This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta, and my great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Aharon Ben Fruma
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
תְּצַוֶּה ~ Tetzaveh
🙂 פּוּרִים ~ Purim 🙂
“Loyal & Royal Subjects”
In Tetzaveh, the second Parshah of the Torah’s Mishkan series, we continue the discussion of the holy vessels and vestments that were critical for the services performed in the Mishkan. In truth though, the Torah doesn’t really discuss the holy vessels that much. Most of the Keilim (vessels) were either discussed in Parshas Terumah, or will be discussed in Parshas Ki Sisa. The only vessel of the Heichal (Sanctuary) that is discussed in this Sidrah is the Mizbei’ach HaZahav, the Golden Altar which the Kohein would offer the Ketores, or the incense offering on. Now, why would this vessel be isolated from the rest of them, being only the one mentioned here at the end of Tetzaveh?
A simple approach to answering this question would be to look around at the rest of the Sidrah to see what it has in common with whatever else is discussed here. So, Tetzaveh discusses the oil for the Menorah which the Kohein (Priest) would light. The Bigdei Kehunah, the clothes of the Kohanim, are also discussed at great length in this Sidrah. This Sidrah also features Yimei Milu’im, the Days of Inauguration of the Kohanim and the procedures for the rituals performed for the inauguration. Clearly, the theme is Kehunah, Priesthood. Thus, we might arrive at the scholarly conclusion that the Mizbei’ach also highlights the theme of Kehunah. Indeed, it makes sense as only the Kohein could offer the incense upon it, and he would do so every single day.
In fact, Rashi very explicitly associates the Mizbei’ach HaZahav with Kehunah when discussing the “Zeir Zahav,” the golden diadem or crown-like ornament which surrounded the its edges. Actually, a few of the Keilim in the Mishkan featured such a design; the Aron HaKodesh (Golden Ark) [25:11], the Shulchan (Table) [25:24], and the object of our discussion, the Mizbei’ach HaZahav (Golden Altar) [30:3].
Citing the Gemara in Yoma [72B], Rashi explains the symbolism of each of these crowns; the Zeir of the Aron, he writes, represents the Kesser Torah, the Crown of Torah or Torah study [See also Shemos Rabbah 34:2] as it housed the Luchos. This crown is “worn” by a Talmid Chacham, a Torah scholar. The Zeir on the Shulchan represents the Kesser Malchus, the Crown of Kingship or material sovereignty, as it serviced the twelve loaves of Lechem HaPanim, Showbread. And finally, that of the Mizbei’ach HaZahav represents the Kesser Kehunah, the Crown of Priesthood or spiritual leadership [Rashi to 30:3, Yoma 72B], as only the Kohanim (Priests) would offer the Ketores before Hashem upon it.
Now, although Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah, labels these crowns as such based on the teaching in the Gemara in Yoma, in his commentary to Pirkei Avos [4:12 or 4:13, depending on one’s version of the breakdown of the Mishnayos], Rashi strangely labels them differently, suggesting that the crown on the Shulchan actually represents the Kesser Kehunah, and that the crown on the Mizbei’ach actually represents the Kesser Malchus. He reasons that the Shulchan symbolizes Kehunah because only the Kohanim may eat from the Lechem HaPanim that is displayed on it, and that the Mizbei’ach symbolizes Malchus because the B’nei Yisrael are subjected to the Altar, turning to it constantly to bring offerings.
Now, one technical issue one might note is that the reason Rashi suggests for the crown of the Mizbe’ach representing Malchus is problematic, because, as we’ve mentioned, it was the incense, not the animal offerings of the nation, which was offered on it. It was on the Mizbei’ach HaNechoshes, the Copper Altar, not the Golden Altar, that the peoples’ animal offerings would be offered. As for this point, per force, Rashi in Avos must have understood the two Altars as really representing one overarching concept—two sides of the same coin—that the B’nei Yisrael depend on each of the Altars and the Avodos (services) that are performed upon them. In this vein, even the Golden Altar is just as equally associated with serving the ritual needs of the nation.
