Parashat Tetzaveh: The Mikdash and the Midrash

  • Dr. Tziporah Lifshitz
 
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Dedicated by Mr. and Mrs. Leon Brum for the Refua Sheleima of
Dana Petrover (Batsheva bat Gittel Aidel Leba)
and Marvin Rosenberg (Meir Chaim ben Tzipporah Miriam)
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In memory of six friends and family, 
strong pillars of the Montreal Jewish community, 
who have left us in the past 7 years. 
All were אוהבי עם ישראל, אוהבי ארץ ישראל, אוהבי תורת ישראל.
Joseph (Yosie) Deitcher
Avrum (Avy) Drazin
Rabbi Joseph Drazin
Leibel Frisch
Israel (Mutch) Yampolsky
Dr. Mark Wainberg
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In this shiur, we will track the approaches of the Midrashic literature on the Book of Shemot’s final section, dealing with the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels. How is this material treated by the Mekhilta, by Midrash Tanchuma (in its various editions) and by Shemot Rabba? What may we learn from it?
 

Mekhilta: Silence and yearning

 
The Mekhilta is a Tannaitic compilation arranged according to the order of the parashiyot of the Book of Shemot. It hails from the beit midrash of Rabbi Yishmael, a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva, a few decades after the destruction of the Second Temple. For these sages, the memory of the Temple (Mikdash) was not ancient history, but a recent, palpable reality still attested to by eyewitnesses.
 
Nevertheless, when it comes to Parashiyot Teruma, Tetzaveh, Vayakhel and Pekudei, the Mekhilta’s silence is striking. One who flips through its pages senses the terrible void between the end of Massekhta de-Khaspa (the unit addressing the end of Parashat Mishpatim, which deals with various topics of civil law) and Massekhta de-Shabbata on Parashat Ki Tisa and Vayakhel, where the Tannaitic work on the Book of Shemot ends. All of the commandments regarding the Mishkan and its vessels and the execution of those commandments are missing from the book. It is almost possible to feel the pain, the cry.
 
The same Massekhta de-Shabbata includes within it aggadic reflections on the Destruction of the Temple:
 
"It is a sign forever" (Shemot 31:17).
 
This teaches that Shabbat will never be nullified among Israel.
 
And similarly you find that everything that the Israelites gave their lives for remained with them,
 
And everything that the Israelites did not give their lives for did not remain with them.
 
For example, Shabbat, circumcision, Torah study and ritual immersion, for which they gave their lives, remained with them.
 
On the other hand, the Temple, civil laws, sabbatical years, and jubilee years, for which the Israelites did not give their lives, did not remain with them.
 
When the Temple was standing, the Jewish people did not recognize the value of its being found among them; it was taken for granted. Therefore, its standing among them is fleeting; hundreds and thousands of years will pass before they merit it once again.
 
In two places in Massekhta de-Shabbata, the Mekhilta echoes Israel's situation in the wake of the destruction:
 
"Six days shall work be done" (Shemot 31:15).
 
One verse states: "Six days shall work be done,"
 
And another verse states: "Six days shall you labor, and do all your work" (Shemot 20:9).
 
How can these two verses be reconciled?
 
Rather, when the Israelites fulfill the will of God, "Six days shall work be done," their work is done by others.
 
And similarly it is stated: "And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and aliens shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers" (Yeshayahu 61:5).
 
And when the Israelites do not perform the will of God, "Six days shall you labor, and do all your work,"
 
Their work is done by themselves.
 
Moreover, even the work of others is done by them.
 
As it is stated: "Therefore you shall serve your enemy whom the Lord shall send against you" (Devarim 28:48). (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Ki Tisa, Massekhta de-Shabbata, 1)[1]
 
The verse brought to describe Israel's situation when they do the will of God, "And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and aliens shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers," is part of a prophecy of consolation delivered by the prophet Yeshayahu:
 
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the humble.
 
