“And You Shall Command”

  • Harav Yehuda Amital


Adapted by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish


The instructions concerning the Mishkan are generally introduced with the command “ve-asita” (you shall make). However, two commands that appear at the beginning of our parasha are exceptions to the rule:

“And you shall command (ve-ata tetzaveh) Bnei Yisrael that they bring you pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continuously.” (Shemot 27:20)

“And you – take to you (ve-ata hakrev eleikha) Aharon, your brother, and his sons with him, from among Bnei Yisrael, that he may minister to Me…” (Shemot 28:1).

The midrash addresses the emphasis on “and you” in the second verse:

“This may be compared to a wise man who married a woman who was a relative of his, and she spent ten years with him without bearing children. He said to her, ‘Seek a wife for me.’ He said, ‘I could take [a wife for myself] without your approval, but I seek your acquiescence.’ Similarly, God said to Moshe: ‘I could have appointed your brother Kohen Gadol without informing you, but I seek for you to be his superior.” (Shemot Rabba 37:4)

What is the nature of the superiority mentioned here? Why is it important to emphasize Moshe’s superiority to Aharon specifically at the time that Aharon is appointed Kohen Gadol?

Furthermore we might ask, what is the meaning of the emphasis on “you shall command” in the first verse, concerning the lighting of the menora? And more generally: why is this command, which applies for future generations, given among the instructions concerning the building of the Mishkan and its vessels?

At the end of our recitation of the Amida prayer, we include a prayer taken from the Mishna (Avot 5:20):

“May it be Your will… that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and grant our portion in Your Torah.”

The Maharal explains that this prayer brings together two ways of serving God: the way of the intellect – via study of the Torah, and the experiential, emotional path – via the Divine service of the Sanctuary.

These two paths are vastly different from one another. The sacrifices and the rest of the Temple service offer a powerful experience of closeness to God. Someone who studies Torah, on the other hand, does not necessary feel that through his study he is drawing closer to God. Over the course of history, attempts have been made to introduce an experiential dimension into Torah study. For example, in Volozhin it was customary from time to time to halt the study for a few moments and to recall the value of Torah and the connection with God that it offers. However, such attempts were generally not successful in imbuing students with the feeling that engagement in the arguemnts of Abaye and Rabba created a bond with God.

Nevertheless, the midrash asserts otherwise:

“Is there any merchandise whose seller is sold along with it? The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: I have sold you My Torah; I have been sold along with it, as it were, as it is written, ‘Let them take Me a contribution…’ (Shemot 25:2).

This may be compared to a king who had an only daughter. A king from somewhere else came and married her. He then wanted to take his leave and return to his country, taking his wife with him. [The father] said to him, ‘My daughter, whom I have given to you, is my only one. To part from her [is something] I cannot do; to tell you not to take her – [likewise] I cannot do, since she is your wife. So do me this kindness: wherever you go, make me a small chamber, that I may dwell near you, for I cannot leave my daughter.’

So said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Israel: ‘I have given you My Torah. To part with it [is something] I cannot do; to tell you not to take it – [likewise] I cannot do. So wherever you go, make Me a small dwelling in which I might dwell.’ As it is written, ‘Let them make Me a Sanctuary…’ (Shemot 25:8).” (Shemot Rabba 33:1)

A person who acquires Torah, “acquires” God at the same time, as it were. Even if we do not always feel this, the experience of Torah study is an unmediated connection with God.

Throughout history, various attempts were also made to set Torah study aside and to serve God through experience alone. (Resistance to Chassidut arose, inter alia, from the understanding that this was another such attempt. The opposition subsided only when it became clear that Chassidut was not trying to replace Torah study but rather to exist alongside it.) The absence of a feeling of closeness has led people to disparage the stature of Torah. It would seem that it is precisely these views that the midrash comes to negate: “And you – take to you… for I wish you to be superior to him!” It is precisely at the time of Aharon’s appoinment as Kohen Gadol that God emphasizes that Moshe, who brought Torah to Israel, is greater than him – because Torah study is greater than the service of the Sanctuary, and the connection that it provides with God is a far deeper one. Serving God with the intellect is greater than and takes precedence over serving Him through emotion, and therefore it is Moshe who appoints Aharon.

The same idea explains why the passage on lighting the menora appears among the instructions about building the Mishkan and its vessels. The lamps of the menora symbolize the light of Torah. Therefore the Torah places this command here, to teach that there is no contradiction between serving God through Torah study and serving Him in the Sanctuary. The menora stands inside the Temple; it is possible to combine these two paths in the service of God. However, here too the text emphasizes, “And you shall command…”: we must always remember that Torah is the primary and main path to connection with God; we dare not turn things upside down and place the emotional, experiential sphere as the essence of Divine service.

(This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat parashat Tetzaveh 5756 [1996].)