A Breath of Fresh Air - Tetzaveh


In last week’s parsha, Truma, the Torah begins to discuss the Mishkan, starting with the כלים, the Aron, the Shulchan, the Menorah, the structure etc. (in last week’s shiur we concentrated on the Kruvim).

If you look closely, you will notice that there was one very important כלי that was missing. Parshat Truma describes every major component of the Mishkan, except for one.

In this week’s parsha, Tetzaveh, after “completing” the structure of the Mishkan, the Torah begins detailing some of the  “accessories”, the oil for lighting the Menorah, the בגדי כהונה that were worn by the Kohanim and then goes on to describe the inauguration ceremony of the Kohanim. After a lengthy description of all the קרבנות המילואים, the psukkim end by neatly wrapping up the whole story –

וְנֹעַדְתִּי שָׁמָּה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְנִקְדַּשׁ בִּכְבֹדִי. וְקִדַּשְׁתִּי אֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וְאֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְאֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת בָּנָיו אֲקַדֵּשׁ לְכַהֵן לִי. וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם לֵא-לֹקִים. (שמות כט, מג-מה)

Truma/Tetzaveh is a logically ordered package. First the construction, then the accessories, then bringing it all together in the inauguration ceremony and finally the punch line. What a nice, logical ending to the parsha!

But then amazingly, just when you thought that we had reached the finale, the Torah launches into a description of the מזבח הקטורת.

We all knew that there was supposed to be a מזבח הקטורת - right at the beginning of Truma we knew it, because the passuk says - שֶׁמֶן לַמָּאֹר בְּשָׂמִים לְשֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה וְלִקְטֹרֶת הַסַּמִּים (שמות כה, ו). We were patiently waiting for the Torah to tell us about it. The Aron, the Shulchan, the Menorah, the מזבח הקטורת, the four  most important כלים in the Mishkan, right? The Torah talks about the Aron, the Shulchan, it discusses the Menorah and then ……… nada! It skips over the מזבח הקטורת completely! all the way to the end of the whole project, the inauguration ceremony. Then suddenly it is as if the Torah is saying “Ooops, sorry, we forgot about the מזבח הקטורת, so here is a description of it”. It is like when newspapers publish a “correction” notice in the next edition.

Amost all the Rishonim pick up on this, the Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Sforno, etc. and they all give incredible perushim why the מזבח הקטורת was not detailed in parshat Truma. In our shiur today, I would like to develop an additional principle to explain this “strange” phenomenon.

There is a famous מחלוקת between the Ramban and Rashi - when the ציווי to build the Mishkan was given. Was it before the חטא העגל or after? According to the Ramban it was before and according to Rashi it was after. The debate is not simply a matter of chronology, it is a much deeper issue that touches on the raison d'etre of the Mishkan/Mikdash. Did the Mikdash have nothing to do with חטא העגל, but was something that was ordained from the Creation of the world (Ramban), or was it a response to and a remedy for חטא העגל (Rashi)?

In last week’s shiur, in the discussion of the Kruvim, I brought the שיטה of Rabbeinu Bachyei who says that the Kruvim reflect the angels in Heaven and in fact the entire Mishkan/Mikdash in this physical world is a reflection of the מקדש של מעלה that resides in the 4th level in Heaven, זבול. This would seem to corroborate the שיטה of the Ramban.

On the other hand it is undeniable that certain components of the Mikdash were affected by the חטא העגל. One of many examples – the סדר עבודה on Yom Kippur. Before entering the Kodesh Hakodashim, the Kohen Gadol must switch from his golden בגדי כהונה to white ones. Chazal explain why – אין קטגור נעשה סנגור, since the sin of the golden calf is מקטרג on Am Yisrael, you cannot use “gold” לסנגר for Am Yisrael. This correlates with Rashi’s שיטה.

So who is right?

There is a very famous Gemara (Bava Kama 1a) –

ארבעה אבות נזיקים - השור והבור והמבעה וההבער.

There are four “main categories” of punitive damages. 1. Your livestock (ox) causes damage, 2. Your property (pit) causes damage, 3. Your direct actions cause damage (אדם המזיק), 4. Your indirect actions cause damage (a fire lit by you). The entire masechet deals with these categories in detail, the extent of liability, the required remuneration, etc.

The Alsheich Hakadosh and the Ye’arot Dvash give a very interesting perush on this Gemara.  They say that the four categories of נזיקין are parallel to four “cardinal” sins that Am Yisrael have not fully repented for, that whenever the שטן wants to מקטרג, he pulls out one or more of these sins. The שור is referring to the sin of the עגל הזהב (they made a פסל in the shape of an ox). The בור is the sin of מכירת יוסף (the brothers threw Yosef into a pit). The מבעה (a man who directly causes damage) refers to חטא אדם הראשון. The הבער (fire) refers to the חטא המרגלים (which led to destruction and burning of the two Batei Mikdash).

There is a subtle difference between חטא אדם הראשון and the other three. חטא אדם הראשון, according to Chazal, was the “prototype” of all sins and comprised of every sub-type of sin – עבודה זרה, גילוי עריות, שפיכות דמים, שנאת חינם etc. and it occurred before Am Yisrael were a nation. The other three sins מכירת יוסף (שנאת חינם), חטא העגל (עבודה זרה) and חטא המרגלים (לשון הרע) were specific sins and occurred after Am Yisrael were already a nation.

The Mefarshim say that all these four sins are related to the word זה. After the sin of Adam Harishon the passuk says  זה ספר תלדת אדם. In relation to the sin of selling Yosef the psukkim say נסעו מזה and הנה בעל החלמות הלזה בא. In the sin of the golden calf the passuk says זה משה האיש. In the sin of the spies the passuk says וזה פריה. This is why Esther sent Hatach to ask Mordechai מה זה ועל מה זה. Esther wanted to know the root cause - for which of the four sins (זה) the פרענות of Haman had come about (This is a short preview for Purim – next week is Purim Katan).

