and commentary at http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=35 )

“What’s in a number?” is a famous colloquial question with pretty much very wide usage! I tried doing a Google search on the origins and usage of this trite English expression, and so far, from what I can tell, it can be used any time anyone has a question to do with numbers of any sort, see http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=What%27s+in+a+number%3F+&btnG=Google+Search

It’s taken humanity thousands of years to reach the point today, when only relatively recently, has the significance of “numbers” come forth as a force in the D I G I T A L AGE we live in now. Of course, from the dawn of human creation there has been the existence of “bean counters”, wall scratchings, and abacus usage. But we are talking about a more powerful and potent sublime essence that lies within the whole construct of the concept of a “number”, when WE ask “What’s in a number?”

Why do I mention “numbers” and how is it related to this week’s Torah readings?

Firstly it is fascinating to note that the first time the usage of a “DOUBLE TORAH PORTION OF THE WEEK” appears, is with this week’s two portions of “Vayakhel – Pekudei”. Perhaps there is a “signal” here that sometimes it is VITAL to be prepared to “SEE DOUBLE”! A single telescope is great for a “telescopic” view! Yet BINOCULARS are far more fascinating because you use BOTH eyes and instead of “SEEING DOUBLE” you paradoxically get ONE UNIFIED VIEW, AS THE TWO LENSES MERGE THEIR IMAGES INTO A SINGLE BROADER VIEW THAN THE TELESCOPE’S ONE LENSE COULD EVER CAPTURE! It may well be that it is NO co-incidence that there are times when the Torah calls out to us to see things “WITH WIDE RANGING BINOCULARS” and leave aside the limitations of a “narrow view” of things.

There are several points in the Torah when it becomes necessary to “double up” the Torah portions on an individual Shabbat. One reason is that the Torah-Five Books of Moses-Chumash-Pentateuch is traditionally divided into 54 portions, two more than the available weeks. Another reason is that whenever a major festival coincides with a Shabbat, then the regular weekly Torah portions are not read and instead passages dealing with the festival are read. The Jewish calendar also has “leap years” when basically an extra month is added every three years, and then the “extra” portions are all used individually.

In addition, and most significantly, there is something seemingly REDUNDANT and extremely unusual that is described in this week’s Torah portion/s concerning the “MISHKAN” – TABERNACLE, the portable Sanctuary, when God instructed the Israelites to build it. The Torah seems to “repeat itself” when first, in earlier portions, it gives copious commands and details for everything that is to go into the making of the Tabernacle and the attire and functions of its Priests, the “KOHANIM”, and now it doubles up and repeats all the details again as to how everything was finally built and put together:


Judaism believes that everything is ultimately derived from the Torah.

(For example, the great Sage of Vilna in Lithuania, the VILNA GAON [“GENIUS”], Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer (Lithuania, 1720 – 1797) is reputed to have mentioned that each and every Jew that has ever lived has letters or words that allude to him ONLY in the Torah. When asked where he, the GAON, was alluded to in a verse, he is reported to have cited Deuteronomy, chapter 25, verse 15: (in Hebrew) “Even Sh`leimah [Vatzedek Yiheyeh Lach…]” – “STONE OF ‘COMPLETION’ [of Honest Weight] AND RIGHTEOUSNESS YOU MUST HAVE…”. The Hebrew word “EVEN” means “stone”, but its letters equal: “E” for “Eliyahu”, “VEN” means “son of”, and “Sh`leimah” has the exact same letters as “SHLOMOH” – Solomon.)

So what is the significance of the two great descriptions about the Tabernacle?

There are a number of directions to go in answering these questions. I will mention more later, but here are what are probably vital avenues of understanding:

In Genesis, there are actually TWO seemingly separate narratives about the Creation of Adam and Eve and what happened to them. The famous Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik (Poland, Germany, USA, 1903 - 1993), the greatest head of Yeshiva University, called it the “ADAM ONE” and “ADAM TWO” dichotomy. From Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1 till chapter 2, verse 3, all of Creation proceeds smoothly culminating with the creation of ADAM described as being BOTH MALE AND FEMALE: “God [thus] created ADAM with His image. In the image of God, He created him, MALE AND FEMALE He created them” (Genesis, chapter 1, verse 27), and then concludes with a climax of the Sabbath which is Sanctified. That is “ADAM ONE” before his downfall. The Torah then mystifyingly seems to “backtrack” and “ruminate” with another scenario seemingly dealing with the same period, from Genesis, chapter 2, verse 4 going into details of why and how Adam needed Eve and how the two of them botched up their positions and got themselves expelled from Eden ending with Genesis, chapter 3, verse 24. This is the saga of “ADAM TWO” after the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and bringing suffering and death into the world, thus ruining the ideal Utopia that God had in mind.

As far as Adam and Eve are concerned, in some ways they are the SAME and in some ways they are different. There is an IDEALISTIC beginning of the way things “should have been”, and then there is the way things turned out in “REALITY”.

But, the “IDEAL” is not “dead”, and “REALITY” need not be accommodated! The whole thrust of the Torah will be to point to the ways in which somehow or other people can clamber over the world of their shattered dreams, and a world broken by all sorts of “downfalls” and inch back to the highest peeks of bygone ideals! This is probably the essence of Judaism, that this imperfect world of ours can and will be overcome and humanity will yet return to a state of “PERFECTION”. Thus Judaism’s approach is to REJECT an acceptance and compromise with an abominable “REALITY” and declare that it is the so-called previously desired “fairy tale ending” of “living happily ever after” that is the ideal that must be accepted and lived as “REALITY”!

This pattern is repeated at the time of the Tabernacle. There is the significance of the Tabernacle BEFORE the SIN OF (WORSHIPING) THE GOLDEN CALF and the purpose of the Tabernacle AFTER the SIN OF (WORSHIPING) THE GOLDEN CALF.

Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum at http://www.azamra.org/Universal/TERUMAH.htm introduces this subject as follows:
From the portion of TERUMAH
onwards until the end of the book of Exodus – five portions, -- the central theme is the Sanctuary – ‘MISHKAN’ built by the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. The Sanctuary is the prototype of the Holy Temple destined to stand eternally in Jerusalem.
In TERUMAH it explains the design of the Sanctuary and its vessels, while the portion of TETZAVEH
explains the garments that were to be worn by those who were to minister in that Sanctuary -- Aaron and his sons. TETZAVEH also explains the sacrificial rituals that were to inaugurate the Sanctuary and its priests.
which continues the explanation of the form of the Sanctuary vessels and the sacrifices. When this explanation is complete, KI TISA goes on to narrate the sin of the Golden Calf and how Moses secured atonement for the people through the 13 Attributes of Mercy.”

“Then come the last two ‘parshahs’ of Exodus, VAYAKHEL
which explain how Bezalel and the other craftsmen actually constructed the Sanctuary and made the priestly clothes. VAYAKHEL and PEKUDAY repeat practically word for word some of the corresponding passages in TERUMAH and TETZAVEH.
PEKUDEY then concludes the book of Exodus with the account of the inauguration of the Sanctuary and the priests on the New Moon of the first Nissan after the Exodus. This was exactly one year to the day since Moses received the first commandments while still in Egypt: the law of the New Moon and the Pesach sacrifice, prototype of Temple sacrifice.”

“At the close of TETZAVEH and Exodus, we read how God's Cloud of Glory dwelled constantly over the Sanctuary. Leviticus opens immediately with the Voice of God emanating to Moses from between the mouths of the Cherubs in the Holy of Holies, giving him the detailed laws of the Temple sacrifices.
From this overview of the remaining five portions of Exodus, we see that the subject of the Sanctuary -- central to the Torah and to the whole world -- is introduced in ‘sandwich’ form. TERUMAH and TETZAVEH explain the intended form of the Sanctuary and priestly garments BEFORE they were executed, when they were in the ‘mind’ and will of God. In the middle of the ‘sandwich’ is the account of the sin of the Golden Calf and it's atonement through the 13 Attributes of Mercy. Then on the other side of the ‘sandwich’ come VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY, which tell how the Sanctuary IDEA was brought from POTENTIAL TO ACTUAL through the thirty-nine labors of the craftsmen who made it.”