But clearly, there is a much larger issue here. First of all, Rashi in Avos apparently contradicts what he wrote in his commentary on the Torah. But not only does Rashi contradict himself, but, as was mentioned, that which he cited in his commentary to the Torah was really a statement from the Gemara, so Rashi is really veering from the authoritative view of Chazzal. Maybe, one might suggest that Rashi’s comments to Avos were his own, though it is still difficult, seeing as it is uncharacteristic of Rashi to do that. So, why did Rashi suggest an alternative approach?
The Rokei’ach [Ma’aseh Mishkan 12] resolves the contradiction in Rashi’s comments by noting an apparent dispute between the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi concerning the ranking of Malchus versus Kehunah, the Bavli implying that Malchus is more significant, and the Yerushalmi implying that Kehunah is more significant [See Bavli in Sotah 40B, Tosafos there who cite Yerushalmi in Pesachim 5:10]. The Rokei’ach argues that this dispute is relevant because, since the Shulchan was mentioned in the Torah before the Mizbei’ach was, and since it was situated further in the Mishkan than the Mizbei’ach was, it is presumed to be holier and more significant, thus the crown on the Shulchan necessarily represents the “greater” of the two titles—Malchus or Kehunah, depending on which Gemara one is holding by. As such, it would appear that Rashi, in his commentary to Avos, is appealing to this other opinion presented in the Yerushalmi, that Kehunah is greater, and so, the Shulchan must represent Kehunah. (That which Rashi cites from the Gemara in Yoma would then align consistently with the position of the Bavli that Malchus is greater.)
This suggestion is certainly an answer, but perhaps not as great as the question. Indeed, there is still a question as to why Rashi would go out of his way to suggest this alternative opinion to that of the Bavli at all. What did Rashi mean to convey when he reversed the symbolic roles of the Shulchan and the Mizbei’ach?
Aside from the issue revolving the contradiction in Rashi, the idea that the crown on the Mizbei’ach represents Malchus is troubling for another reason. As we discussed earlier, the entire Parshas Tetzaveh overwhelmingly features a recurring theme, and the theme was undoubtedly Kehunah. The oil for the Menorah, the Bigdei Kehunah, and the Yimei Milu’im all highlight Kehunah. And finally, we come to the Mizbei’ach HaZahav, used for the Ketores, the incense offering which only Kohanim performed, and now, Rashi in Avos means to tell us that this Altar does not also symbolize Kehunah, but rather something else?! We argued, on the contrary, that since the Torah has clearly made a point to isolate the Mizbei’ach HaZahav from the rest of the vessels in the Heichal of the Mishkan, we should logically assume that this Altar, like everything else in Tetzaveh, is all about Kehunah! How then could we challenge that and suggest that the Mizbei’ach represents Malchus?
We could answer both of the above questions by looking at the implications of Rashi’s comments on our Sidrah and in Pirkei Avos together. Yes, on the surface, there is a contradiction, but what is apparent is that the Shulchan and the Mizbei’ach each have can be viewed as having aspects of both Malchus and Kehunah. That might tell us that in some ways, there is convergence, or overlap, between Malchus and Kehunah. In other words, there is, or should be, an element of Kehunah in Malchus, and vice versa, an element of Malchus in Kehunah. But, what exactly does that mean?
Well, what exactly does it mean to be a Kohein or a Melech? What is the difference between the two? They do share some things in common, for example both are important leadership roles, although the Kohein has more of a spiritual leadership while the Melech has material leadership. The Kohein provides the spiritual needs of the nation while the Melech provides the material needs. However, another major point in which the Kohein and the Melech differ is that, if one thinks about it, while the Melech is a monarch and a ruler, the Kohein is a minister, or a loyal subject. The Melech is a powerful individual, served and honored by the people. His essence is Kavod, or honor—and he cannot forgo his own honor. On the contrary, the Kohein lives to zealously serve the people and Hashem. His essence is Avodah, service—constant work.
All of the above is a simplified rundown of the respective roles of the Kohein and the Melech. But again, what we might suggest is that despite their differences, perhaps there is this convergence between the Kohein and the Melech, that maybe, in some ways, the Kohein must be like a Melech, and vice versa, the Melech must be like a Kohein. How so?
