Parashat Tetzaveh & Purim: Among the Nations

hero image

Part I: Parashat Tetzaveh 5767

Our parsha discusses the kohanic garments. The “rank and file” kohanim wore four garments – pants, shirt, sash and turban – and the Kohen Gadol wore the above with an additional four garments.

After donning the pants and shirt, the next garment was the avnet, which was a sash 32 amot long (16 meters) and three fingerbreadths wide which was wrapped around the kohen’s waist.

The gemara in Yoma 5b brings up an apparent contradiction in the verses regarding the order of donning the avnet when Aharon and his four sons were installed for the first time as kohanim.

When a rabbi questioned the necessity of dealing with the matter, since it was a one time historical incident, another rabbi replied that it was necessary to know for the future when resurrection would occur and the kohanim will have to be re-installed.

To this the questioner responded that when that time comes, Aharon and Moshe will guide us in the proper order.

The necessity of knowing the order of the donning is vindicated by the gemara by the necessity of resolving the contradiction in the verses, which is per se important, as follows:

All agree that Aharon and his sons donned the garments up to but not including the avnet, with the avnet becoming the subject of discussion.

A verse in Vayikra 8 states that Aharon donned the avnet thereby completing his transformation into the Kohen Gadol, and after him his sons completed donning their avnets. But a verse in Shemot 29 states that Aharon and his sons donned the garments at the same time, including the avnet.

Now, one might ask: Apart from the academic necessity to resolve the contradiction between the verses, are their any implications for us in the manner the garments were donned for the first time in history?

I suggest the following:

A root question exists regarding the status of the Kohen Gadol: Is the Kohen Gadol first among equals, as in the case of a president of a democracy, who is Mr. Citizen number one, but not above the law; or is the Kohen Gadol the initial repository of all kohanic sanctity, which then flows from him to the other kohanim?

Korach saw Moshe Rabbeinu as Mr. Citizen number one, when he claimed “kulanu kedoshim” – we (the Jewish nation, are all holy) so you have no right to randomly appoint whomever you wish without consulting the community.

But Hashem viewed Moshe as being existentially above all others, when He chastised Aharon and Miriam for criticizing Moshe, saying that Moshe is different from all other prophets in that Hashem speaks to him “panim el panim” (face to face) not in a dream or at night, but as one speaks to a peer.

If indeed, Aharon and all the succeeding Kohanim Gedolim were the repositories of kohanic sanctity which then flows from each of them to his fellow kohanim, there are radical implications during the time between the death of a Kohen Gadol and the appointment of a successor, which would not be the case if the kehuna is communal with the Kohen Gadol serving as its “president.”

A similar halachic-philosophic inquiry can be raised with regard to the essence of the Jewish nation as God’s “Chosen People”: Is our selection to be taken as first among equals within the family of man, or is the Jewish nation in a quantum status of its own, apart from all other nations. And it is we who serve as the repository of the shechina (holy spirit) which flows from us to the other six billion human creatures on this earth?

I have not found definitive proof for any one side within our classical halachic literature.

So how are we to deal with these two possibilities?

I suggest that both are correct, depending upon one’s own choice of behavior.

The Jewish nation is always God’s chosen nation. But for those who choose to live among the nations, where we speak their language, dress like them, revel in their jokes and admire their sports heroes, recite their national anthems, pledge loyalty of citizenship, serve in their armies, are subservient to their laws (dina demalchuta dina) and eventually marry into them, we are “first” among equals.

Whereas, Jews who live in the land decreed by Hashem to be the Jewish place on this planet, who speak the language of the Torah, breath the air of Eretz Yisrael, tread on the ground where prophets and princes once trod, eat of the sanctified fruits after removing the tithes, serve in the army protecting the holy land, view the Temple Mount with impatient hopes to soon enter the holy Temple, learn the Torah and keep it’s mitzvot which were given to be kept in Eretz Yisrael (Ramban, Vayikra 18,25); they are the direct repository of the Shechina. Not first among equals, but as Hashem said speaking from the mouth of Bilam, Bamidbar 23:9 “For from its origins, I see it rock-like, and from hills do I see it. Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.”