“At the very center of this ‘sandwich’ structure is the account of the sin of the Golden Calf -- which changed everything for the Children of Israel. In the heady days of the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel were elevated to the greatest heights. Then suddenly, forty days after hearing the Voice of God at Sinai, in one single orgy they sank to the lowest depths of degradation. From then on they had to learn the terrible pain of retribution, suffering and contrition. This was a loss of innocence parallel to the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

“But God had already prepared the remedy before the illness. Indeed, we might even say that the illness was sent with the very purpose of revealing the great power of the remedy. The remedy for sin is repentance, which saves man from himself and brings him back to the One God, bringing him atonement -- AT-ONE-MENT. The penitential ‘system’ of the Torah is contained within the Sanctuary and its sacrificial rituals, which are a teaching to mankind about how man draws close (‘KaRoV’) to God through his ‘KORBAN’ (‘sacrifice’) -- literally, his ‘coming close’. As the way of repentance for having elevated wealth to the status of a god, man is commanded to take gold, silver, copper and the richest fabrics in order to glorify and magnify the One True God. Man is taught how to configure the materials of this world so that instead of separating him from God through idolatrous uses and configurations, they will serve to draw him ever closer, until God Himself ‘dwells’ with man.”

“TERUMAH and TETZAVEH present us the Sanctuary and sacrificial IDEA before we have even learned about sin. The lesson of the Golden Calf in KI TISA is harsh. But it is sweetened, because immediately after Moses secured atonement for Israel through the 13 Attributes of Mercy, the very next day he assembled the people and told them to bring gifts of materials and to get busy making the ACTUAL sanctuary, as told in VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY. Thus the bitterness of sin in KI TISA is ‘sandwiched’ between the sweetness of TERUMAH and TETZAVEH (the ‘Teshuvah’ IDEA [‘Return’ to God, i.e. REPENTANCE] in all its innocent purity) and VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY (the ACTUALIZATION of ‘Teshuvah’ in the Sanctuary in this world.) [This ‘sandwich’ is reminiscent of how in Temple times, Hillel would eat his Pesach sacrifice with the bitter herbs in a ‘sandwich’ with his Matza.]”

“The Torah never wastes a word or a single letter. It is therefore a great wonder that many of the passages about the Sanctuary, its vessels and the priestly garments that we read this week and next in TERUMAH and TEZTAVEH are, as mentioned, repeated almost word for word in VAYAKHEL and PEKUDEY. The ‘mirroring’ of the explanation of the IDEA in the account of its ACTUALIZATION comes to communicate something that is at the very core of the Temple-Sanctuary idea. The Temple or Sanctuary are a ‘replica’ and ‘mirror’ of the Heavenly Sanctuary, which is in the ‘mind’ or will of God. They are a ‘replica’ in which the materials of this world -- metals, wood, fabrics, etc. -- are used to bring a ‘reflection’ of heaven into the minds and consciousness of ordinary people.”

“In this way, what is ‘above’ – ‘in heaven’ -- actually dwells and exists in material form in this world ‘below’. And through this, ‘below’ becomes ‘above’. ‘And they will take for Me an offering… And they will make Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell WITHIN THEM’ (Exodus, chapter 25 vs. 2, 8).” [1]

Continuing at http://www.azamra.org/Universal/VAYAKHEL.htm Rabbi Greenbaum says:
The greater part of our portion, of VAYAKHEL is devoted to a detailed description of how Bezalel and his fellow craftsmen made the sanctuary vessels and its structural components in accordance with the plan whose details are studied three portions earlier in TERUMAH. While TERUMAH taught how they were to be made when they were still on the level of thought, ‘BE-KOACH’, in POTENTIALITY -- our portion of VAYAKHEL teaches how they came to made ‘BE-PHO'AL’, in ACTUALITY, on the level of ‘ASIYAH’, action.” [2]

And at http://www.azamra.org/Universal/PEKUDEY.htm Rabbi Greenbaum concludes :
The ‘accounts’ of the Sanctuary project include blue, purple and scarlet dyes, one of the most important uses of which was in the garments of the High Priest. This leads us into the detailed account contained in our portion of how these garments were actually made by Bezalel and his fellow craftsmen. This description of the making of the priestly garments in ACTUALITY, on the level of ‘ASIYAH’, parallels the description in the portion of TETZAVEH of the form of the garments when they were in POTENTIAL, in the Divine Will. [Similarly, the description of the actual making of the Sanctuary and its vessels in the portion of VAYAKHEL, parallels the description of their form in TERUMAH.] The world of ‘ASIYAH’ [ACTION] attains its perfection when we take its best materials -- gold, precious stones, rich, colorful fabrics -- and use them to make the Sanctuary and priestly garments, which give expression to eternal truths about God's relationship to the Creation, and how man draws close to God. The description of the making of the priestly garments puts the spotlight on Aaron. It is the Cohen-priest, the archetypal ‘Tzaddik’ – ‘RIGHTEOUS PERSON’, who secures atonement through the Sanctuary services and through his very garments.” [3]

Perhaps the fact that the Torah has TWO descriptions of the Tabernacle is a major historical allusion (NOT illusion :-} ) to the TWO HOLY TEMPLES that eventually stood in Jerusalem for a little over 400 years each later in time. There would be an IDEAL beautiful “PERFECT” FIRST TEMPLE - “BAYIT RISHON” built of the most exquisite materials by King Solomon and untarnished by sin. It contained all the contents of the original ark plus more things that King Solomon added to it. However, after a period of 400 years the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah would succumb to the same ills that befell the Children of Israel at the time of the Golden Calf: Idol Worship; Sexual Immorality; and Shedding of Innocent Blood (Murder).

The destruction of the First Temple is also analogous to the downfall of Adam and Eve AND to the destruction of the FIRST SET OF TEN COMMANDMENTS. Then began the upward climb of rehabilitation. That the Children of Israel are forgiven and are granted a SECOND SET OF TEN COMMANDMENTS, analogous to God pardoning Adam and Eve and allowing them to live on in order to permit them to work towards rectifying their sin, AND to the rise of a later SECOND TEMPLE – “BAYIT SHENI”, that was not as holy as the first but was instead an embodiment of the forgiveness that had been granted.

The goal of the Torah and Judaism is to ultimately combine the BEST OF BOTH Temples, and merge them into ONE PERFECT, THIRD TEMPLE – “BAYIT SH`LISHI” that will be built by the Jewish Messiah at the end of time. In a way, this is comparable to synthesizing the “Perfect Ideal” world of Adam and Eve BEFORE they sinned with the “Imperfect Reality” of the world they had to function in afterwards, and somehow “harmonizing” the two so that instead of there being a split in all of Creation, there should rather be a unity between a mundane world raised to a supreme spiritual standard overlapping with a spiritual world transplanted on Earth. This is the ultimate “Acharit Hayamin” – END OF DAYS and the “Olam Haba” – FUTURE WORLD that will be ushered in by the “Yemot HaMashiach” – DAYS OF THE JEWISH MESSIAH, with the Third Temple being BOTH a combination of the essence of the first two as well as an “embodiment” of God’s HEAVENLY TEMPLE – “Mikdash Shel Ma`alah” above brought “down to Earth”. A total unification of all the “visions” woven into one unified and indivisible whole.

There is also the amazing fact that the Hebrew letter “BET”, the SECOND letter in the alphabet, and which also denotes TWO, also SOUNDS like the Hebrew word for HOUSE or HOME: “BAYIT” making for a direct connection between “BET” and “BAYIT”: “Indeed the Torah refers to the Sanctuary as the ‘BAYIT’ of God: ‘Bring your first fruits to the HOUSE – ‘BEIT’ of God your Lord…’(Exodus, chapter 23, verse 19), the dwelling place of the Divine Presence – ‘SHECHINAH’, God’s presence on Earth, where all of Israel experienced the proximity of God and which will in future days become the UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF PRAYER. As the prophet Isaiah says; ‘Ki BEITI, BEIT Tefilah Yikarei Lechol Ha`amim’ – ‘For my HOUSE will be called THE HOUSE OF PRAYER for all the nations’ (Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 7). THUS, IN THE BIBLE AND RABBINIC LITERATURE THE HOLY TEMPLE IS SIMPLY CALLED ‘BAYIT’ – HOUSE. As in Haggai, Chapter 2, vs. 8 - 9: ‘…build the ‘BAYIT” – Temple…My Temple – ‘BEITI’ which is ruined…’. After the Temple was destroyed, the proximity of God concentrates, albeit to a lower degree, in the ‘BEIT Hamidrash’ – HOUSE of Torah Learning, and in the ‘BEIT Hakneset’ - HOUSE of Prayer. The prophet Ezekiel terms each of these a ‘MIKDASH ME`AT’ – MINIATURE SANCTUARY (Ezekiel, chapter 11, verse 16). BOTH of these institutions are guaranteed to exist forever, even in the exile (as in Zechariah, Chapter 9, verse 7).” [4]

It is the great “BAYIT”, the “BEIT Hamikdash” – Temple that STOOD TWICE. In its very name is inherent its own DESTINY that it will stand TWICE, a characteristic that is connected to it being the embodiment of TWO in the Hebrew letters. Interestingly, a WIFE is also called a “BAYIT” – HOME as she is her husband’s partner and together, as a COUPLE, as TWO people functioning as ONE unit they work towards their mutual Torah family goals. It can therefore be said that the TWO Temples were somehow TWO FACETS OF ONE WHOLE. There are teachings that tie the Temples to the three Jewish forefathers. The First Temple is associated with Abraham. The Second Temple with Isaac, and the ultimate last Third Temple, which will a combination of the best of the first two is associated with Jacob!