Take the Bigdei Kehunah for example. The Torah says the purpose of the garments of the Kohein is for “Kavod” and “Tiferes,” “glory” or “honor” and “splendor” for lack of better terms [Shemos 28:2]. Kavod and Tiferes, whatever they mean literally, are not humble sounding concepts. They are royal concepts. While the Kohanim are loyal subjects, they are also royal subjects, and as such, they were to be decked in these beautiful garments, especially the Kohein Gadol whose garments included gold, various gemstones, precious fabrics, and other majestic materials. Moreover, the Shulchan, whether it represents Malchus or Kehunah, was something that only the Kohanim could eat from. And similarly, the Mizbei’ach, whether a symbol of Malchus or Kehunah, was the center of a holy Avodah that only the Kohein could perform. Either way you slice it, the Kohein is involved in something that is pristine and regal. Now, the Kohein is constantly awed by the majesty of G-d, and as such, he is always naturally conscious of the fact that he is a humble subject. Yet, he is ascribed majesty as well, because, although he is, in fact, a subject, he must remember that he is also royalty.
In this light, it is not so problematic that the Mizbei’ach might symbolize kingship even in a Sidrah full of references to priesthood. An apparently integral part of Kehunah is understanding the element of Malchus that also exists within it.
Now, how about the Melech? Certainly, he is the figure of majesty and honor. After all, he is the king. But, if one looks at Parshas Shoftim [Devarim 17:14-20], where the Torah teaches the laws of the king, he is, in many ways limited. For example, he is not to have too much money, too many wives, or too many horses. Moreover, he must write his own Sefer Torah so that the awe of Hashem is upon him. The most telling limitation which the Torah specifies is that he must not be haughty over his brethren. It’s ironic because the Melech is the center of grandeur. Yet, as a servant of G-d, he has to be reminded that he is just that, like a Kohein, a servant of G-d, a minister and a subject.
Thus, with all of the above, we could suggest that both aspects, honor and humility, need to be present in both the Kohein and Melech, as each are to be royal and loyal subjects.
With this understanding of the dual roles of the Kohein and the Melech in mind, that which Chazzal say about King Achashveirosh’s presentation at his party becomes more significant. The Megillah specifies [Esther 1:4], “B’Haroso Es Osher K’vod Malchuso V’Es Y’kar Tiferes Gedulaso”-“When he [Achashveirosh] was showing [off] riches, the honor [glory] of his kingship, and the preciousness of the splendor of his greatness.” Chazzal noted that the familiar code words, “Kavod” and “Tiferes” in this verse, echoed from our Sidrah, allude to the idea that, at his feast, Achashveirosh was actually wearing the Bigdei Kehunah (which were formerly seized from the Jews by the Babylonians) [Megillah 12A].
Aside from the obvious disgrace and insult to the holy vestments, Achashveirosh’s exploitation of the Bigdei Kehunah demonstrates the perversion and corruption of the original purpose of the garments. For as we’ve explained them, the Bigdei Kehunah served to remind the loyal Kohanim that despite the fact that they were subjects, they were carrying honor with their Avodah—to remind them that as they did Hashem’s work, they were royalty. Achashveirosh, on the other hand, was not involved in any holy Avodah, but he was drunk with power and personal grandeur every bit as he was with wine. He was an insecure and egotistical king who certainly didn’t require reminders of his position, yet he took these same garments to boost his own esteem and further his own honor.
On the contrary, while Esther wore the crown of Malchus, she never saw herself as a queen over her brethren, but rather as a humble pawn in G-d’s masterplan. She remained modestly undercover until the B’nei Yisrael needed the power of her honor. Then, it was Hashem’s honor she was fighting for, and as such, her “brazen” entry into Achashveirosh’s inner chamber was like the Kohein Gadol’s entry before Hashem in the Kodesh HaKadashim (Holy of Holies).
As Hashem’s Mamleches Kohanim, His Kingdom of Priests, we too constantly have this dual role. We must carry ourselves with both honor and humility, and know when each of these auras requires more emphasis. When we do so, we will be able to successfully wear both the crowns of Malchus and Kehunah and serve as Hashem’s loyal and royal subjects.
May we all be Zocheh to serve Hashem with both the crowns of Kehunah and Malchus, be His princely subjects, wear Hashem’s honor on our sleeves, and Hashem should fight for our honor and welfare once again with the coming of the Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos and a Gut/Freilichin Purim!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