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the eyes to them that are bound; 
 
To proclaim the year of the Lord's good pleasure, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
 
To appoint to them that mourn in Zion, to give to them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called terebinths of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, wherein He might glory. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall renew the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. 
 
And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and aliens shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. 
 
But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, men shall call you the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their splendor shall you revel. (Yeshayahu 61:1-6)
 
Do the Tannaim read this as a prophecy heralding the redemption that will arrive shortly in their generation under the leadership of Bar Kokhba, in which case the words of the Mekhilta should be read as call for repentance so that the rebellion will succeed? Or perhaps they should be read as a statement made in hindsight to explain the reason for the rebellion's failure?
 
Either way, this statement reflects the loss of Jewish sovereignty and points to the new role of Shabbat in a world without the Temple, as Israel's only day of rest. Earlier, they rested all week. Now, Shabbat constitutes a real refuge from subjugation to foreign governments in the most basic physical sense.[2]
 

The Late Midrash

 
The Mekhilta and the redaction of the Tanchuma literature are separated by about five hundred years, a period corresponding to the length of time between the European discovery of America and our own time. The historical distance between these works and the reality of the Mikdash is even greater. As mentioned, the editors of the Midrash in the 7th-8th centuries had no early model of a Midrashic work on the parashiyot dealing with the Mishkan. They had, however, an extensive Midrashic literature from Eretz Israel: Bereishit Rabba, Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, the Midrashim on the five Megillot, Avot de-Rabbi Natan, and others. In addition, they had the aggadic material found in the Yerushalmi and the Bavli. What subjects do the editors of these works address or touch upon? What derashot from the Midrashic literature of Chazal do they adopt as the basis for their own works?
 
The following table summarizes the headings of the topics and the derashot appearing in the three works of late Midrash on Parashat Tetzaveh: Midrash Tanchuma (Buber), Midrash Tanchuma (printed), and Shemot Rabba. Through it, we will point out the issues addressed in each work, showing the similarities and differences in content and structure between them:
 
 
Midrash Tanchuma (Buber)
Tetzaveh
Midrash Tanchuma (printed)
Tetzaveh
Shemot Rabba, Sections 36-38
Derashot on the verse: "That they bring to you pure olive oil" (Shemot 27:20)
(1-6)
"Behold you are fair, my love" (Shir Ha-shirim 1:15)
 
1. "Your head upon you is like Carmel" (Shir Ha-shirim 7:6) Moshe commands specifically olive oil.
2. Specifically olive oil
3. Does He need your light?
4. Does He need your light?
5. The Temple, light, lamp
(1-8)
When a baby is circumcised, mutuality in the relationship between God and Israel
 
1. He yearns for your handiwork
2. Specifically olive oil
3. Does He need your light?
4. "Behold you are fair, my love.. your eyes are as doves"
 5. "Your head upon you is like Carmel," specifically olive oil
6. "In the Ohel Mo'ed outside the veil" (Shemot 27:21). Does He need your light?
7. "Pure olive oil pressed for the light" (Vayikra 24:2), one who is in darkness sees what is in the light
(36:1-4)
"A leafy olive tree, fair with goodly fruit" (Yirmeyahu 11:16)
 
1. Does He need your light? Another explanation: "A leafy olive tree,"
"For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching a light" (Mishlei 6:23)
2. He yearns for your handiwork
Derashot on the verse: "And bring you near to you Aharon your brother" (Shemot 28:1)
 
 
 