Something else also came to mind when I was trying to arrive at a deeper source for “numbers” in Judaism. Let’s dive in on the “deep end” of Jewish teachings: Taking a glance at the mysterious and enigmatic “Sefer Yetzirah” – “The BOOK of CREATION”, see http://www.sephardicsages.org/SEFER-YETZIRAH.html#a classical Judaism’s oldest mystical text traditionally attributed to the Jewish forefather Abraham. It is obviously impossible for us to even begin to imagine, let alone understand, what this book really teaches at its core, but for our purposes it’s worth noting that the concept of NUMBERS, represented by the HEBREW LETTERS is at its CENTER. It teaches that “reality” and the “world” as we know it, be it the tangible “physical world” or the abstract idealistic “theoretical world” are all indeed derived from “Divine Words” that are ABSTRACT NUMBERS. In the Torah this is all wrapped up in the actual words and narratives that are used in the text, all based on the original Hebrew alphabet. From why the Torah starts with the second letter “BET”, for “BRESHIS” – “IN THE BEGINNING” till why it ends with the last letter “LAMED” of “YISRAEL”, every iota is loaded with powerful lessons, and even more importantly, foundations of the world itself.

Looking at Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s well-known translation for example, in the second chapter of “The BOOK of CREATION”, when introducing the subject and origins of the Hebrew alpha-bet it states that there are:















See some commentary (written 932 C.E.) of SA`ADYA GAON, Rabbi Sa`adya ben Joseph Fayyumi (Babylonia [Iraq], 882 – 942) http://www.sephardicsages.org/SEFER-YETZIRAH.html#a

The great rabbis teach that there are a small number of extremely extraordinary Torah sages endowed with the requisite credentials of being truly God fearing men and possessed of supreme Torah knowledge who are actually capable of utilizing this knowledge to CREATE their own “spiritual worlds” emanating and radiating greater Torah and spreading Holiness throughout God’s world (starting here on our own “little” planet Earth,) and that is why the work is called “The BOOK of CREATION”.

Yet what we can see even on a very superficial plane is the centrality of “ALEF” (the “A” and the source for the Greek and Latin “alpha”) that is ONE, and “BET” (the “B” and the source of “beta”) which is two. There is a “level” before “one” and “two” called “zero” the “0” of “nothingness” from which “sprang” the Act of Creation – “Ma`aseh Breishis” of the Universe by means of the LETTERS of the Torah, starting with the very first letter in it, the “BET” of “BREISHIS”.

Why did the Torah start with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet and not the first?

In his masterwork “The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet”, Rabbi M. L. Munk explains that the Hebrew letter “BET” with its numerical value of “TWO”: “Symbolizes our world, SINCE EVERYTHING EARTHLY IS EMBEDDED IN PLURALITY…All that was created for man’s use came in PAIRS: The Torah – WRITTEN and ORAL; The Commandments – ‘Mitzvot’ – POSITIVE and NEGATIVE precepts; The Intermediaries – MOSES and AARON; The World – HEAVEN and EARTH; The Luminaries – SUN and MOON; Human – MALE/ADAM and FEMALE/EVE;…Two Tablets – BETWEEN MAN and GOD and BETWEEN MAN and his NEIGHBOR;…Two Drives and Two Hearts – The EVIL Inclination and the GOOD Inclination;…Two Worlds – THIS WORLD – ‘OLAM HAZEH’ and THE WORLD TO COME – ‘OLAM HABAH’ [6]

If you look at the way our own human bodies are constructed, on each side of the torso is an arm and leg. Two arms, and two hands, and two legs with two feet are attached to the central core. Even internally, most of the organs come in doubles: The lungs, kidneys, and the inner chambers of the heart and the brain spread on two sides. The head has two eyes, ears, and nostrils. Yet all are rooted in the one, which brings the focus back on the first letter, the “ALEF” which was the FIRST LETTER ON THE TEN COMMANDMENTS when God sates “ANOCHI [HASHEM ELOKECHA]” – “I [AM THE LORD YOUR GOD] (Exodus, Chapter 20, verse 2).

Rabbi Munk says that the “ ‘ALEF’, ‘A’, symbolizes the ONE and ONLY, the Eternal, the Omnipotent God. IT IS THE SYMBOL OF GOD as the Creator and Master of the universe. Its numerical value is ONE…The Midrash teaches that God Himself addressed the ‘A’, saying that it stands at the head of the ‘ALEF-BET’ like a KING. ‘YOU ARE ONE, I AM ONE, AND THE TORAH IS ONE,’ God said, and He pledged to use it as the first letter of the Ten Commandments…As the initial of many of the Attributes and Names of God, ‘A’ also represents Divinity: ‘A’lokim’ – The Names that describe God’s Attribute of Judgment; ‘k‘A’l’ – The Name that describes God’s attribute of Mercy; ‘k‘A’heye’ – Represents God’s Timelessness…; ‘A’d`nai’ – Lord or Master; ‘A’don Olam’ - Master of the Universe; ‘A’dir’ – Mighty One; and ‘A’chad’ – ONE!…GOD IS ONE…; GOD, TORAH, AND ISRAEL ARE ONE…; TORAH IS ONE…;ISRAEL IS UNIQUE…; ‘A’ is for ADAM…; ‘A’BRAHAM IS ONE…WHO DEVOTED HIS LIFE TO SPREADING KNOWLEDGE OF THE ALMIGHTY…” [7]

The subject, like numbers themselves, is seemingly infinite!

Best wishes for a wonderful and relaxed Shabbat and please let me know what you think!

[1] Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum at http://www.azamra.org/Universal/TERUMAH.htm
[2] Ibid., http://www.azamra.org/Universal/VAYAKHEL.htm
[3] Ibid. http://www.azamra.org/Universal/PEKUDEY.htm
[4] The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, Rabbi M. L. Munk, pp. 67 – 68.
[5] Sefer Yetzirah – The Book of Creation, English translation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, pp. 95 – 136.
[6] The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, Ibid., pp. 55 – 65.
[7] Ibid., pp. 43 – 49.
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
#21: “Murphy’s Law” Downs the Israelites with a Golden Calf
“Murphy’s Law” Downs the Israelites with a Golden Calf

(Hi, hope this is helpful. Related to the Torah portion Ki Tisa (“When Counting”) read in synagogue. Exodus, Chapter 30, verse 11 – Chapter 34, verse 35. English translation and commentary at http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=30
Dedicated to my parents.)

If you have ever had the opportunity to read and study some of William Shakespeare’s plays, you will know that they are categorized into three groups: Histories, tragedies, and comedies. Histories are dramatizations of famous people and events. Comedies are meant to be amusing and titillate. But what is a tragedy? It seems so open to interpretation. Yet scholars and critics agree that what Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote a tragedy was, in a nutshell: Someone who definitely had the potential to be very great was UNFORTUNATELY possessed of a TRAGIC FLAW OR FAULT, that “jinxed” them from fulfilling their true potential and instead it is TRAGICALLY wasted and destroyed with the result that the TRAGIC HERO eventually lands in a situation that is the opposite of greatness and famous, thereby becoming pathetic or infamous.

