Elevated-Offering of a Higher Vision
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Aharon will burn incense on [this altar] each morning when he cleans out
the lamps. He will burn [incense] before evening when he kindles the lamps
... (Shemos 30:7)
The above verse is referring to the mitzvah to burn incense daily, a
mitzvah incumbent upon the kohanim. The Hebrew translation of the words
"before evening when he kindles the lamps" is "es ha-neiros ben
ha'arbayim." According to the Arizal, if you take the first letter of each
word (aleph, heh, bais, heh) and combine them, the word "ahava" (love) is
formed, to allude to the spiritual root of the kohen, which is chesed
(kindness) and love.
This is what is alluded to in the following mishnah:
Be of the students of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace. (Pirke Avos
With all such allusions in the Chumash, one can ask, "Why here?" Why did
the Torah see fit to teach this very important point about the kehuna while
discussing the Incense-Offering, embedding the hint in a reference to the
menorah which is not even the main topic of discussion? Is this to allude
to a three-way connection between the priesthood, the Incense-Offering, and
The parsha actually starts off with the mitzvah to make the oil for the
menorah, and to kindle it each day. Then the Torah states:
Aharon and his sons shall set up [the lamps to burn] from evening until
morning in G-d's presence, in the Tent of Meeting, outside the cloth
partition of the [Ark of] Testimony. (Shemos 27:21)
The Talmud interprets this verse as follows:
"... outside the cloth partition of the [Ark of] Testimony."
The light (of the menorah) He (G-d) needed? For the entire 40-year period
that the Jewish people traveled in the desert, they did so by His light
(and not by the light of the menorah). Rather, (the light of the menorah)
was for "testimony," so that everyone in the world would know that the
Divine Presence resided among the Jewish people. What was the testimony?
That the western candle contained as much oil as the others, yet others
were kindled from it, and its oil never diminished. (Shabbos 22b)
Miracles always seem to be associated with olive oil, specifically those
that teach that spiritual resources never diminish. This is why, it is
pointed out, that the word "ha-shemen" (the oil) is made up of the same
letters that spell the word, "neshama," which means soul. These letters
also spell the word "sh'mona," which means "eight," a number that alludes
to the supernatural, a world above decay and diminution.
The Incense-Offering also alludes to this concept, since incense is
something that is enjoyed through the nose, through which the soul enters
and leaves the body (which is why we bless a person after a sneeze!). For
this reason, we make a blessing over a sweet-smelling fragrance on Motzei
Shabbos and inhale it, to compensate ourselves somewhat for the loss of the
"extra" soul we had gained over Shabbos. (Interestingly enough, of the five
senses, smell was the only one that did not participate in the sin of
eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and is said to have
remained unaffected.) The Talmud calls the pleasure of smell one that
benefits the soul and not the body (Brochos 43b).
The Kohen also symbolizes the same concept as well. His was life given over
completely to the service of G-d; from very early in the morning and
throughout the night, the kohen worked in the Temple, officiating the daily
and special services. He did not "work" in the business world for a living,
but, instead, relied entirely upon the generosity of G-d. He didn't own
land, and, he always had to be on guard against spiritual defilement. His
was the life of the soul, which is rooted in chesed, and from which pours
forth love and generosity.
We have not been called a "nation of priests" for nothing. It was to
indicate to us that we have a special root, the tapping into of which frees
us from petty interests and character traits. Jealousy, hatred, and all
such negative traits are what surface when a person becomes "severed" from
his soul. On the other hand, if we live up to our "priestly" ancestry, we
can access our soul and rise above physicality, and enter into the world of
peace and brotherhood.
As it has been pointed out many times, Moshe's name is no where to be found
in this week's parsha. The reason for this is also well-known: when Moshe
pleaded with G-d to spare the Jewish people from Divine retribution for
their involvement in the golden calf, Moshe told G-d, "If you wipe them
away, then erase me from Your book!" Moshe's heroics worked to save the
Jewish people, but it also cost him his name being mentioned at least in
this week's parsha, and example of what the Talmud states:
The curse of a wise man, even if said conditionally, come true. (Sanhedrin
The question is, why this week's parsha? Why did G-d choose Parashas
Tetzaveh to drop Moshe's name, albeit temporarily, from the Torah?
The answer to this question, according to the Pri Tzaddik, lies in
appreciating the theme of this week's parsha, and the role of the kohen.
As we mentioned above, the parsha starts off with the mitzvah of kindling
the menorah. The lighting of the menorah in the Temple alluded to the
special light that is part of the Jewish soul that emanates from Above, and
which is revealed through the Oral Law. The ability to instill this in the
hearts of the Jewish people, and to bring it out in them, was one given
over to Aharon and his fellow kohanim, by way of the lighting of the
This is why the Incense-Offering is also found in this week's parsha as
well. After all, does it not better fit into last week's parsha, which
included the commandment to construct the altar for this offering? However,
says the Pri Tzaddik, since the Incense-Offering included one spice that
was fowl spelling (from which we learn that a fast day must also include
the sinners of Israel), it also alludes to Aharon's ability to turn "evil"
Hence, Parashas Tetzaveh is really about the priests' ability to draw the
people in the direction of holiness, which is really a function of their
own holiness. This is also why Aharon HaKohen had the ability to resolve
arguments on all levels, and make peace among his fellow Jews no matter
what the quarrel. Holy people don't fight; it's too menial for them.
On the other hand, we learn from Parashas V'Eschanan that Moshe did not
have the same influence on the nation. They quarreled around him and with
him, and helped to keep him out of Eretz Canaan when they angered him to
the point that he hit the rock instead of speaking to it to bring forth
water. We tend to argue with wise men, but not so often with holy men.