Part Two: Purim 5767

The near tragic events of the Megillah were a direct result of our near total assimilation into Persian society, as reflected by our masochistic willingness to partake in Achashverosh’s dinner served on vessels taken from the Bet Hamikdash.

At the end of the episode, the monarch following Achashverosh was Daryavesh the second, Darius II, who according to chazal was Esther’s son. It was he who reinstated King Cyrus’ charter permitting the rebuilding of the Bet HaMikdash.

After this turn of events, Ezra the Scribe announced his intention to return to Eretz Yisrael and pick up our nation’s history from the point it was so terribly disrupted by the exile. Ezra succeeded in bringing with him the “impressive” number of approximately 42,000 people. The remainder were quite comfortable and remained in their homes in galut.

We shall return to this later.

In the tractate Yoma 29a it states that “Esther is the end of miracles.” The gemara asks, “Chanuka is certainly a miracle and it occurred after Purim?” The answer given is that the military victories over the Greeks and Hellenists and the phenomena of the oil were undoubtedly miracles. What chazal meant was that Esther was the last miracle to be recorded as one of the accepted books of the Tanach.

From here we see that to be recorded in the Tanach has special significance beyond the fact of being a miracle.

The gemara in Megilla 7a relates that Esther requested the rabbis to include her episode in the Tanach. They were reluctant to do so; but after an extended debate, Esther convinced them of the justice of her request. Again we see the importance of being recorded as a recognized book on the Tanach.

What makes this so important and what are the criteria which justify an event’s, or a period’s, inclusion in the Tanach?

I would suggest the following explanation:

The gemara in Megilla 14a states that the number of people who were granted prophecy was twice the number of Jews who left Egypt. But out of the untold millions of conversation with God of those 1,200,000 prophets through the ages, only those prophecies relevant for their contemporary time and for the future were recorded in the Tanach.

Esther argued before the rabbis that the events which transpired at that time deserve to be recorded in the Tanach because the episode of Persia would have significance for future times. The rabbis initially claimed that as great as the miracle of Purim was, it was local in time and place and had no future significance. After debating the issue, the rabbis accepted Ester’s claim that she merited a place in the Tanach.

The “future” which was predicted by Ester has now arrived. We are witnessing the prophesy of Esther that history would repeat itself.

The bitterest enemy of the Jewish nation today is Iran, which is modern Persia. They have built a mighty war machine, soon, if not already, containing weapons of mass destruction, aimed at the destruction of the Jewish state and eventually the annihilation of all Jews – men women and children. Preferably all in one day.

And again we raise our eyes to heaven and question Hashem, “Why?”

And the answer is: return to the Megillah and learn what brought about the near tragic events of that time.

Our ancestors were proud to have been invited to the king’s feast. It was a sign that they had been accepted into Persian society, no longer considered “exiles” or immigrants. And as an act of reciprocation, the Jews of Persia sipped their “yayin nesech” from the golden chalices of the Bet Hamikdash, now lying in ruins.

Dear friends. Look around. The Temple Mount is in ruins. The foxes of Rabbi Akiva’s time freely enter the Holy of Holies, while we, at best, view the scene from afar while murmuring under our breath “tu tu”, lest we sound extremist or, G-d Forbid, as Jewish fundamentalists.

Our leaders are proud to be invited to the seats of power in Washington, knowing full well that the United States does not recognize Yerushalayim as the capital of our land, nor do they recognize the borders of Eretz Yisrael since 1967. The Jews are so comfortable in their homes in the galut. Not only in the United States but also in their newly found Gan Edens of Australia and Germany.

The setting is, G-d forbid, ripe for the rise of a modern Haman. It will not be limited to Persia-Iran, but will surpass the 127 lands of ancient times and spread its poison to the 190 countries which constitute the United Nations.

There is no antidote for the sickness called anti-semitism. The only way is to inoculate oneself from its fatal effects by following the words of our Torah and prophets and return home to Eretz Yisrael. Here and only here, we shall restore the grandeur of a Torah centered society and bring peace and meaning to our lives.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.