“In the plays of Shakespeare, the tragic hero is always a noble man who enjoys some status and prosperity in society but possesses some moral weakness or flaw which leads to his downfall. External circumstances such as fate also play a part in the hero's fall. Evil agents often act upon the hero and the forces of good, causing the hero to make wrong decisions. Innocent people always feel the fall in tragedies, as well. The four most famous Shakespeare tragedies are King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth. Hamlet (who senses correctly that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”) is an emotionally scarred young man trying to avenge the murder of his father, the king…Othello (who "loved not wisely, but too well") is a Moor serving as a general in the military of Venice, victimized as a result of his love for Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian statesman…Macbeth (with “an ambition that does over leap itself”) is a noble warrior who gets caught up in a struggle for power. Supernatural events and Macbeth's ruthless wife play a major role in his downfall…King Lear is a tragic story of an old man's descent into madness as his world crumbles around him (“a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”). It is also a tale of Lear's pride and his blindness to the truth about his three daughters and others around him…Although the main characters of these tragedies possess different traits, they all can be described as tragic Shakespearean heroes: they are basically good and noble men whose tragic flaw leads to their destruction.” [1]

The events in this week’s Torah portion contain the GREATEST FOLLY EVER COMMITTED BY THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL-THE JEWISH PEOPLE: The worship of a “hand made” Golden Calf, after having heard God SPEAK the TEN COMMANDMENTS, known as THE DECALOGUE, and as they were waiting for Moses to come down with the TEN COMMANDMENTS inscribed on the Tablets of Sapphire Stone, they fall victim to an evil impulse and turn to worshipping an idol of all things! When Moses descends he smashes the Ten Commandments and gets rid of the troublemakers. During the commotion, Moses pleads on behalf of the Children of Israel begging God not to destroy them. Subsequently God grants Moses a SECOND SET OF TABLETS, and because Moses had begged to witness God’s Glory, while Revealing of Himself God teaches Moses the profoundest secrets of forgiveness, which in the Torah is embodied in the recitation and acceptance of THIRTEEN HOLY AND SPECIAL DIVINE ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY.

On the surface there are definitely quite a number of chronological and factual events and personalities that co-join to create a very combustible combination of contributing factors to the culminating chaos and confusion of the cursed calf. But ask yourself: were the Children of Israel really that immature that they suffered from a bad case of national “impulse disorder” and couldn’t hold on a little while longer for Moses to appear? How could such a special nation that had witnessed awesome miracles and the very revelation of God at Mount Sinai not do a “reality check” on themselves and stop themselves going overboard with such foolishness? Surely there is more to the narrative, that can place events into a deeper and more spiritually comprehensive level so that we can reach the forces driving the upheaval and not just glance at the “exterior symptoms”?

When I was thinking about a title for this essay, I couldn’t resist thinking of the almost simplistic, yet somehow profoundly true “Murphy’s Law”: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” In fact there are a number of other such “Murphy’s Laws” that in their plebian way, force us to focus on “What went wrong?”: Here is a listing of those telling truisms, from
“Murphy's Laws:
1.) If anything can go wrong, it will.Corollary: It can.MacGillicuddy's Corollary: At the most inopportune time.
2.) If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.
3.) If anything just cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
4.) If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.Corollary: It will be impossible to fix the fifth fault, without breaking the fix on one or more of the others.
5.) Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
6.) If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
7.) Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.Corollary: The hidden flaw never stays hidden for long.
8.) Mother nature is a (‘female dog’). 9.) Things get worse under pressure. 10.) Smile . . . tomorrow will be worse. 11.) Everything goes wrong all at once. 12.) Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value” [2]

All of these “laws” seem so very true about the “CHET HA`EGEL” – THE SIN OF THE (GOLDEN) CALF.


Here is an outline derived from a variety of classical Jewish sources: Everything in the Torah comes back to the first narrative in Genesis when Adam and Eve are created by God and commanded not to eat from a mysterious and mystical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were meant to live eternally as they were the Apex of all Creation. They had wonderful minds and the power of human speech because God had breathed into Adam a Divine Soul, making Adam capable of mirroring in reality God’s presence on Earth. Once Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit they automatically brought Death and Suffering into this world. They gave Evil a home whereas it had previously not had a foothold, existing as an external abstract entity.

After many other generations of humankind fail to improve the world and in fact make things worse by driving the Divine Presence further away, it becomes the job of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then the Children of Israel-The Jewish People as a NATION after the Exodus to finally bring the world back to the level of Adam and Eve to where they were BEFORE they sinned. This was almost achieved at Mount Sinai. But as they say, “almost” doesn’t count. All those dastardly “MURPHY”S LAWS” kicked in and went into high gear and everything that could go wrong went wrong! Why is that? Simply put, THE FORCES OF EVIL AND DARKNESS WENT TO WORK OVER-TIME TO DO ALL THEY COULD TO PREVENT THE CONSUMMATION OF GOD’S UNION WITH THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL THROUGH THEIR ACCEPTANCE OF THE TORAH FROM BECOMING PERMANENT.

IT IS THE TORAH THAT IS CALLED “THE TREE OF LIFE” which in fact was that “OTHER TREE” in the Garden of Eden that God feared Adam and Eve would eat from, and “live forever”, as God Lives Forever. In fact, the classical Jewish teachings say that the Children of Israel did attain a level of ETERNAL LIFE when they WITNESSED THE REVELATION OF GOD AT MOUNT SINAI and HEARD THE TEN COMMANDMENTS SPOKEN BY GOD. This indicates that they were in fact already on that level of eternal life, meaning that EVIL HAD BEEN BANISHED, and that DEATH WAS NO LONGER A FACTOR (IN LIFE), and that they must have then been very near to the Tree of LIFE, if only they could have just held on a little longer!

Note, each time the Torah is returned to the ark, be it weekdays, holidays, or Sabbaths, we actually try to “relive” those past glorious moments of fleeting “eternal life” when we say about the Torah that we hold up and then hold so tight in our right bosom and then carefully replace it in the ark: “LENGTH OF DAYS IS AT ITS RIGHT; AT ITS LEFT, WEALTH AND HONOR. ITS WAYS ARE PEACE. IT IS A TREE OF LIFE TO THOSE WHO GRASP IT, AND ITS SUPPORTERS ARE PRAISEWORTHY.” (Proverbs, Chapter 3, vs. 16 –18).

There are all sorts of descriptions of what went wrong on that horrible day. Some say it was a Divine Test by God to see if the Children of Israel could hold fast and abide by the teachings of the Ten Commandments and have faith until Moses arrived to “seal the deal”. Others say that the “Satan” (the arch-angel of all evil) projected an image of Moses’ body which was seemingly “life-less” at the top of Mount Sinai as his Soul had left its body and “transmigrated” to be with God in the Celestial Spheres of Heaven to receive the Torah. The Children of Israel thus thought that Moses had perhaps “died” and so they became hysterical with despair clutching even at an idol. There are those that say that the Golden Calf was patterned after images of God’s Throne which also has “animal-like” depictions which they thought was “kosher” to imitate. A great deal of blame is laid upon the “mixed multitude” – “eruv rav”, of people who had previously been idol worshipers and all sorts of gentiles in Egypt and when Moses’ strong hand of leadership was absent, they took a chance and tried a “coup d'etat” in a plot to take over and subvert the newly established Israelite Nation. Even in our own times, we find that when the newly established State of Israel came into being in 1947 – 8, it had to fight for its survival against Arabs (“eruv”? “rav”?…funny how both these words seem to sound like the Hebrew word for Arab: “aravi”) who wanted to throttle the first Jewish State in 2,000 years.

One of the best teachings that I have come across over the years explaining what it was that really “triggered” the rebellion and the establishment of the Golden Calf is by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (Lithuania, England, Israel, 1891 – 1954) in one of the Hebrew volumes of his work “Michtav Me`Eliyahu”. He explains that the catastrophe of the Golden Calf is actually PHARAOH’S VICTORY. It is the point at which all the efforts of the Egyptian sorcerers and of the culture of the idol-worshipping slave empire of ancient Egypt FINALLY managed to strike out and score a home run against not just the Israelites but against God’s Will for the world, sad to say.