(37:1-4)
Moshe's attitude toward the appointment of Aharon as priest
Derashot on the verse: "And this is the thing that you shall do to them to sanctify them to minister to Me" (Shemot 29:1) 
(7-10)
7. "The wise shall inherit honor" (Mishlei 3:35), giving the priesthood to Aharon and his sons
8. " Forever, O Lord, Your word stands fast in heaven" (Tehillim 119:89)
9. To me is forever
10. "Take one young bullock" (Shemot 29:1) , material abundance when the Temple stands
(9-13)
9. "The wise shall inherit honor."
10. "But You, O Lord, are high for evermore" (Tehillim 92:9)
11. "The wise shall inherit honor"
12. "Forever, O Lord, Your word stands fast in heaven"
13. For them You do it, material abundance when the Temple stands
(38:1-8)
"Forever, O Lord, Your word stands fast in heaven"
1. "Are You not from everlasting, O Lord" (Chavakuk 1:12)
2. "Take one young bullock"
3. "Take with you words" (Hoshea 14:3)
4. "The wise shall inherit honor"
5. "Forever, O Lord, Your word stands fast in heaven"
6. Rabbi Chanina said
7. By what virtue did Aharon enter
Derashot on the verse: "And you shall make an altar to burn incense" (Shemot 30:1)
 
(14-15)
14. What is incense
15. "Oil and incense rejoice the heart" (Mishlei 27:9)
 
Derashot on the verse: "And you shall set in it settings of stones" (Shemot 28:17)
 
 
(38:9)
"And you shall set in it settings of stones," how the stones were placed
 
 
The table shows that all three works share the same basic framework of the derashot. In each of them, two main verses in the parasha are expounded in different ways: "That they bring to you pure olive oil" (Shemot 27:20) and "And this is the thing that you shall do to them to sanctify them to minister to Me" (ibid. 29:1). Some of the derashot appear in each of the works (e.g., "The wise shall inherit honor"), while other are unique to a particular work. In addition, in Tanchuma (Buber) and in Shemot Rabba there are short derashot on other verses in the parasha: "And you shall make an altar to burn incense" (the former), "And bring you near to you Aharon your brother" and "And you shall set in it settings of stones" (the latter). Like the Mekhilta, the late Midrash does not relate to the main issues in the parasha, namely, the priestly garments and the command regarding the seven days of consecration.
 
The first unit of the Midrash, regarding the continual lamp (ner tamid), focuses on theoretical questions regarding the Temple. The main one addresses the very need for a house for God ("Does He need your light?"). Other issues that arise are the meaning of human actions for the sake of God ("He yearns for your handiwork") and the reason for the command to light the Candelabrum in the Temple with olive oil. The two first questions are conceptual questions connected to the very existence of the Mikdash (or the Mishkan), but not to its function.
 
It is clear from the table that there is considerable correspondence between Tanchuma (Buber) and the printed Tanchuma regarding the content of the derashot, but not the order in which they are brought. The Buber edition of the Tanchuma is generally regarded as the earlier and more original of the two,[3] and indeed it preserves the characteristic structure of the classical Midrashim of Eretz Israel (e.g., Bereishit Rabba) — opening with petichtot that are connected to a certain theme, followed by explanatory exegesis (the explanation of verses in the order in which they appear in the text) or a discussion of some central issue. Two petichtot appear in the table in the column of Tanchuma (Buber) as "Behold you are fair, my love" (Shir Ha-shirim 1:15) and "Your head upon you is like Carmel" (ibid. 7:6), and they are followed by a discussion of fundamental questions connected to the Midrash, as stated above.
 
This Midrashic unit is woven out of derashot from the Midrashic tradition of Eretz Israel across the generations. The table below presents the derashot and their sources. Thus, a picture of the formation of Midrash Tanchuma emerges and crystallizes:
 
 
Midrash Tanchuma (Buber), Tetzaveh 1-6
Sources in the Midrash of Eretz Israel
1. "Behold you are fair, my love"
"And you shall command the children of Israel" (Shemot 27:20). This is what is meant by the verse: "Behold you are fair, my love" (Shir Ha-shirim 1:15).
 
Rabbi Akiva said: The entire world was never so worthy as on the day that the Torah of Shir Ha-shirim was given to Israel, since all of the Writings are holy, and Shir Ha-shirim is holy of holies.
 
