|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
תְּצַוֶּה ● Tetzaveh
● Why does G-d emphasize grandeur and pomp in the Avodah of the Kohanim? What is the significance of the gemstone of Binyamin? ●
“Glory, Splendor & the Talking Stone”
The undoubted focal point of Parshas Tetzaveh is the Bigdei Kehunah, the beautifully crafted “Priestly Vestments,” which we have already expounded on. Before getting to the intricacies involved in the making of the Bigdei Kehunah, as was mentioned, the Torah describes their primary purpose; “V’Asisa Vigdei Kodesh L’Aharon Achicha L’Chavod U’L’Sifares”-“And you [Moshe] shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother, for honor [glory] and for splendor.”1 There is deep, symbolic significance behind the many components of the Priestly Vestments, but, apparently, above all else, their function, as described by the Chumash, was to generate “Kavod” and “Tiferes”—“Kavod” referring to some sort of honor or glory, and “Tiferes” commonly translated as splendor or beauty.
Key Terms: “Kavod” & “Tiferes”
So integral is this combination of “Kavod” and “Tiferes” to the Bigdei Kehunah, Chazal saw these expressions as buzzwords being deeply associated with the Bigdei Kehunah and have thus taught that when these words would appear later, in Megilas Esther, they are an allusion to the Priestly Vestments.
In the context of Megilas Esther, the passage is describing King Achashveirosh’s feast at which time he would display his riches before the entire Persian kingdom. The Megilah specifies, “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,”2 which has been interpreted by the Sages to mean that Achashveirosh had the Bigdei Kehunah (which were formerly seized from the Jews by the Babylonians) on display or, possibly that he was even wearing them during his feast.3
Now, regardless of how literally one is meant to understand this tradition, whether Achashveirosh flaunted the actual garments of the Kohanim at his feast or not, Chazal have taken the Megilah’s word choice as a basis for comparison to the Priestly Vestments. The obvious question then is what we’re to make of this teaching. What is the connection between the Bigdei Kehunah that Aharon and his progeny wore in the Mishkan and the “glory” and “splendor” of Achashveirosh’s party? Would we, readers of the story of Esther, be missing something if we didn’t know that Achashveirosh had the Bigdei Kehunah with him? Why is crucial that we notice the cross-reference which the Megilah supposedly has with our Pasuk in Parshas Tetzaveh?
The Gemstone of Binyamin: “Yashfeih”
Continuing with the subject of the Priestly Vestments, the Torah describes the Choshen, the breastplate, which the Kohein Gadol would wear during the Avodah. Contained in the Choshen were what were known as the Avnei Milu’im (lit., Filler Stones) which, as we explained, were twelve gemstones corresponding to the Tribes of the B’nei Yisrael.
Among the Avnei Miluim, the Torah lists one stone called “Yashfeih”4 (translated by many as Jasper) which corresponded to the tribe of Binyamin. Chazal expound on this word “Yashfeih” [ישפה] explaining that it can be read as a compound of the words “Yeish Peh” [פה יש], literally “there is a mouth.”5 This Midrashic teaching interprets the deeper significance of this stone in its connection to Binyamin noting that Binyamin, throughout his life6, was rather quiet; whether during the Sale of Yosef or after Yosef became viceroy of Egypt and Binyamin was framed as the culprit who stole the goblet, we hear not a word from Binyamin. Indeed, the Torah records not a single word from Binyamin himself at any point; but, as per his stone on the Choshen, “Yashfeih”—“Yeish Peh”-“there is a mouth,” the Torah basically alludes to the reality that nonetheless, Binyamin did have a mouth to speak.
“Yeish Peh” or “Ein Peh”?