Rabbi Dessler proves his point when he points to specific words in this week’s portion that are the spelling of PHARAOH when describing Moses’ reactions when he saw what had happened when he finally returned:Let’s say the verse in Hebrew first: “Vayar Mosheh Et Ha`Am Ki PHARUA Hu, Ki PHERAOH Aharon LeShimtzah Bekameihem” (Exodus, Chapter 32, verse 25): You clearly see that Moses is describing what he is seeing as something in terms of “PHARUA” and “PHERAOH” with the exact Hebrew spelling and pronunciation of the name Pharaoh in Hebrew. So what does it mean that here, at the site of the Israelites dancing around the abomination of the Golden Calf idol, Moses sees and identifies the tell-tale “FINGERPRINTS” and the “CALLING CARD” of none other than his own arch-rival, Pharaoh? The English translation for this verse reads: “Moses realized that the people had actually been ‘PHARUA’. Aaron had ‘PHERAOH’ them…” Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan cites different interpretations of this “PHARUA’ – “PHERAOH” word: “restrained” (by Aaron from doing worse); “exposed” [without cover]; “exposed to harm”; “undisciplined”; “unrestrained”; “going the wrong way”. [3]
Rabbi Dessler says that this is precisely the point, that the word PHARAOH is connected to the Hebrew word to “EXPOSE” and “EXPOSE TO HARM” to be “UNDISCIPLINED” and be “GOING THE WRONG WAY.” It is in Pharaoh’s “spirit” that all the damage is done. What this means in somewhat more esoteric terms is that, that same ancient Serpent that SEDUCED EVE away from the path of following God’s Will, now comes embodied as a cavorting wild mob of mixed multitude – “eruv rav” devotees whose natural instinct is only one of destruction of what should have been a climactic holy spiritual high, but ends as VAST NATIONAL TRAGEDY as we see the Children of Israel cast as heroes who withstood so much anguish and suffering in their rise from Egypt only to see it TRAGICALLY washed away through their folly.

There is actually an interesting Oral Law Teaching Medrash that says that at the time the Golden Calf was being “designed”, among the mixed multitude there were:“The two Egyptian sorcerers, Yanus and Yambrus (Bilam’s sons [Bilam was the ‘greatest’- most notorious, sorcerer of that time]), now put their power of magic to work. One of them seized two thirds of the gold, and the other, the remaining third. By means of the IMPURE ENERGY FORCES – ‘ruach hatumah’, they were able to draw the radiance of the image of the ox of the DIVINE CHARIOT – ‘merkava’ towards them. Another man, Micha (who as a child had been cemented into a wall in Egypt and was saved by Moses), assisted by casting into the fire a tablet containing the inscription EMERGE OX – ‘alay shor’. This was the same tablet Moses had cast into the Nile to bring up Joseph’s [hidden submerged] coffin. Subsequently, a live calf emerged from the fire, bleating and moving around. God had given Satan permission to entice the Children of Israel. God said to Aaron, ‘You stumbled because of the deeds of the two wicked ones, Yanus and Yambrus; therefore, your sons’ lives will be taken’…In addition to the original image which was pronounced the major one, the mixed multitude – ‘eruv rav’ fabricated another twelve calves, one for each Tribe. Pointing to them, the mixed multitude called out: ‘These are your gods [hence the use of the plural ‘gods’], Israel, that took you out of Egypt.” (Exodus, Chapter 32, verse 4). [4]

This was all on the dark side. There was however also a bright side. Firstly all the commentators agree that the WOMEN DID NOT PARTICIPATE. The men literally ripped off their gold jewelry. Secondly, the Tribe of Levi refused to partake and DID NOT JOIN IN the idol worshiping and general mayhem. Thirdly, there were even those who resisted with force of arms against the mob’s madness. The commentators say that Hur and the Seventy elders defied the demands of the mixed multitude and that they were actually killed by the mob and so are considered as having died as martyrs – “al kiddush Hashem” – Sanctifying the Name of Heaven by not following the dictates of an evil gathering of idol worshippers. And finally, there are quite a number of great benefits and “counter measures” that arose as a result of the great mistakes that were made.

“Moses carved out two stone tablets like the first. He then got up early in the morning and climbed Mount Sinai, as God had commanded him, taking the two stone tablets in his hand. God revealed Himself in a cloud, and it stood there with [Moses]. [Moses] called out in God's name. God passed by before [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘God, God, Omnipotent, merciful and kind, slow to anger, with tremendous [resources of] love and truth. He remembers deeds of love for thousands [of generations], forgiving sin, rebellion and error. He does not clear [those who do not repent], but keeps in mind the sins of the fathers to their children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generation’.” (Exodus, Chapter 34, vs. 4 – 7). [5]

So something eternal and positive does come out of this complex episode that we practice to this very day, especially on the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, from the Jewish New Year – “Rosh Hashanah” and the Ten Days of Repentance till the Day of Atonement – “Yom Kippur”:

“At the time when Moses asked God to reveal to him His Glory, God taught him how the Jewish people should pray in order to achieve forgiveness for their sins. ‘Had you not mentioned the merit of their forefathers after the Sin of the Golden Calf, I would have consumed them. I will therefore teach you MY THIRTEEN ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY. WHENEVER THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL APPEAL TO ME BY THESE, THEIR PRAYERS SHALL FIND A RESPONSE.’ God, as it were, wrapped Himself in a PRAYER-SHAWL (‘TALIT’) functioning as a public emissary of prayer (the ‘Chazan’- ‘cantor’), and taught Moses His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.” [6]

Rabbi Ezra Bick, a contemporary rabbi in Israel, [7] asks:“It is still true that the ‘selichot’ (penitential prayers), and the ‘Thirteen Attributes of Mercy’ that lie at the heart of them, are central to the understanding of Yom Kippur. This is felt most clearly in the waning moments of the day, during ‘Ne'ila’, when they are repeated over and over again (seven times in most versions). The basis for reciting the Thirteen Attributes of mercy is found in (the Talmud, Tractate) Rosh Hashanah 17b.
‘God passed by him and called...’ (Exodus, 34,verse 6) Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘Were this not an explicit verse, we could not have said such a thing. It tells us that the Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped Himself (in a ‘talit’) like the prayer leader (‘chazzan’) and showed Moses the order of prayer. He said to him: ‘Whenever Israel sins, let them perform this order and I shall forgive them. ‘HaShem’ (God), ‘HaShem’ (God) - I am He before man sins; I am He after man sins and repents’ ... Rav Yehuda said: ‘A covenant is made over the Thirteen attributes, that they are never ineffectual, as is written, ‘Behold I am making a covenant’.’” (Exodus, Chapter 34, verse 10).

Rabbi Bick goes on to ask: “There are a number of perplexing points about this Gemara (Talmud). Why did God have to demonstrate to Moses how to recite the Thirteen Attributes? Why did he ‘dress up’ like a ‘chazzan’ and pretend to be one who prays? Why are the thirteen attributes guaranteed to succeed more than any other prayer, and what is the meaning of the ‘covenant’, which is the basis of that success? Finally, examining the Thirteen Attributes, we find that they are merely names and descriptions of God, not a prayer at all. Nothing is actually requested. What is the significance of reciting attributes of God? Surely a plea from the heart for forgiveness should be more effective!”He answers: “How do the Sages know that the thirteen attributes, conveyed to Moses in a mysterious and powerful revelation after the sin of the golden calf (Exodus, Chapter 34, vs. 5-7), are a means of obtaining forgiveness? The answer to this question is found in a later incident in the Torah. When the Jewish people, after hearing the report of the spies concerning the Land of Israel, seek to return to Egypt, God tells Moses that He is planning to destroy them. Moses pleads and argues with God, finally saying, ‘And now, the strength of God shall increase, as You have spoken, saying: HaShem (God), long-tempered and great in mercy, who bears sin and iniquity, and shall cleanse but not cleanse....Forgive the sin of this people by the greatness of your mercy, as You have borne this people from Egypt unto here.’ And God said, ‘I have forgiven by your words’.”

“THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD, IN JUDAISM, ARE NOT THEOLOGY. They are revelations, manifestations of God's presence in the world. But God does not impose His presence on the world. God is found where people, created in the image of God, call on His name. Every day, at every prayer, Jews declare: ‘Yitgadel ve-yitkadesh shemei raba’ – ‘His Great Name shall be Sanctified and Increased’! This is precisely the meaning of COVENANT – ‘A covenant is made over the Thirteen Attributes, that they are never ineffectual.’ A covenant is not a promise; it is a two-sided agreement. It creates something which exists only in partnership. The Thirteen Attributes exist in covenant, because God has agreed that His presence in the world will depend on the free-willed calling of humans, who shall be the bearers of His name, His presence, His glory.”

