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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Exodus/Shmot - Tetzaveh 101

Reb Yosef - Posted March, 2001
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Sefer (Book)

Shmot (Exodus)

Beginning Perek (Chapter):

Chav-Zayin (27)

Beginning Pasuk (Verse):

Chav (20)

Concluding Perek:

Lamed (30)

Concluding Pasuk:

Yud (10)

Key Points of Parashat Tetzaveh
This Weeks Psukim
The Focus of the Week
Commentary from the Stone Edition Chumash
Commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch
Commentary by Reb Yosef

Key Points of Parashat Tetzaveh:

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This entire Parashah discusses the vestments worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).

Once or twice each year, I will discuss the element of Chumash that first caught my eye, and that is when we read along and, out of the blue, a word is inserted that does not seem at all congruous with the rest of the language. This week's Parashah presents just such an occurrence.

This Week's Psukim - Perek Chav-Tet (29):

  1. You shall make a Breastplate of Judgment of a woven design, like the craftsmanship of the Ephod shall you make it, of gold; turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool; and linen -- twisted together -- shall you make it:

  1. Into the Breastplate of Judgment shall you place the Urim and the Tumim, and they shall be on Aaron's heart when he comes before Hashem; and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the Children of Israel on his heart constantly before Hashem:

Translation by: Art Scroll Stone Edition Chumash.

The Focus of this Week:
Notice the word "Judgment." The Stone Edition Chumash elects to capitalize the word which certainly draws attention to it. The Hebrew is khoshen (khet shin nun sofit) mishpat (mem shin pey tet). What does the breastplate have to do with judgment (mishpat)?

Commentary from the Stone Edition Chumash:
(30) The Urim and the Tumim. As noted above, the Breastplate was folded in half to form a pouch-like pocket. Into it Moses was to insert a slip of parchment containing the Ineffable Name [according to Ramban, there was more than one Name]. This Name was called Urim, from the Hebrew word "or", light, because it would cause individual letters of the tribal names on the Breastplate to light up; and it was called Tumim, from the word for completeness because if read in the proper order, these luminous letters presented complete and true answers to the questions of national import that the Kohen Gadol would ask of God (Rashi from Yoma 73b).

Ramban gives an example of how this process took place. When the Jewish people crossed the Jordan and had to undertake the conquest of the Land, the question arose which tribe should begin the war against the Canaanites. Phineas the Kohen Gadol entered the Tabernacle and posed the question. The name Judah lit up, and also the letters yud-aleph-lamed-hay. The Kohen had to know what this combination of letters represented, because they could be placed in several orders, thus forming different combinations of words. A Divine spirit gave him the wisdom to know that the message of the Urim v'Tumim was [the tribe of] Judah shall go forth [to wage war] (see Judges 1:1-2).

The Vilna Gaon gives a classic interpretation of how the message of the Urim v'Tumim could be misunderstood. When Hannah, the future mother of the prophet Samuel, entered the Tabernacle to pray for a child, the Kohen Gadol Eli saw her unusual demeanor and reckoned her to be a drunkard, rather than a supremely righteous woman (I Samuel 1:13). The Gaon contends that Eli consulted the Urim v'Tumim regarding Hannah, and the letters shin-chav-resh-hay lit up. Instead of reading them correctly as ksherah, a worthy woman, Eli mistakenly read the letters in the wrong order as shikorah, a drunken woman.

Ramban adds that Moses himself wrote this Name [or Names], because only he had the spiritual knowledge and greatness to know what had to be done. This is why the Urim v'Tumim is not mentioned among the vestments and artifacts of the Tabernacle that were made by artisans or contributed by the people.

During the waning years of the First Temple Era, King Josiah realized that Eretz Yisrael would be conquered and, fearing that the most sacred parts of the Temple would fall into profane hands, he removed the Urim v'Tumim from the Breastplate and hid it, and he also hid the Ark containing the Tablets, and the anointment oil. None of them were found during the period of the Second Temple. While their absence denoted a diminished degree of holiness, it did not prevent the performance of the Temple service. It did mean, however, that from that time onward, the Kohen Gadol could not present Israel's urgent questions for God's response.

Commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch:
Rav Hirsch has no commentaries on this particular topic. As you can see, however, the other mefarshim (commentators or commentaries) are extensive.

Commentary by Reb Yosef:
As we can see, that one word, that seems so out of place, has a great deal of meaning and importance in the overall picture. This further illustrates that each word in the Torah is of critical importance. Is it any wonder that God prohibited adding, deleting, or changing a second letter?


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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