by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And you shall make a Tzitz of pure gold, and you shall engrave in it, like
the engraving of a seal, 'Sanctified to G-d.'" [28:36]
The Tzitz was a band which the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, wore across
his forehead. Engraved into this band, pressed in from the back so as to
appear in relief, coming out from the band, were the words "Kadosh LaShem,"
Sanctified to G-d.
Our Sages explain in the Talmud that the Tzitz atoned for azus panim,
literally "boldness of face" -- presumptuousness, brazenness, chutzpah.
Think about a "bald-faced lie" -- sinning in an obvious, blunt, brazen way.
The Zohar says that when the Kohen Gadol wore the Tzitz on his forehead, it
subdued those who were brazen. Just imagining it can be frightening. The
Kohen Gadol is wearing "Sanctified to G-d" on his forehead. What shows on
my forehead? Brazen lies and other misdeeds?
In the Chapters of the Fathers, Chapter 5, there is a perplexing Mishnah.
"He [Yehudah ben Teima] used to say: 'The brazen go to Gehennom
[purgatory], but the shamefaced go to the Garden of Eden.' May be Your
will, HaShem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that the Holy Temple be
rebuilt speedily in our days, and grant us our portion in your Torah."
What is happening in this Mishnah? The author is telling us what Yehudah
ben Teima used to say, and then he suddenly starts davening (praying)!
Looking forward to the rebuilding of the Temple, and praying for our share
in Torah, is a recurring theme throughout the traditional Jewish prayer
book -- but why is it relevant to a discussion of appropriate and
inappropriate character traits?
I found the following answer (original source unknown): the author of the
Mishna wrote the saying of Yehudah ben Teima, and immediately thought of
the brazen people in his own generation, who undoubtedly caused grief for
the community and especially for straight, upright individuals. Those
people, he wrote, were going to face cleansing in Gehennom for their
behavior. And he remembered that when the Temple existed, the Tzitz on the
forehead of the Kohen Gadol atoned for their sins, and indeed subdued them
and prevented them from being so brazen in the first place.
Life would be so much better for everyone, if only the Temple were rebuilt!
And so this short prayer burst from his heart, asking for this to happen soon.
Our Sages also say in the Talmud (Beitzah 25): "Why was the Torah given to
Israel? Because they are brazen." And the commentator Rashi explains, "The
Torah was given to them so that they should involve themselves in it, and
it will take their strength and subdue their hearts." Therefore the writer
of the Mishnah concludes: "And give us our portion in Your Torah."
The Temple was not merely designed to be a glorious place for worship of
G-d, a fancy edifice. In every aspect, it was built to help us, to improve
each person who passed through its gates, or even shared the world with it.
In the meantime, we take refuge in the Torah, which has everything
spiritual within it -- but may we indeed see the Temple rebuilt, speedily
in our days!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
This week's class is dedicated for the refuah sheleima, the complete
healing, of Perel Leiba bas Malka and Tzipporah bas Sarah by the Israel
family of Potomac, Maryland.