“This then is the meaning of the Gemara (Talmud) quoted above. God appeared to Moses wrapped in a ‘talit’ – ‘prayer shawl’, as the leader of the prayer, because the Thirteen Attributes are not a prayer TO God. He is not listening, receiving, considering. He is part of the prayer itself. The words are not TO Him, they are about Him. They, as it were, create the Presence of God Himself. God is changing Himself (‘rising from the throne of judgment and sitting on the throne of mercy’). He is as much part of the recitation as we are. Properly speaking, before the creation of the covenant, ONLY God could have ‘recited’ the Thirteen Attributes. God has to show Moses how this is to be done, for He is giving over to Moses and the Jewish people something which belongs to Him alone. He is making the Jewish people the bearers of God's Presence in this world.”

“The Gemara (Talmud) states that there are Thirteen Attributes of mercy found in Exodus, Chapter 34, verse 6, but does not actually enumerate them. There are various opinions found in the commentaries. The most widely accepted is that found in Tosafot (Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 17b):
1. ‘HaShem’ - God (before the sin)
2. ‘HaShem’ - God (after the sin)
3. ‘Kel’ -Lord (power)
4. ‘Rachum’ (merciful)
5. ‘Chanun’ (grace)
6. ‘Erech apayim’ (long-tempered)
7. ‘Rav-chesed’ (great in mercy)
8. ‘(Rav) emet’ (great in truth)
9. ‘Notzer chesed l'alafim’ (keeps mercy for a thousand generations)
10. ‘Nosei avon’ (bears iniquity)
11 ‘(Nosei) pesha’ (transgression)
12. ‘(Nosei) chata'a’ (sin)
13. ‘Nakei’ (cleanse).
The meaning of and difference between each attribute is a subject worthy of extended discussion, which will have to await a later date.” [8]

Best wishes, and have a wonderful Shabbat. Please let me know what you think!

[1] Shakespeare's Tragedies, http://www.springfield.k12.il.us/schools/springfield/eliz/shaktragedies.html
[2] http://www.murphys-laws.com/murphy/murphy-laws.html
[3] The Living Torah, English translation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, p. 452- 453.
[4] The Midrash Says, Book of Sh`mos – Exodus, English translation, pp. 319 –320.
[5] The Living Torah, Ibid. p. 459
[6] The Midrash Says, Ibid., pp.339 – 440.
[7] The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, Rabbi Ezra Bick,
[8] Ibid.
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
#20: The (De)Construction of (Wo)Man: Holy Clothes, Purim, Adam & Eve
The (De)Construction of (Wo)Man:
Holy Clothes, Purim, Adam & Eve

(Related to the weekly Torah portion of Tetzaveh (“Command”) read in synagogue. Exodus, Chapter 27, verse 20 – Chapter 30, verse 10. English text and commentary at http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=27
Dedicated to my parents.)

“The Emperor has no clothes” is an old English expression that tells us that a real “Emperor” without royal clothing, or a feeble pretender who may even seem like an “emperor”, are powerless when they don’t have the necessary wherewithal to be real “Emperors”. In other words, they don’t have what it takes to be in a leadership position because they are vulnerable and weak due to their “lack of clothing”, meaning nothing to back them up, and are in effect “naked” and humiliated, (what else does “has no clothes” mean?)

Another well know expression is that “Clothes Makes the Man (and Woman)”, because as we all know, the concept of what one wears is considered to be a “fashion statement”. Powerful leaders wear “power ties”. Women set on gaining attention “dress to kill”. Pin- striped suits bespeak corporate status. For the fashion conscious there are Spring and Fall fashion shows to be followed with oohs and aahs, and followed up with purchases: The more expensive the item, the greater its symbol of elite status. For those who remember, Imelda Marcos had thousands of exquisite shoes that she hardly wore, but which were an expression of her and her husband’s absolute rule in the Philippines.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum. The power that flows from negative attention when people “take it all off”. Famous actors and actresses feel it’s their “ticket to fame and fortune” only when they “let it all hang out” in front of millions of viewers. Most are just unknown bores, but a few suddenly get catapulted to the headlines sections with their personal online orgies. What’s THAT all about?

The bulk of this week’s Torah portion describes the commands Moses receives from God about how to DRESS UP THE PRIESTS (“KOHANIM”), particularly the extra-ordinary garments that Moses’ brother, Aaron the newly appointed High Priest (“KOHEN GADOL”) was to wear when performing the SERVICE (“AVODAH”) in the SANCTUARY – “MISHKAN” and then later to be continued when the Jewish Holy Temples were to be erected in Jerusalem: “MAKE CLOTHES OF HOLINESS (VESTMENTS) – ‘BIGDEI KODESH’ FOR AARON YOUR BROTHER FOR HONOR AND FOR GLORY” (Exodus, Chapter 28, verse, 2).
These opening words set the theme for this week’s portion as well as at the end of Exodus, in the final Torah portion of Pekudey (“Accounts”) there is a detailed description of the completion of these items, see Exodus, Chapter 39 http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=39

What is the immediate context as well as the greater context for this entire subject of elevating the clothing of select individuals to such high levels of holiness and what does it teach the rest of us in general terms about the power of clothing?

Can we pinpoint specific episodes and events in the Torah that focus directly on this issue of clothing generally and what it means to the human race?

Fascinatingly, there is a custom to DRESS UP IN COSTUMES AND DISGUISES ON PURIM DAY, so what is the connection, if any, with the over-all (no pun meant) subject of getting dressed?

I would like to outline the sources in the Torah for the delicate subject of humans and clothes, how it comes to be that the High Priest – “Kohen Gadol” must wear a “Divine Uniform”, and a direct connection to the entire Purim saga as it first happened to the Jews under the Persian Empire about 2,400 years ago, and some lessons for our modern age.

In Genesis we are told that Adam and Eve, before they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – “Etz Hada’at Tov Vera”, were totally NAKED, and were not ashamed about it. After they ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they suddenly become aware and ashamed of their nakedness:
“The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not embarrassed by one another…The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and desirable to the eyes, and that the tree was attractive as a means to gain intelligence. She took some of its fruit and ate [it]. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate [it]. The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked. They sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves loincloths.”

“They heard God’s voice moving about in the garden with the wind of the day. The man and his wife hid themselves from God among the trees of the garden. God called to the man, and He said, ‘Where are you [trying to hide]?’ ‘I heard Your voice in the garden,’ replied [the man], ‘and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’[God] asked, ‘Who told you that you are naked? Did you eat from the tree which I commanded you not to eat?’…”

“…God made leather garments for Adam and his wife and He clothed them.”

“God said, ‘Man has now become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now he must be prevented from putting forth his hand and also taking from the Tree of Life. He [can] eat it and live forever!’ God banished [man] from the Garden of Eden, to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove away the man, and stationed the cherubim at the east of Eden, along with the revolving sword blade, to guard the path of the Tree of Life.” (Genesis, Chapters 2 – 3) [1]

Classical Judaism teaches that the need and entire purpose of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants, the Children of Israel-The Jewish People is for them to RECTIFY the wrongs in the world, make a “TIKKUN OLAM”, and the notion of Adam and Eve’s nakedness stands as a great sign for the direction to follow. On the intimate level of husband and wife, a man and woman can and do revert to the level of Adam and Eve as they join in nudity to love each other and to become partners with God in the creation of new life. This is only on the private and personal miniscule microcosmic level. On a greater scale, the vast macrocosm of the totality of civilization, nudity cannot just be “FORBIDDEN” like a minor traffic offense because it is not just totally impractical due to climactic and aesthetic reasons, it is also going in the opposite direction that people should go in according to the Torah’s trustworthy guidelines, which is to aspire to that level of civilization that acknowledges that “clothing, like manners, makes the man and the woman.”

It was God Himself that dressed Adam and Eve in “garments of leather” to give them a level of self-respect that their own self-made skimpy fig leaves could never do for them.

Our Torah portion comes on the heels of the giving of the Ten Commandments. They were to be preserved in a SANCTUARY called the “MISHKAN” which with all its Divine Furnishings was meant to preserve and continue the fact that God had now given the Divine Law to the People of Israel for them to preserve, as they worshiped God and retained their Covenant with Him.

