Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch
Kohen – First Aliya – 14 p’sukim – 27:20-28:12
Moshe (his name conspicuously missing from this sedra) is told by G-d to command the people to take pure olive oil in order to light the Menora’s lamps. The Menora, to be located in the main section of the Mishkan, outside the Parochet, shall be tended and kindled on a daily basis . The lights shall shine from evening until morning, this being a perpetual law throughout the generations.[SDT] The People of Israel are likened to the Olive – just as the olive shows its greatness (its oil) only after being crushed and squeezed, so too does Israel show its special qualities after being subjected to the trials and tribulations of Jewish History. And Israel is compared to the oil of the olive – just as oil does not mix with other liquids, but rather floats above them, so too the Nation of Israel does not (should not) mix with the other nations of the world. And if we remain faithful to G-d, we will rise above the nations (or pretend-nations) who seek to hurt us.
Moshe is next told to bring Aharon and his sons “front and center” to serve G-d as Kohanim. Special garments are to be made for the Kohen Gadol’s glory and honor .[Some say that glory and honor refer to G-d’s and the People’s, not (just) the Kohen Gadol’s.]
Talented artisans are to do the work. The garments are: the Choshen (Breastplate), the Eifod (decorative apron or cloak), Me’il (robe or poncho), Kutonet (linen tunic), Mitznefet (turban), and the Avneit (belt or sash).[Note: the Tzitz (forehead plate) and Michnasayim (short pants worn under the Kutonet) are among the garments but are not mentioned at this point in the Torah. This can be explained. The pants are for modesty, not glory and honor. And, perhaps, the Tzitz is for G-d’s honor and to humble the Kohen Gadol, so it too isn’t part of the list of the garments that are for the K.G.’s honor and glory.]
The artisans were to take the gold, dyed wools, and linen (for the purpose of making the garments).[SDT] There are different meanings to the Torah’s phrase “for honor and splendor”. Ramban gives it a straightforward meaning – that the garments of the Kohen Gadol were for his glory. They were royal garments befitting the position of the Kohen Gadol, who was like royalty. With his special garments, the Kohen Gadol projected a perfect image. The garments helped present the Kohen Gadol to the People with great and appropriate dignity. This would help the People understand and relate to the Kohen Gadol as the vehicle of the Divine Presence among them.
On a different level, we can say that the objects of glory were G-d and the People themselves. When the Kohen Gadol wore his special garments, and the people see him in his splendor, then there is an increase in honor to G-d. The special garments also increase our awareness of the Sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash, and we are inspired to repent.
“Clothes make the man.” In the context of the Beit HaMikdash, the Kohen in general, and the Kohen Gadol in particular, is himself filled with awe and will take his responsibilities more seriously. In addition, each specific garment reminds the Kohen (Gadol), and us, of a different aspect of Jewish Law and Life. Thus the Kohen’s thoughts and intentions increase in purity.
Even without a Beit HaMikdash, we are affected by the lessons of many Mikdash-related mitzvot. One should dress especially nicely for Shabbat and Yom Tov. One’s own clothes, even during the week, should reflect the dignity of a Torah way of life. Modesty and neatness, plus the positive message we project to others are all part of our daily deportment.
The Eifod is to be woven from yarn made of threads of gold, three colors of dyed wool (blue, purple, crimson – the colors and shades are the subject of centuries of debate) and linen in an intricate style. The Eifod has two shoulder straps. The belt of the Eifod is made in the same manner as the Eifod itself, and is an integral part of it (not a separate piece that was attached).
It is interesting to note that some of the furnishings of the Mishkan and some of the garments were explicitly to be “of a single piece”, rather than attached. Not all the items of the Mishkan, nor all the garments, but the point is emphasized in the Torah for those items to which the rule must apply.
Two onyx stones (Shoham) were set on the shoulders, upon which were engraved the names of the tribes. These stones with the names serve as an eternal reminder for the Kohen Gadol.[SDT] Talmud Yerushalmi states that the name of Binyamin was engraved on both shoulder-stones, BIN on one and YAMIN on the other. This idea is supported by the language of the Torah – “From six of their names…” rather than “six of their names”. In V’ZOT HABRACHA, when Moshe is blessing the tribes, the Torah says of Binyamin that “he will dwell between the shoulders, “U’Vein K’teifav Shachen”.
Levi – Second Aliya – 18 p’sukim – 28:13-30
Gold settings and chains are to be made for the Eifod. The Choshen is made in the same intricate syle and manner of the Eifod. It is rectangular (double square) which when folded (which was the way it was worn) made a square measuring 1 ZERET (a span, which is half an Ama) on a side. Gold settings were woven into the Choshen to recieve the twelve precious stones in four rows of three stones each. Straps and fasteners were made to firmly attach the Choshen to the Eifod. They must not be detached from each other . The Urim V’Tumim (parchment with the Divine Names on it) was inserted into the fold of the Choshen, and gave the Choshen its miraculous powers.[SDT] The letters of CHOSHEN rearrange to spell NACHASH, meaning “snake” but also meaning divination through the occult and black magic, powers in this world which are anathma to Torah and Judaism. L’havdil, the Choshen is one of our legitimate tools for revealing hidden things. Significant that these opposite “forces”are actually two sides of the same coin.