 
Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said: This may be likened to a king who took a measure of wheat and gave it to a baker, telling him to take from it such and such a quantity of fine flour, such and such a quantity of bran flour, such and such a quantity of coarse flour. So all of the Writings are holy, and Shir Ha-shirim is holy of holies.
 
Rabbi said: See how the Holy One, blessed be He, praises the congregation of Israel in His midst. "Behold you are fair, my love." Behold you are beautiful by deeds, behold you are beautiful by the deeds of your fathers, behold you are beautiful in the home, behold you are beautiful in the field. In the house, "upon the doorposts of your house" (Devarim 6:9); in the field, with contributions, tithes, gleanings, forgotten produce and the corner
 
"Behold you are fair, my love." Rabbi Simon ben Pazi said: She praises him with simple wording, while he praises her with double wording.
Why does he praise her with double wording? For if she does not do his will, he can replace her with another. But she praises him with simple wording, because she cannot replace him with another…
 
"Your eyes are as doves" (Shir Ha-shirim 1:15) — a dove brings light into the world.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We learned:
Rabbi Akiva said:… The entire world was never so worthy as on the day that Shir Ha-shirim was given. Why so? Since all of the Writings are holy, and Shir Ha-shirim is holy of holies…
 
Elazar ben Azarya proposed a parable. [This may be likened] to a king who brought a measure of wheat to a baker, telling him to take from it such and such a quantity of fine flour, such and such a quantity of… (Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 1, 1)
 
 
 
 
"Behold you are fair, my love" – behold you are beautiful by commandments, behold you are beautiful by acts of kindness, behold you are beautiful by positive commandments, behold you are beautiful by negative commandments, behold you are beautiful by commandments of the house with contributions and tithes, behold you are beautiful by commandments of the field, gleanings and forgotten produce and the corner, pauper’s tithe and ownerless property.
 
"Your eyes are as doves"  — a dove brings light into the world.
 
"Behold you are fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant" (Shir Ha-shirim 1:16). Rabbi Abbahu and Rabbi Chanina disagreed. Rabbi Abbahu said: He praised here with double wording, while she praised him with simple wording. Why does he praise her with double wording? For if she does not do his will, he can replace her with another. But she praises him with simple wording, because she cannot replace him with another. (Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 1, 11-16)
II. "Your head upon you is like Carmel."
"And you shall command."
This is what is meant by the verse: "Your head (rosheikh) upon you is like Carmel" (Shir Ha-shirim 7:6) — the poorest (rashim) among you are precious to me like Daniel.
"The king is held captive (asur) in the tresses thereof" (ibid.). The Holy One, blessed be He said to them: It is as if I am bound (asur) to you. By virtue of what? By virtue of the running that Avraham ran before Me. As it is stated: "And Avraham hastened into the tent… And Avraham ran to the herd" (Bereishit 18:6-7). This is "The king is held captive in the tresses thereof."
Rabbi Levi said: By virtue of Ya'akov, about whom it is written: "In the gutters (ba-rehatim) in the water troughs" (Bereishit 30:38)…
Another explanation: "The king is held captive in the tresses thereof." The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: Moshe, I have made you a king. Just as a king decrees, and the people act, so too you, decree and they will act. "And you shall command."
Another explanation: "Command the children of Israel." This is what is meant by the verse: "Your head upon you is like Carmel, and the hair of your head like purple; the king is held captive in the tresses thereof.
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: The poorest among you are precious to Me like Eliyahu who ascended the Carmel… "And the hair (dalat) of your head like purple" – The Holy One, blessed be He, said: The poorest (dalim) among you are precious to Me like David… And some say: Like Daniel, about whom it is written: "And they clothed Daniel with purple" (Daniel 5:29).
"The king is held captive in the tresses thereof." The king is the King, King of kings, as it is written: "The Lord reigns; He is clothed in majesty" (Tehillim 93:1). "Is held captive in the tresses thereof" — for the Holy One, blessed be He, bound Himself with an oath that He would rest His Shekhina under Ya’akov's roof.
 