Now, the sentiment of this Midrash seems somewhat odd. It certainly picks up on the pattern of Binyamin’s unassuming, soft-spoken nature, but it does not explain a whole lot after. It makes an astute observation that Binyamin was quiet and then develops a thesis that is basically opposite the evidence, that apparently, we were wrong—“Yeish Peh,” Binyamin does have a mouth. Now, Binyamin was clearly not a big talker, or at least he refrained from talking. Being that Binyamin was rather voiceless, perhaps “Ein Peh”-“there is no mouth” would have been a more accurate way to allude to his observable nature through the stone on the Choshen. How then are we supposed to understand the Midrashic interpretation of “Yashfeih”? What really is the meaning of “Yeish Peh”-“there is a mouth”?
The Place for Kavod & Tiferes
As was mentioned, the Torah emphasized that the Bigdei Kehunah are characterized by the theme of “Kavod” and “Tiferes,” which on the surface, seems somewhat strange in its own right. Glory and splendor are generally not things we associate with our everyday spiritual pursuits. Attaining such extravagance and majesty is certainly not a Jew’s number one focus in life. A spiritual lifestyle is often associated with humility and modesty. One of the famous qualities which Chazal highlight in the Jews is that they are Baishanim (bashful, timid ones).7 Moshe Rabbeinu, our leader and role model, was known and praised for his Anivus or humility.8 So, how is one supposed to relate to the regal nature of “Kavod” and “Tiferes” in the Bigdei Kehunah?
The answer is profound, but simple. Yes, as human beings striving for spiritual perfection, we’re rightfully steered in the path of modesty and avoid the overly luxurious “extras” in life. We don’t run after our own Kavod nor do we flaunt our Tiferes to the world. But, here, the Torah alludes to the concept that in some exceptional places, the recognition of the grandeur and brilliance of Kavod and Tiferes is in order.
For example, Aharon HaKohein, who would be working in the Mishkan where Hashem’s Presence “dwells,” performing holy Avodos on behalf of the nation and at times entering the Kodesh HaKadashim, the Holy of Holies, would have to gain a sense of appreciation and awe for the grandeur and regality involved in the work he was engaging in. He had to feel the weight of Kavod and Tiferes in his role as he served before Hashem, the King of kings. In reality, the Priestly Garments were not there for Aharon’s personal esteem, but for the esteem of his office and mission which stood purely for the sake of Heaven. It was his particular situation that called for a personal recognition of Kavod and Tiferes. The function of this pair, Kavod and Tiferes, certainly ends up being a humbling concept when taken in this light.
Bigdei Kehunah Corrupted
Now what does any of this have to do with Achashveirosh? What did Chazal emphasize the word connection of “Kavod” and “Tiferes” between our Sidrah and the Megilah? The idea behind the wordplay, as often is the case throughout Tanach, is for the perceptive individuals to catch the “code words” which link the texts and allow one to learn both passages in light of one another, many times for purposes of comparison, and in turn, for purposes of contrast as well. And here, our Tanach is drawing a stark contrast. The Kavod and Tiferes that Aharon was mandated to wear on his sleeve (pardon the pun) was a statement about the grandeur of his role in the Mikdash. It was a selfless glorification of G-d which Aharon and his progeny wore respectfully as they entered G-d’s private inner chambers.
Achashveirosh, on the other hand, paraded his own glory and flaunted his own splendor to the world. Whether or not it was the actual Bigdei Kehunah, the Megilah stresses that it was “K’vod Malchuso”-“the glory of his [own] kingdom”2 and “Tiferes Gedulaso”-“the splendor of his [own] greatness”2—that it was all about Achashveirosh and his own intrinsic value and self-aggrandizement. On Achashveirosh, the Bigdei Kehunah would, as it were, proclaim: “Look at me and my glorious kingdom!”
Thus, the concepts of glory and splendor, which only truly belong to G-d as symbolized by the Bigdei Kehunah, Achashveirosh simply stripped bare of meaning as he brazenly turned them into his own cloaks of honor as if they reflect his inherent worth. The objects of G-d’s grandeur which should leave all humbled became objects of man’s self-glorification. It is this audacious corruption of G-d’s conception of true honor and beauty that lays the groundwork for many key features in the story of Esther.9
The irony is that, assuming Achashveirosh was dressed in the clothes of the Kohein Gadol, he would have been wearing a golden plate on his forehead which read “Kodesh LaHashem”-“Holy to Hashem”10—a line clearly designed to highlight Hashem’s honor! Despite the word and glory of G-d inscribed on his forehead, Achashveirosh could only see his own glory, thus he sapped the Bigdei Kehunah of their original purpose and usurped Hashem’s due honor.
