Friday, March 06, 2009

Parshat T'tzaveh - פרשת תצוה

Parshat T'tzaveh continues where T'rumah left off, detailing more specifics of the items to be used in the Mishkan. Most of the Parsha deals exclusively with the Kohanim and their vestments, but the first two P'sukim of the Parsha deal specifically with the Ner Tamid - the "Continual light."

"ואתה תצוה את בני ישראל ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך כתית למאור להעלות נר תמיד - Now you shall command Bnei Yisrael that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually." (כז:כא)

The word Tamid causes quite some debate, though. Whereas the concept of something being "continual" might seem rather simple, the various interpretations of this basic word can have deep ramifications.

Rashi comments here on the the word תמיד, saying that "כל לילה ולילה קרוי תמיד - Each night is called 'Tamid.'" According to Rashi, the Ner Tamid was light nightly, and lasted till the following morning, a view supported by a straightforward translation of the text. Rashi hold that something that happens at regular, discrete intervals is enough to be called constant. Continual but not continuous, if you will.

The Ramban disagrees. He is of the opinion that while the Ner Tamid was lit nightly, it did not go out in the morning, but rather lasted till the following evening. As such, the Ramban's definition of Tamid is something that happens at discrete intervals, but lasts until the next interval. We can say that it is a continual occurence that lasts continuously. (If that definition seems hard to grasp, read on and then return - it should be easier to understand at the end.)

Later on in our Parsha, the Torah describes the ציץ הזהב - the golden band that the כהן גדול would wear on his forehead. "והיה על-מצח אהרן ונשא אהרן את-עון הקדשים אשר יקדישו בני ישראל לכל מתנות קדשיהם והיה על-מצחו תמיד לרצון להם לפני ה - It shall be on Aharon's forehead so that Aharon shall bring forgiveness for a sin regarding the sacred offerings that the Bnei Yisrael consecrate for any gifts of their sacred offerings; and it shall be on his forehead always, to bring them favour before Hashem."

Inscribed upon the ציץ הזהב were the words, " 'קודש לה - Holy to Hashem." These words were meant to underline our commitment to dedicate our lives to to Avodat Tamid, to Avodat Hashem. The Pasuk above says that the ציץ was on Aharon's forehead always, but this could not be the case - as Rashi points out, he only wore it while he was doing the Avodah - the work of the Bet Hamikdash. There were times when it had to be removed so it could not have been there always in a physical sense. Rashi holds that he was required to touch it on occasion, so that his mind would not wander from the holy tasks he was performing.

There are other opinions though - that even when not wearing it, Aharon had to be aware of his function as the Kohen Gadol. Another view, (I think it's that of the Ramban,) holds that the whole time that the ציץ was on Aharon's head, he had to keep his mind very much on it's presence there, ensuring constant awareness to it's Kedushah.

The Rama, in his opening comment on the Shulchan Aruch, famously quotes the Pasuk, "(שוויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד. (תהילים ט"ז:ח" The first thing that the Rama teaches us is to place Hashem before us תמיד. Once again, this pasuk seems simple enough - but do we really understand it?

Is it enough to have serve Hashem at discrete intervals, praying 3 times a day, saying brachot before and after food, and learning Torah at fixed times? Is that what the Rama means by Tamid? It certainly abides by Rashi's definition in our Parsha. But it is a minimal level, and doesn't really do justice to the Jewish concept of sanctifying the mundane. One can fulfill all these obligations, but sink to low levels in between.

So we have a level higher than this, the level of performing our duties and in between maintaining our level of Kedushah. And then we have the highest level, the level of constant awareness, the level at which the Ramban claims that the Kohen Gadol had to be at, the level at which one constantly reminds himself of the task before him, that one constantly and continuously places Hashem before himself - that he doesn't let himself forget for even a second what his task is in this world. Of course, this is a very high level, but it is one we must strive for.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

- This week's D'var Torah derives from a shiur I heard last year by R' Djanogly of Hendon.

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