Simultaneously however, what had also happened at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Ten Commandments, was that the Jewish People had been transformed from slaves into free people. This is not just something “political” that happened to them. Something far deeper occurred as well: They were like new “converts” - “geirim” to the true Monotheistic faith as they were privileged to not just WITNESS God reveal Himself at Mount Sinai, but they also entered into a “COVENANT” – “BRIT” with Him meaning that they now became a completely new SPIRITUAL ENTITY, they received JEWISH S O U L S which meant they were now like new born, “Born Again”, members of the Covenant. This newly granted high level of holy Jewish spirituality needed a “home” as much as the Ten Commandments. The Jewish High Priest who is referred to as the “Heart of the Nation”, like the Jewish Kings would be later as well, became this special person: A public persona that could personify, maintain and preserve the HUMAN SIDE of the Revelation at Mount Sinai.

The Ten Commandments had their Ark of the Covenant as a Divinely ordained repository. For the newly arisen and established Jewish People, endowed with that EXTRAORDINARY DIVINE NATIONAL SOUL, a High Priest was consecrated to carry and care for the core super special spiritual legacy and essence of the true “Yiddishe Neshamah” – “The Jewish Soul”, AND HIS EXTERNAL APPEARANCE OF HOLY CLOTHING WAS DESIGNED BY THE ULTIMATE FASHION DESIGNER, GOD HIMSELF, TO REFLECT THAT SPECIAL ROLE THAT THE HIGH PRIEST FULFILLED.

As we know from History, the Jews have had their highs and lows many times over. The Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, over 3,300 year ago was a great HIGH. From that point on, the Children of Israel went on to conquer Canaan, build up the Land of Israel, establish a monarchy, and BUILD a permanent Jewish temple in Jerusalem. However, the people began to show signs of “ wear and tear” as they lost the vision of why God had brought them out of Egypt: To be a guiding moral light to the nations of the world. Finally about 2,500 years ago, the wicked and cruel Babylonians appear and destroy the First Jewish Temple, placing the Jews in seemingly permanent exile. This is where and when the story of PURIM takes place, after Persia takes over Babylonia, and a King by the name of Ahasuerus arises, with a queen named VASHTI, and an evil advisor from the Nation of Amalek, by the name of Haman who steps forth to collude with the King against the Jews, by accusing them of disloyalty to Persia, and asking that they be exterminated (sounds like Spain of the Inquisition, or Nazi Germany and Europe during the Holocaust).

Now as Divine Fate / PROVIDENCE would have it, the entire plot becomes unraveled and turns into an upside down turnaround where the Jews go from being “Target Number One” designated for annihilation, to becoming a protected class of citizens with their own leaders saving them and guiding the fate of the Persian Empire.
And how does this all come about?Through the wiles and machinations of TWO WOMEN: VASHTI the Queen, first wife of Ahasuerus who loses her throne and her life, and the surprising selection of the JEWISH ESTHER who becomes the new Queen of Persia and savior of her people with the advice of her wise uncle MORDECHAI.

Now what was it that brought Ahasuerus to the point of ridding himself of his first beautiful wife?

Soon after he became king, he chose to throw a huge banquet and made a demand: That his wife VASHTI appear in the nude with only her crown on, in front of all the assembled “dignitaries”. She refused, and in a rage, the king ordered her execution that in turn opened the door to Esther who was chosen after many others had been rejected.

Classical Judaism has a very fascinating perspective on these events, and not all of them are recorded in the actual Megillah-Scroll Of Esther:
Why was Vashti confronted by such a challenge to appear in the nude in public? More specifically, why was God doing this to her? The answer that’s given is that because she had enslaved Jewish girls who had come from the Babylonian exile and MADE THEM WORK IN THE NUDE, so she was repaid in kind when she herself was challenged to appear in the nude PUBLICLY by her own husband the King.

Here is how the Oral Law MIDRASH RABBAH on ESTHER describes some of the behind the scenes goings on: “The subject of discussion among the guests was which nationality had the most beautiful women. This one claimed Median women are the most beautiful, and that one claimed Persian women are the most beautiful. Ahasuarus said to them, ‘The vessel which that man Ahasuerus uses is neither Median nor Persian, but a Chaldean. Do you want to see it?’… ‘Yes’, they said, ‘we want to see her, but only if she is undressed, except for her crown.’ As the verse indicates, the Queen was summoned to appear in her crown, and only that. He said to them, ‘All right’. And he agreed that she should come undressed. Ahasuerus asserted that Vashti was beautiful in her own right, not because of her regal finery or other external enhancements. Therefore, he accepted their challenge…”

“She offered to come dressed in no more than lingerie, unashamed to display herself in front of these men, since she was also immodest. Still, they did not allow her to do so. They insisted to her that she must come undressed… ‘I will come in without a crown’ Vashti argued. They objected, ‘the guests will claim that a maidservant had appeared in place of the queen…You must wear royal clothing (the crown) and enter.’…Vashti’s retort that it was improper to treat her so shamefully actually ignored the routine practice of the Babylonian monarchs to STRIP AND HUMILIATE THEIR CAPTIVES…Her contemptuous attitude, conveyed through the chamberlains, inflamed his anger…
We find other examples where the wicked suffer their condemnation undressed…The exaggerated outrage shows that this was Divine wrath rather than human anger. God was so enraged by the spectacle of a feast celebrating the destruction of the Jewish Temple and the cancellation of its construction that He incited Ahasuerus against Vashti. This was THE King-The Heavenly King, that is, who controlled these events.” [2]

Some of the commentators actually say that on some primal level, Ahasuerus and Vashti WERE in agreement. They had a mutual self-aggrandizing goal of “living it up” and “lapping it up” with wild parties and romps. With dark evil intuition they may have aspired to be rid of the limitations placed on Adam and Eve a long time ago, and just wanted to “let loose” without the “moral baggage” that came from the fallout from eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But such dark schemes are bound to flounder and fail, just as Haman fails in his plans to kill out the Jews, because there is an almost automatic mysterious hidden guiding hand or “mechanism” that somehow pushes all the trash into the garbage can of history. Wild parties featuring nudity, as Ahasuerus and Vashti learned bitterly, can turn out to be absolute catastrophes, as God pushes them “back into their box”. THE WORLD AND ITS PEOPLE ARE NOT “FAIR GAME”!

As a sign of Esther and Mordechai’s victory, they are dressed in royal garments declaring their higher status as worthy human beings. Conversely, during the Holocaust in Europe, 1939 – 1945, the German and European Nazis forced their Jewish victims to strip before executing them.

Thus it may seem that God “APPEARS” to be “HIDDEN” during tough times in History, which is actually what happens during the entire saga of PURIM in Persia. In fact, the name Esther, we are taught, is connected to the word “HESTER” in Hebrew, meaning “HIDDEN”.

See http://www.ou.org/chagim/purim/disguises.htm :
“The custom to wear disguises on Purim in general is based on God's hiding His identity in the Megillah of Esther. The salvation of the Jewish People seems to be accomplished through the actions of people alone, and God's Name doesn't appear once. The custom to wear disguises on Purim and to appear as non-Jews is related to Jacob’s wearing of Esau's clothes when he received the blessings that were due him. It is as if we announce that just as Jacob only had the outer appearance of Esau, but was inwardly holy and pure, so are all appearances of evil in Israel only external, and inwardly we remain a holy people.”
“Israel and Amalek are two extremes in the history of the nations. They are furthest apart from each other, but as is sometimes the case with extremes, at times they seem similar to each other. It is the way of Esau, and of Amalek his descendant, to disguise himself in garments that are not his; to talk smoothly, to pretend to be pious and just, while inwardly harboring only evil, deception and cunning. You thus find it said of Esau: ‘For there is hunt in his mouth.’ His mouth and his heart are not equal. The same trait, but totally inverted, is found among the righteous of Israel. You thus find of David, King of Israel, who he appears like a sinner, whereas in truth he excelled in piety. The same trait characterized Jacob, whose righteousness was so much concealed from all eyes, that even his father Isaac failed to recognize his true self until Rebecca revealed his hidden traits and caused the blessings to be given to Jacob who alone was worthy of them.” [3]

In contradistinction to the shame of Adam and Eve, the humiliation of Vashti, the masks and disguises of Purim, and the childish exhibitionism of modern day “celebrities” who flash flesh faster than flies on a fresh fruit at high digital speed, comes along the Torah and teaches the meaning of ENNOBLING HUMANITY through the influence, power, and EXAMPLES TO OTHERS of the Priesthood, the “Kohanim”.
Aaron the High Priest is to have EIGHT SPECIAL ITEMS OF CLOTHING. See a general picture: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/26.htm Let us list the items on this picture in order, top to bottom, (note, this is only a rough “artist’s depiction”, it is obviously NOT the order in which the High Priest got dressed, and there are varying opinions among the sages as to the details of each of these eight garments):

According to the Talmud (Tractate Zevachim, 88b), each the eight items of clothing were endowed with spiritual powers that ATONED FOR SERIOUS SINS OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE [4]: “Rabbi Inyani Bar Sason said: WHY ARE THE SECTIONS ON SACRIFICES AND THE PRIESTLY VESTMENTS CLOSE TOGETHER? TO TEACH YOU: AS SACRIFICES MAKE ATONEMENT, SO DO THE PRIESTLY VESTMENTS MAKE ATONEMENT.”