 So the answer to the question above is – they are both right - the Ramban AND Rashi. The Mishkan and the Mikdash have a dual purpose.

When HKB”H created the world it was preordained that there would be a Mikdash, long before the עגל הזהב. The original purpose of the Mikdash was to provide a residence for HKB”H’s Shechina in this world (see last week’s shiur). However, mankind and Am Yisrael repeatedly sinned and as a result, the Mikdash took on an additional role – to repent for sin, to repair the damage caused by the sins.

This then is the duality of the Mikdash. Each and every component of the Mikdash reflects this duality. Every single structure, vessel, accessory, ritual, etc. in the Mikdash encompasses two elements that address:  1. The original purpose of the Mikdash from Creation (to reflect the מקדש של מעלה in this world) and 2. To repair the damage caused by sin.

To illustrate here are a few examples –

The כרובים reflect the angels in Heaven. If Am Yisrael sin - the כרובים turn away from one another (see last week’s shiur).

The מזבח אבנים is used to bring sacrifices of gratitude to HKB”H and sacrifices to atone for specific sins.

The לחם הפנים teaches the principle of Simcha -  איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו and is also a כפרה for חטא עץ הדעת, (מאיר פנים, פרק טו).

The בגדי כהונה reflect the majesty of the angels in the Heavenly Court. Each garment atones for a specific sin, the Ketonet for שפיכות דמים, the Michnas for גילוי עריות, the Mitznefet for גסות הרוח, the Avnet for הרהור הלב, etc. (ערכין טז, א; זבחים פח, א).

And so on ……..

You can go down the list, one by one (it is enough to fill a book, let alone a shiur) and this motif repeats itself - for every single aspect of the Mikdash.

There is however one component which is special in this regard. While the others each address כפרה for a specific sin, the מזבח הקטורת is מכפר for all four of the “cardinal sins” mentioned above.

The Ketoret atones for חטא עץ הדעת טוב ורע. As the עץ הדעת combined knowledge of good and evil, so does the Ketoret combine sweet smelling spices (צרי, ציפורן, לבונה, מור, קינמון וכו') and foul smelling spices (חלבנה).

The Ketoret atones for מכירת יוסף. It contains eleven ingredients (symbolizing the brothers) and is offered in the Kodesh Hakodashim on Yom Kippur where the smoke cascades down in the form of a cluster of grapes (symbolizing בן פורת יוסף).

The Ketoret atones for חטא העגל. Just as Moshe burnt the עגל and ground it עד אשר דק, similarly the Ketoret is ground finely ושחקת ממנה הדק.

The Ketoret atones for חטא המרגלים. The 10 spies died of a מגפה and the Ketoret atones for a מגפה.

We said however that each component has a dual purpose, atoning for sin (the Ketoret is a “super component” in that regard) and also reflecting the מקדש של מעלה. So in which regard does the Ketoret reflect the מקדש של מעלה?

We find the answer to this question in the Midrash Tanchuma –

"אמר הקב"ה לישראל, מכל הקרבנות שאתם מקריבים לפני אין חביב עלי כקטורת"

"אמר ר' יצחק בן אליעזר: תדע לך, שנעשה המשכן וכל כליו, ושחט את הקרבנות, והקריבו, וערך על המזבח, וסדר את השלחן ואת המנורה, ואת הכל - ולא ירדה שכינה, עד שהקריבו את הקטורת! מנין? דכתיב  'עורי צפון ובואי תימן הפיחי גני יזלו בשמיו יבא דודי לגנו ויאכל פרי מגדיו' (שיר השירים ד, טז)"

(מדרש תנחומא תצוה טו)

The Midrash says that of all the Korbanot, HKB”H’s favorite is the Ketoret.

The proof of this is that after the Mishkan and all its contents were built, the Menorah was lit, the Lechem Hapanim were laid out on the Shulchan, the Kohen was dressed in בגדי כהונה and all the Korbanot of the 7 days of the מילואים inauguration ceremony were brought (The Etz Yosef says, quoting the passuk from Shir Hashirim, עורי צפון was the Korban Olah, slaughtered in the northern part of the Mizbeach,  ובואי תימן was the Korban Shlamim, slaughtered in the southern part of the Mizbeach) …… only after the Ketoret was brought יזלו בשמיו, did HKB”H’s Shechina rest on the Mishkan יבא דודי לגנו ויאכל פרי מגדיו.

Now we understand why the מזבח הקטורת was not described in parshat Truma and why it had to wait until the last stage of the process – after the inauguration ceremony, at the end of parshat Tetzaveh – because it was the completion of the project. It was the final link in the chain that caused the Shechina to come down and rest on the Mishkan. Just like hagbah/gelilah is the conclusion of קריאת התורה and is considered the most important aliyah, so the Ketoret was the “cherry on the top” of the building and inauguration of the Mishkan, because the Ketoret is HKB”H’s favorite Korban and the Shechina does not rest until the Ketoret is brought.

Armed with this knowledge and the fact that the Ketoret is especially powerful in combatting a מגפה (the שטן taught this to Moshe when he went up to Har Sinai to receive the Torah שבת פט, א) - we should all make a special effort in these trying times to be makpid to say פיטום הקטורת slowly and carefully, pronouncing each word correctly, in the korbanot and again before עלנו לשבח in Shacharit and just before אשרי in Mincha. And בזכות זה HKB”H should have mercy on us, remove this plague from our midst and send a breath of fresh air to our world בבי"א.

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