This is why Moshe's name is not mentioned in this week's parsha. The name
of a person emanates from his soul; a Hebrew name is more than a word, more
than mere convention to locate a person in time and space. It is an
expression of the person's inner essence (even when the person doing the
naming isn't aware of this, since Divine Providence is). A Hebrew name is
meant to reflect back to the spiritual "root" of a person, which is why it
can often reflect his innate character traits.
The root of Moshe's spiritual prowess was from "Keter Torah," or, the
"Crown of Torah." This is not the direct "root" of the holiness of the
kehuna, which is referred to as "Keter Kehuna," the "Crown of the
Priesthood." Therefore, G-d chose this week's parsha, which deals with the
source of the priesthood, to not mention Moshe's name and spiritual source.
However, ultimately, even the holiness of the kehuna "flows" from the
"Crown of Torah," and for this reason, even though Moshe's name is not
mentioned it is at least hinted to when the Torah says, "You command the
children of Israel ..." etc. That is, "you," Moshe command ...
Hence, even though Moshe was taken to task for his comment about being
erased for the Torah, still, the temporary erasure ended up serving an even
"And you will command (tetzaveh) ... to kindle the lamp continuously."
Tetzaveh: The numerical value is equal to "nashim tzivah" (woman are
commanded), to allude to the woman's obligation to light candles for
Shabbos. (Ba'al HaTurim)
Though many are accustomed to light Shabbos candles made from paraffin
nowadays, some still follow the custom of using olive oil for this mitzvah,
and the above allusion might just be a good source for the continuation of
The truth is, even without the Ba'al HaTurim's incredible connection, we
have other sources that support the use of olive oil for Shabbos candles.
First of all, the midrash states:
He [Noach] waited another seven days and again sent the dove from the ark.
Then, toward the evening the dove returned to him carrying a plucked olive
leaf in its mouth. (Bereishis 8:10)
G-d said, "The olive brought light to the world," as it says, "Then, toward
the evening the dove returned to him carrying a plucked olive leaf in its
mouth." (VaYikrah Rabbah 31:10)
Another midrash on this week's parsha is even more specific:
How is the Jewish people like the "dove"? When Noach was in the ark, the
dove came to him with an olive branch. God said, "Just as the dove brought
light to the world, so too will you (Jewish people) bring olive oil and
light it before Me." (Midrash Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 5)
Therefore, it is not surprising to find out that according to the Shulchan
Aruch (Orach Chaim, 264:6), olive oil fulfills the mitzvah in the most
beautiful way. Tradition has it that the Vilna Gaon was particular to use
olive oil, and that the Arizal recommended lighting at least two candles of
True, in a "Disposable Society" such as ours, this may be (for some) a
"bitter pill" to swallow (though, you can now buy disposable olive oil
candles as well; however, you should put them into a separate bag before
throwing them away since they were used for a mitzvah). But then again,
whoever said Jews believed in the concept of a Disposable Society?
What a way to make the point!
Of the clothing that was specially made for the Kohen Gadol, the miter
(forehead plate) best embodied not just the role of the kohen, but of all
mankind. It was only a thin gold plate, about 1-1/2" wide that was worn
from ear-to-ear. However, on this plate were engraved the words, "Kodesh
L'Hashem," "Holy to G-d."
These words did not simply remind the Kohen Gadol about himself and his
surroundings, and about how they were to be treated. These words summed up
the point of all of history, for all of mankind: bring creation to a point
that every aspect of it is holy to G-d, as it once was in the Garden of
Eden, and as it will once again be after Moshiach's comes.
It is not unlike Bris Milah. G-d made man quite perfect, but not completely
perfect. This had not be an oversight, but a way in which to involve man in
his own completion, by allowing him to remove what was spiritually unseemly
on the outside, to reveal what is spiritually beautiful on the inside. In
this way, man could know that life was meant to channel his creative powers
in a holy direction, in spite of the forces pulling the opposite way.
This is true of every aspect of creation. The entire world is here to serve
man, but in a constructive way. Man, the great manipulator is often man,
the manipulated, as the Talmud warns can be the case:
Everyday the yetzer hara (evil inclination) strengthens itself to overcome
the person. (Kiddushin 30b)
How does the yetzer hara overcome a person? By making the person
insensitive to the world around him, and by lowering his spiritual
perspective until the world around him becomes his "plaything," there only
to enhance the physical quality of his life. The words "Holy to G-d" are a
"potion" of death to the yetzer hara!
Today, around the world and even in Eretz Yisroel, a land that is
inherently imbued with holiness, there are those who are looking to abolish
Bris Milah, if not nationally, at least personally. They know not with what
Aside from the fact that Bris Milah is the concept that helps to define the
Jewish people, and which allows the Jews to remain spiritually connected to
G-d no matter how low we sink, it is also Bris Milah that reminds us of our
mission here on earth. When one attacks the concept of Bris Milah, he
attacks the whole concept of "Holy to G-d," which is tantamount to
attacking the entire purpose of mankind. Those who did this in the past did
not remain around long enough to talk about it!
And even though we feel relatively secure as people, for the moment, from
any inherent danger, we should heed the Talmud's advice: When the stones of
an arch are shaken up, each stone must be concerned for its well-being. As
we learn from the story of Purim, when Jewish holiness becomes endangered,
or worse, scarce, it is then that Amalek, the Jewish nemesis seems to show
up on the stage of history ... on the Jewish side of the stage.
We are a "nation of priests," a holy nation, meant to live in holiness, and
to bring holiness to the world. On that note, have a wholly wonderful holy
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at both Neve
Yerushalyim (Jerusalem) and Neveh
Rabbi Winston has authored fourteen books on Jewish philosophy
(hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston's Perceptions on the
Parsha, you may enjoy many of his books. Visit the Project Genesis
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