1) TURBAN / MITRE - “MITZNEFET”: “You shall make a linen TURBAN…” (Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 39):
Sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/32.htm

The TURBAN atoned for the sin of arrogance. Said Rabbi Hanina: “Let the headdress that is worn high up [on the PRIEST’S head] atone for the sin of holding the head too high.”

Sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/32.htm
“You shall make a HEAD-PLATE of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it, engraved like a signet ring, ‘HOLY TO GOD’…It shall be on Aaron’s forehead so that Aaron shall bring forgiveness for a sin…and it shall be on his forehead always, to bring them favor before God.” (Exodus, Chapter, 28, vs. 36 – 38):

This atoned for BRAZENNESS – “CHUTZPAH” described by Jeremiah as “…you had the ‘METZACH’ (denoting both the ‘FOREHEAD’ as well as ‘BRAZENNESS’/ ‘BOLDNESS’) of a harlot, you refused to be ashamed” (Jeremiah, Chapter 3, verse 3). Another opinion states that it atoned for blasphemy.

Sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/29.htm
“Make a DECISION / JUDGMENT breastplate…Set it with four rows of mounted [precious] stones…The stones shall contain the names of the twelve sons of Israel…to represent the twelve tribes…Aaron will thus carry the names of Israel’s sons on the DECISION / JUDGMENT over his heart when he comes to the sanctuary. It shall be a constant remembrance before God. PLACE THE ‘URIM AND THUMIM’ (Lightings and Perfections – Parchments with God’s Holy Names written on them) in the decision / judgment breastplate, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he comes before God. Aaron will then carry the decision-making device for the Israelites before God at all times.” (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 15 – 30). [5]

The “CHOSHEN” was worn over the High Priest’s heart and atoned for the sin of perverted judgment, since false judgment can originate from improper impulses coming from a tainted heart (emotions and prejudice).

4) APRON (CAPE) – “EPHOD”: (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 6 – 12),
Sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/30.htm
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says:“There are several opinions as to how the ephod was made. Some say that the ephod was essentially like a half-cape. Others agree that it was a long garment, but say that it was more like a skirt, from the waist to the heels, covering the high priest in front and back. Still others also agree that it was long, but maintain that it
was much simpler in construction. They see it as a kind of cape made of a single rectangular piece of cloth, draped over the shoulders like a large ‘Talit’, there are, however, a number of authorities who maintain that it was not a long garment at all, but rather like a vest with a belt around its lower edge, tied in front. Others see it as a kind of backwards vest.” [6]

The “EPHOD” – APRON / ROBE, atoned for the transgression of idol worship, as idol worshippers used to wear apron-like robes as described in the book of Judges: “… ‘Did you know that in these buildings there are an ‘EPHOD’ and icons, a carved image and molten image?’” (Judges, Chapter 18, verse 14).

5) MANTLE (ROBE) – “ME`IL”: (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 31 – 35).
Sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/28.htm
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says: “Some say that it had sleeves, while others maintain that it was sleeveless. According to many it was a closed robe that was slipped over the head. It was woven as a single garment without seams and had an opening parted along the chest and back for the head. Others say that it was a simple robe, open down the front. Others, however, maintained that it was open in front like a large sleeveless cape, and only closed at the neck. According to another opinion it was a long rectangular piece of cloth with a hole in the middle for the head, very much like a long ‘Talit Kattan’. According to some, it hung in front and back, while others maintain that it hung on both sides. It came down to the priest's feet.” [7]

A fascinating feature of the MANTLE – “ME`IL” is that the Torah says that around its hem it should have little BELLS!: “You shall make on its hem [tiny] pomegranates of turquoise…on its hem all around, and GOLD BELLS BETWEEN THEM, all around. It must be on Aaron in order to minister. Its SOUND shall be heard when he enters the SANCTUARY before God and when he leaves, so that he not die.” (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 33 – 35).

The MANTLE – “ME`IL” with its little jingling bells (A POSITIVE BLESSED SOUND) ATONED FOR PUBLIC SLANDER (A NEGATIVE SOUND), for “LASHON HARA” – “EVIL SPEECH” spoken in public, as Rabbi Hanina said: “Let an article of sound come and atone for an offence of sound”.

6) KNITTED TUNIC / COAT / SHIRT – “KETONET TASHBETZ”: “Knit the tunic out of linen” (Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 4 & verse 39).
Sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/27.htm
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says it had a “patterned weave that could best be attained by knitting. Some write that it had a pattern of depressions, like settings for precious stones. Others say that it was a diamond-shaped pattern, like an array of small eyes. According to another opinion, it was a hexagonal pattern, like a honeycomb. It had arm-length sleeves that were made separately and sewn on. It sat close to the body, and came down to the feet. The sleeves were tied at the wrists.” [8]

The sages of the Talmud teach that this “KETONET” atoned for MURDERS that were not punishable by a Jewish Court of Law – “BEIT DIN”, because of the absence of two witnesses. If such an event took place all of Israel were liable in God’s eyes as it were. The “KETONET” was chosen to atone for the sin of this “guilt” since its states in Genesis that Joseph’s brothers dipped HIS SHIRT - “KETONET” into goat’s blood to fool their father Jacob into believing that he had been killed. (Genesis, Chapter 37, verse 31).

7) BELT / SASH – “AVNET”: “An embroidered sash” (Exodus, Chapter 28, vs. 4 & 39 – 40) Sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/31.htm Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says: “This is described as being 3 fingerbreadths (2 1/4') wide and 32 cubits (48') long. Some say that it went twice around the body. It was made of linen embroidered with colored wool. Although this is normally forbidden (Leviticus, Chapter 19, verse 19), it was permitted for the priestly garments. Josephus describes the sash as being worn over the heart, slightly above the elbows. It was four fingers wide and loosely woven, so that it appeared like the skin of a snake. Its main body was linen, and it was embroidered with a floral design of linen and blue, dark-red and crimson wool. When it was worn, its ends were allowed to hang down to the ankles, except during the service, when the ends were thrown over the left shoulder.” [9]

The “AVNET” was worn over the heart and therefore atoned for improper thoughts of the heart. This has also probably been the source for the custom that some Jews have of wearing a “GARTEL”, which mean “BELT” in Yiddish, when they pray as a sign of placing a barrier between the heart and any impure thoughts (“ERVA”).

8) LINEN PANTS / BREECHES – “MICHNESEI VAD”: “Also make linen pants to cover their nakedness, reaching from their waste to their thighs.” (Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 42). The PANTS are not really seen at this sketch: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/26.htm Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says that “these were closed pants, reaching from the waist to the knees. They had laces around the knees where they could be tied. Others, however, maintain that it was tied at the waist. The common priest thus had a total of four vestments, and the High Priest eight (Rashi).” [10]

Rabbi Inyani Bar Sason in the Talmud says: “the breeches ATONED FOR LEWDNESS, as it is said: ‘…Make LINEN PANTS – ‘MICHNESEI VAD’, TO COVER THEIR NAKEDNESS / NAKED FLESH – ‘B`SAR ERVAH’.(Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 42).”

Have a wonderful Shabbat and a happy Purim.
Best wishes, and please let me know what you think.

[1] The Living Torah, English translation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, pp. 7 – 17.
[2] The Midrash Rabbah - Esther, English translation and commentary, pp. 123 – 126.
[3] http://www.ou.org/chagim/purim/disguises.htm
[4] The Midrash Says, Book of Sh`mos, Exodus, pp. 280 - 282.
[5] The Living Torah, Ibid., pp. 421 – 427.
[6] “Ephod”, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=28#C1657
[7] “Me`il”, Ibid.,
[8] “Ketonet Tashbetz”, Ibid.,
[9] “Avnet”, Ibid.,
[10] “Michnesei Vad”, Ibid.,

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