This first idea provides a simple, yet profound lesson concerning the forces G-d has placed in this world, such as glory and splendor, how they can be expressions of such holiness and, at the same time, be abused and misrepresented by an animalistic, crude worldview. But of course, we’re not finished.
The Trait of Binyamin: Shtikah
We challenged the Midrashic interpretation of the gemstone of Binyamin, “Yashfeih.” “Yeish Peh”-“there is a mouth” does not seem to describe the silent Binyamin with whom we’ve become familiar. What is interesting to note is that the “Midas HaShtikah,” or the attribute of silence and seeming passivity of Binyamin is not only an observable quality in his personal lifetime alone, but as Chazal highlight, the same trait is a part of his tribe’s DNA, as the same quiet pattern would continue to manifest itself throughout the lives of his progeny too.11
In the times of the Shoftim12, when a lowly mob of individuals from the tribe of Binyamin abused and killed the Pilegesh (concubine) at Give’ah, the rest of the tribe was silent while the other tribes of the B’nei Yisrael were outraged (and the seeming indifference in the tribe of Binyamin was the cause of a “civil war” within Israel). Obviously, in this case, the silence was manifest in a negative way.
Shaul HaMelech, the first king of Israel, was originally known for his incredible humility—he was the greatest man of his time13, yet he was unassuming, reserved and modest.14 When the lowlifes of the nation ridiculed him following his inauguration, the Navi testifies that Shaul was completely silent15 and even let it go.15 But, like in the story of the Pilegesh B’Give’ah, the passivity and timidity of this Ish Yemini (Benjaminite) did not always serve to his advantage. Rather than listening to Shmuel and waiting for his arrival before bringing the offerings after the war with the Plishtim16, Shaul allowed the pressure of the nation overpower his kingship.17 And of course, when it mattered most to assert his role over the nation and to voice the command of G-d, he meekly allowed the people to convince him to have pity on Agag the Amaleikite king and was ultimately stripped of his kingship for it.18
Of course, as is known, Agag would be the predecessor of Haman HaRasha, responsible for the genocidal decree against the Jews in none other than Megilas Esther. Esther would follow the pattern of her tribal ancestry, Binyamin, according to the command of Mordechai, as the Megilah describes how upon being chosen by Achashveirosh to be the queen, she too was quiet and passive, hiding her Jewish identity.19
This exploration into the tribal DNA of Binyamin is fascinating, but how does all of the above explain the basis for Midrash’s explanation of Binyamin’s stone of “Yashfeih”?
The Legacy of Binyamin: “Yeish Peh”
Indeed, the nature of Binyamin is undoubtedly silence and timidity. But perhaps the Midrashic reading of “Yashfeih” is teaching a most crucial lesson about this quality and about the larger destiny of Binyamin. This quality of silence and timidity, at times, is clearly praiseworthy, yet in many other scenarios, we have found that it is actually destructive and against the will of G-d. In various circumstances, there is an absolute need to break one’s nature, to step out of one’s comfort zone, and to actualize “Yeish Peh”-“there is a mouth,” and just speak up.
While no one doubts that submissiveness and modesty can be positive qualities, the sixty-four thousand dollar question as to when to actualize these qualities and when not can be answered by our old lesson from the Bigdei Kehunah. It is all determined by the situation and the role one is playing. Indeed, when it’s all about one’s own dignity and esteem, we do not follow the arrogant tyrant Achashveirosh and flaunt what we have. We do not assert “K’vod Malchuso…Tiferes Gedulaso”2—our own brilliance to the world. But when it’s about serving Hashem and fulfilling Ratzon Hashem, when it comes to entering the Mikdash, we must embrace and assert to ourselves the loftiness—the glory and splendor—of what we are doing, the office we hold. We follow the example of Aharon HaKohein. We do not downplay Hashem’s Kavod and Tiferes, but we wear it prominently and with respect. Similarly, we do not stand idly by, passively and indifferently, when it comes at the expense of disgracing Hashem or endangering Hashem’s people.