CLARIFICATION The yarn for the Eifod and Choshen was produced as follows: Six stands of T’cheilet-dyed wool (blue, opinions vary as to the shade) were twisted with a strand of gold to produce a thread. The same was done with Argaman-dyed wool (purple, blue-purple, other opinions) and gold, Shani-dyed wool (red, crimson) and gold, Sheish (white linen) and gold. Each thread was made of 7 strands – 6+1 of gold. Then the four threads were twisted together to form the yarn from which the Eifod and the Choshen were woven.
Note that these garments (and some of the others) were Shaatnez. Yet rather than be forbidden, it was a mitzva for the Kohen Gadol to wear these garments. No contradiction here. He Who said not to wear Shaatnez, commanded the K.G. to wear these garments. He who said that it is forbidden to slaughter an animal on Shabbat, commanded that the daily korbanot and the Musaf be done on Shabbat. He is the Boss. Forbidding something in general and commanding the same thing in a specific situation underscores the idea of G-d’s mastery of all.
He’s an idea about Shaatnez in general, and its use in the Kohen’s garments in particular. This is not a reason for the prohibition of Shaatnez, nor for its use in Bigdei K’huna. It’s just a point to ponder. Wool is the chief fiber from the animal kingdom. Flax is (or at least was) the chief fiber from the plant kingdom. Garments are the chief use of fibers. If so, we can say that one of the manifestations of human dominance over nature is our ability to take fibers from both plants and animals, process them and use them for our own benefit, comfort, and adornment. And taking the most prestigious of each kingdom, and weaving them together, and wearing garments made from the combination of wool and linen is one of the ultimate signs of our top position on the nature pyramid. Comes the Torah and tells us that we have limits. Yes, we may take from nature to clothe ourselves. But not limitlessly. Not the ultimate demonstration of complete dominance. Because we do not completely dominate. Only G-d does. Perhaps, the prohibition of Shaatnez is a mitzva meant to humble us, and rein us in, if just a little.
But when G-d commands us to fashion garments for the Kohen Gadol for G-d’s (and the KG’s) splendor, then the opposite is seen. G-d told us to purposely go “all the way”.
It might be similar to not building a private dwelling that matches or surpasses the beauty of the Beit HaMikdash. It might be similar in message to giving Bikurim and T’ruma, etc. Think about it.
There are different opinions as to how the names of the tribes (really, it’s the sons of Yaakov, rather than the tribes, since Levi and Yosef appear, rather than Efrayim and Menashe) were engraved on the Choshen. The diagram above is the opinion of Chizkuni (a Rishon from France who lived more than 700 years ago. He wrote a commentary on the Torah based on Rashi.)
Rashi, however arranges the names in order of birth, so Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehuda are on the same stones, as are Yosef and Binyamin. Rashi puts Dan, Naftali, Gad, and Asher before Yissachar and Zevulun.
Rambam has the same arrangement as Chizkuni, but he puts the names Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov on the Reuven stone, and the words Shivtei Kah on the Binyamin stone.
Note that in addition to the names of the tribes, there are additional letters that spell the names Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Shivtei Yeshurun (another name for Bnei Yisrael). These additional letters are added to each successive stone so that each stone will end up with six letters engraved on it (according to Chizkuni).
All letters of the Alef-Bet are now represented, so that the Kohen Gadol can receive Divine communication via the Urim V’Tumim and the letters on the stones of the Choshen, which were illuminated and then interpreted by the K.G.
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 14 p’sukim – 28:31-43
The Me’il was made of T’cheilet wool (some shade of sky blue). Its neck was especially reinforced to prevent tearing, which is prohibited . This prohibition applies to all Kohen garments, but is commanded in the context of the Me’il. The hem of the Me’il was adorned with gold bells and multi-colored pomegranates of wool and linen.
The TZITZ was to be made of pure gold with the words KODESH LASHEM, Holy unto G-d, hammered out as raised letters from the Tzitz. The Tzitz was secured to the Kohen Gadol’s head by bands of T’cheilet wool.
The Kutonet – tunic and the Mitznefet (or Migba’at) – turban – were made of pure linen.