By virtue of whom? Rabbi Abba bar Kahana and Rabbi Levi disagreed. Rabbi Abba bar Kahana said: By virtue of Avraham, as it is written: "And Avraham ran to the herd." Rabbi Levi said: By virtue of Ya’akov, about whom it is written: "And he set the rods which he had peeled over against the flocks in the gutters." (Vayikra Rabba 31, 4; Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 7, 6)
III. Specifically olive oil
"And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring to you pure olive oil" (Shemot 27:20). Why not nut oil or radish oil, but only olive oil? Because the light of the olive oil is for the world. "Pure olive oil pressed for the light." The way of the world is that when a person has poor quality oil he lights it in his lamp, but the better quality oil he puts in his food. In the Temple, however, they did not do this, but rather the purest olive oil they would use for light, and the second best they would use in the meal-offerings. David said: "For You are my lamp, O Lord" (II Shemuel 22:29).
But the Sages permit it with all oils; with sesame oil, nut oil, radish oil, fish oil, gourd oil, tar and naphtha. Rabbi Tarfon said: One may light (it) with olive oil, only. (Mishna, Shabbat 2:2)
 
IV. Does He need your light?
"And you shall command." Not that I need light, but rather to illuminate for you. Rabbi Yochanan said: The eye is white, and the black is in the center. From where should one see? Is it not from the white? But this is not so, one sees only from the black. You do not understand the light of the eyes, and you try to understand My ways? Your evil inclination must not cause you to err and say: Perhaps He needs the light.
 
Rabbi Avin Ha-Levi said: You find that one who wishes to make himself windows, makes them wide inside and narrow outside. Why? So that they should draw in light. But [the windows] of the Temple were wide outside and narrow inside. Why so? So that the light should issue forth from the Temple and illuminate the world. The light issues forth from My house, and I need the light? Lest you say: Why is a lamp necessary? To illuminate for us. "That they bring to you… to cause a lamp to light continually" — that your light be before Me all the time. David said: "Light is sown for the righteous" (Tehillim 97:11).
Rabbi Chanina said: There were windows in the Temple, and from there light issued into the world. This is what is meant by the verse: "And for the house he made windows transparent and opaque" (I Melakhim 6:4). Narrow on the inside and wide on the outside, so that light may issue forth into the world. (Vayikra Rabba 31, 7; Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, Kumi Ori, 21, 5)
V. Does He need your light?
"In the Ohel Mo’ed, outside the veil" (Shemot 27:21). Your evil inclination must not cause you to err and say: He needs the light. See what is written: "Outside the veil." The Candelabrum should have been placed inside the Veil, next to the Ark, but it is placed outside the Veil, to teach that He does not need the light.
Why did He tell you [to light]? In order to privilege you with the light.
 
Another explanation: It is the way of the world that when a king of flesh and blood makes himself a bed and a table, He places a candelabrum to the left. But this was not the case in the Temple, but rather the Candelabrum was placed to the right of the table, to teach you that He does not need the light. Why did He say to you (to light}? To illuminate for you in the World to Come, when darkness comes upon the nations of the world. As it is stated: "For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and murk the peoples; but upon you the Lord will arise, and His glory shall be seen upon you" (Yeshayahu 60:2).
 
VI. The Temple, light and the lamp
Another explanation: "Pure olive oil." You find that one who is in darkness sees what is in the light, but one who is in the light does not see what is in the darkness. But the Holy One, blessed be He, sees what is in the darkness and what is in the light. Daniel said: "He reveals the deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him" (Daniel 2:22).
 
Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai said: The sun is found in His bosom, as it is stated: "In them has He sent a tent for the sun" (Tehillim 19:5). And in the season of Tammuz, it leaves His bosom to ripen the fruit, and the world cannot withstand it. Why? Because its light is so strong. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: You cannot look upon My creation, and I need light from you? Rather, why did I say to you [to light]? For the World to Come.
 