Mordechai & Esther: Time to Speak Up
Thus, although Binyamin spent a lifetime of being quiet and passive, sometimes for good measure and other times not, when push would come to shove and Haman had decreed a holocaust against the Jews, Mordechai looked Esther in the eyes, as it were, and told her like it is, “Ki Im Hachareish Tacharishi Ba’Eis HaZos Revach V’Hatzalah Ya’amod LaYehudim MiMakom Acheir V’At U’Veis Avich Toveidu! U’Mi Yodei’a Im L’Eis KaZos Higa’at LaMalchus?!”-“For if you shall surely remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will arise for the Jews from another place, while you and your father’s household will be lost! And who knows if for a time like this, you have reached [achieved] to kingship [royal status]?!”20
In this message, Mordechai conveys to Esther that her ancestry is on the line, because regardless of the mistakes made by her predecessors of the tribe of Binyamin in the past, she, at that moment, could revive everything by doing the opposite her nature (actualizing “V’Nahafoch Hu”21 as it were) and by actualizing Binyamin’s gemstone of “Yeish Peh”-“there is a mouth.” She could right every wrong by breaking the silence, revealing her identity to Achashveirosh, and calling off the decree. Her role as queen, asserted Mordechai, was G-d’s appointment for her to act immediately. And when she stepped out from behind her curtain and assertively fulfilled her role in wiping out the evil of Amaleik, she succeeded in that mission. Like Aharon in the Mishkan, she was wearing the Bigadim of Hashem which required her to appreciate the gravity of her Avodah, her larger role for Klal Yisrael.
In the end, while we, as Jews, are urged to be timid and humble by nature, it is vital to remember that every measure we take must necessarily consider, first and foremost, the will of G-d and the needs of His people. While we’re often encouraged to keep quiet, sometimes, we’re required to don our own Bigdei Kehunah and relate the Kavod and Tiferes of Hashem. Sometimes, we need to heed Binyamin’s stone on the Choshen and speak up. Sometimes, that which is secret is meant to be revealed. Sometimes, matters are larger than us as individuals and we have to look at the greater Klal Yisrael. In so doing, with G-d’s help, Mordechai and Esther were able to bring about that which the Megilah describes, “LaYehudim Hayisa Orah V’Simchah V’Sason Vikar”-“For the Jews there was light and happiness, and gladness and honor.”22 Indeed, with G-d’s help, we’ll make our own move and “Kein Tihiyeh Lanu”-“So, it shall be for us!”23
May we all be Zocheh to shine the glory and splendor of Hashem, speak up and assert ourselves in accordance with Hashem’s Ratzon, and just as “LaYehudim Hayisa Orah V’Simchah V’Sason V’Ikar,” indeed, Kein Tihiyeh Lanu—it should ultimately be for us as Hashem reveals the Geulah with coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Zachor & a Freilichin Purim!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Shemos 28:2
- Esther 1:4
- Megilah 12A
- Shemos 28:20
- Midrash HaGadol
- From Bereishis 35-50
- Yevamos 79A
- B’Midbar 12:3
- Indeed, the concept of glory is a prominent motif throughout the Megilah as can be seen also with regard to Vashti [Esther 1:9-12], Haman [Ibid. 6:6-9], Mordechai [6:3, 10-11, 8:15, 9:4] and the Jews [8:16].
- Shemos 28:36
- Megilah 13B
- Shoftim 19-20
- Shmuel Aleph 9:2
- Ch. 15
- Esther 2:10
- 4:14; the idea of “and it was flipped over/reversed” is the icon and basis for many contemporary festivities in the month of Purim.
- The Havdalah Service