The Avneit, belt was woven from the wools and linen. There is a dispute as to whether only the Kohen Gadol’s belt was Sha’atnez or those of all Kohanim as well.[SDT] The Avneit was 32 Amot long, approx. 16m of belt. It took a long time to put on and it produced a large bulge that the Kohen always felt when he put his arms at his sides. Similarly, the Kohen’s turban was wound from 16 Amot of linen strip and probably “sat heavy” on the kohen’s head. Sources say that a kohen saw his turban whenever he raised his eyes. Similarly, the Kutonet was long sleeved and almost floor length, so the kohen always noticed his garments during Avoda. This “guaranteed” that the kohen would have proper Kavana during his sacred service.
For Aharon’s sons (and all active kohanim), there were four garments – tunic, turban, belt, pants. The regular kohen’s garments were also for honor and glory. Aharon and his sons were to be dressed in their garments and anointed to serve as kohanim. The linen pants of the kohanim, from waist to knees, was for modesty. Rambam says there were loops at the waist for a rope-belt. Rashi says the Michnasayim resembled boxer shorts in that they were not tight-fitting.
R’vi’i – Fourth Aliya – 18 p’sukim – 29:1-18
The consecration ceremony for Aharon and his sons is described in this portion. Sacrificial offerings included a bull (this very first offering in the Mikdash is the symbolic father of the Golden Calf and came as an atonement for that sin) and two rams, various types of matza-crackers made from flour and oil. The kohanim-to-be immersed in a mikve and were dressed in their special garments. They were anointed with special oil.
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 19 p’sukim – 29:19-37
The intricate details of the seven-day ceremony for the Mishkan are presented. The Kohanim are required to eat the meat of the sin-offering and guilt-offering (Chatat and Asham). This command applies not only during the consecration ceremony, but is a mitzva for regular Temple service . Many of the procedures of the first week of offerings were “one-shot-deals”. Other practices became standard operating procedure in the Mikdash.
Shishi – Sixth Aliya – 9 p’sukim – 29:38-46
Daily procedures on the Altar are to include the sacrificing of two lambs as Burnt-Offerings, one in the morning and the second one in the late afternoon. These daily sacrifices are accompanied by flour and oil “mincha” and wine for libation. [The mitzva of the T’midim is #401 from Parshat Pinchas.]
In response to our consecration of the Kohanim, HaShem Himself will sanctify the Mishkan, Altar, and Kohanim. “And I will dwell among the People of Israel and be their G-d” (29:45).
This pasuk is the companion of the pasuk that began the whole portion of Mikdash. In that first pasuk, the idea of G-d living among us, so to speak, and not merely in the Sanctuary that we construct for Him, is alluded to by the grammar of the word in the pasuk – B’TOCHAM. In this pasuk at the end (almost) of the instructions for making the Mikdash and everything in it and about it, the matter is spelled out.
Rabbi Yaakov Auerbach z”l points out that the G’matriya of that whole pasuk is 2449, the year from Creation in which the Mishkan was first dedicated.
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 10 p’sukim – 30:1-10
The Incense Altar is to be constructed of acacia wood, 1 ama wide by 1 ama long by 2 amot tall. It is to be plated with gold and adorned by a decorative border of gold. Two gold rings were attached to opposite edges for the carrying poles, themselves made of wood covered with gold. This Altar was placed in front of the Parochet and was used primarily for the daily offering of incense  (and for part of the Yom Kippur Avoda), in the morning when the Menora was tended. Incense was offered towards evening too. No other use of the Golden Altar was permitted .
There is a dispute as to whether the Golden Mizbei’ach was hollow or solid. All agree that the Copper Mizbei’ach was hollow. It was filled with earth each time the people encamped. Not so, the Gold Altar. Some say that it was a solid block of acacia wood, covered with gold. This gave it a stability and strength it would not otherwise have. Others insist that the description of the top of the Mizbei’ach as a GAG, roof, implies it was hollow.
Maftir – second Torah3 p’sukim – D’varim 25:17-19
Parshat ZACHOR is the only portion of the Torah the hearing of which (with Kavana) is the fulfillment of a mitzva from the Torah. The 3-pasuk portion contains the mitzvot to Remember what Amalek did, to destroy the remnant of Amalek from “under the heavens”, and never to forget.
There is debate as to who is required to fulfill TIMCHEH, and when. But the reading of ZACHOR relates to the commands to remember and never forget. We know well that there was Amalek and there were, and are, its spiritual heirs. Unfortunately, Amalek is alive and well in our time. Remembering should not be a goal, but a means to behaving in such ways that history will not repeat itself and that Amalek will never succeed.
Haftara – 33 p’sukim – Shmuel Alef 15:2-34
S’faradim begin one pasuk earlier
The Haftara consists of the command through the prophet Shmuel to King Shaul to destroy Amalek, and of Shaul’s incomplete compliance with his orders.
The Maftir tells us what we must do. The Haftara shows us what happens when it isn’t done properly. Megilat Esther shows us what happens when it is done right. But the battle goes on… until the time of Mashiach.