"Olive oil." How did they make olive oil? Our Rabbis taught: The olive trees that produced good fruit were evident to them. They took the olives and pressed them. The first oil that emerged was set aside for the Candelabrum, and the second to it for meal-offerings, to fulfill that which is stated: "Pure olive oil pressed for the light."
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: In this world you are in need of the light of the Temple, but in the World to Come, by virtue of that lamp, I will bring you the messianic king who is likened to a lamp, as it is stated: "There will I make a horn to shoot up to David, there have I ordered a lamp for My messiah" (Tehillim 132:17). And furthermore, I will make Myself a light for you, for Yeshayahu said as follows: "But the Lord shall be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory" (Yeshayahu 60:19).
"Arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you" (Yeshayahu 60:1). Why so? "For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and murk the peoples; but upon you the Lord will rise, and His glory shall be seen upon you" (Yeshayahu 60:2). Moreover, everyone who is in darkness sees everyone who is in light. (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Beshalach Massekhta de-Vayhi, parasha 4)
 
Rabbi Chanan said:
By virtue of: "To cause a lamp to burn continually" (Vayikra 24:2),
you merit to greet the lamp of the messianic king.
What is the reason? "There will I make a horn to shoot up to David, there have I ordered a lamp for My messiah." (Vayikra Rabba 31, 11)
 
 
 
 
A new Midrashic work arranged according to the order of the Book of Shemot was created from earlier Midrashic materials. As we see from the first table, this work serves as a model from which arise various versions and works belonging to the same Midrashic genre, the Tanchuma literature. The materials out of which this unit is composed are for the most part taken from two works from Eretz Israel: Vayikra Rabba and Shir Ha-shirim Rabba. It should further be noted that at the beginning of this Midrashic unit regarding causing a lamp to burn continually there are almost no additions to the early sources which are recombined and placed in new contexts. In contrast, in the second half of the unit there are many statements that have no earlier source. It may be argued that this is the main innovation of the book.
 

Summary

 
In the framework of this shiur, we discussed a single unit in Midrash Tanchuma (Buber) on Parashat Tetzaveh, which is a collection of derashot on the ner tamid. However, this phenomenon of drawing upon earlier midrashic sources arises also from an examination of other parts of the Midrash. The study presented here can serve as a model that may be expanded upon in the future.
 
In contrast to the silence of the Mekhilta, the late Midrash addresses the very need for the Temple and its vessels. The life of the Temple, together with all the details of the sacrificial service, is preserved in the Mishna and the two Talmuds. May the day speedily arrive when this practice will emerge from the pages of these books and once again become part of our reality.
 
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

[1] See similarly Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Vayakhel, Massekhta de-Shabbata, Parasha 1.
[2] Compare this with the description given by Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi in his Sefer Ha-Kuzari III, 10:The Kuzari: I have often reflected about you and come to the conclusion that God has some secret design in preserving you, and that He appointed the Sabbath and holy days among the strongest means of preserving your strength and luster.
The nations broke you up and made you their servants on account of your intelligence and purity. They would even have made you their warriors were it not for those festive seasons observed by you with so much conscientiousness, because they originate with God, and are based on such causes as “Remembrance of the Creation,” “Remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt,” and “Remembrance of the Giving of the Law.” These are all divine commands, to observe which you are charged.
Had these not been, not one of you would put on a clean garment; you would hold no congregation to remember the law, on account of your everlasting affliction and degradation. Had these not been, you would not enjoy a single day in your lives. Now, however, you are allowed to spend the sixth part of life in rest of body and soul.
Even kings are unable to do likewise, as their souls have no respite on their days of rest. If the smallest business calls them on that day to work and stir, they must move and stir, complete rest being denied to them.
Had these laws not been, your toil would benefit others, because it would become their prey. Whatever you spend on these days is your profit for this life and the next, because it is spent for the glory of God.
[3] For an expanded discussion, see Yona Frankel, Midrash Ve-aggada, Vol. 3 (Tel Aviv: 5756), pp. 826-837.