S.A.L.T. - Parashat Pekudei 5776

  • Rav David Silverberg


Motzaei Shabbat

            Parashat Pekudei begins with an accounting of the precious metals that were donated to the Mishkan.  In introducing this accounting, the Torah refers to the Mishkan as “Mishkan ha-eidut” – noting the Mishkan’s role as a “testament.”  Rashi, citing the Midrash Tanchuma, explains that the presence of the Shekhina in the Mishkan testified to God’s having forgiven Benei Yisrael for the sin of the golden calf, and this is why the Mishkan is called “Mishkan ha-eidut.”

            Rav Chaim Aryeh Leib Panster, in Sha’ar Bat Rabim, notes the significance of this quality of the Mishkan in the particular context of the accounting of the donated materials.  One of the ways in which the Mishkan served to rectify the sin of the golden calf was through the donation of precious materials for the project.  Benei Yisrael had given large amounts of gold for the calf, and they now corrected this mistake by donating large quantities of gold and other assets for the Mishkan.  Significantly, in the context of the golden calf, the Torah does not give any details regarding the amount that was given.  The implication, perhaps, is that the people gave recklessly and haphazardly.  No accounting is given of the gold that was donated because no accounting was made by any of the people involved.  The gold was donated without any thought or calculation, in a frenzied desire to create a graven image for worship.  By contrast, the donations for the Mishkan had to be calculated, weighed and measured.  Indeed, as we read in Parashat Vayakhel, when it became clear that too many materials were being donated, a call was issued ordering the people to stop donating.  Whereas the donations for the golden calf were given mindlessly, the donations for the Mishkan were carefully calculated to ensure that the required materials were received.

            To explain the significance of this distinction, Rav Panster draws an analogy to the difference between eating food for pleasure and taking medication.  When we eat for enjoyment, we do not pay close attention to the quantities that we consume.  When it comes to medication, however, or when we eat for health reasons, we carefully measure the quantities to ensure we consume the precise amount we need for our wellbeing.  This, Rav Panster suggests, is the difference between the golden calf and the Mishkan noted by the Midrash.  The golden calf was characterized by a mindless frenzy of activity, with the people freeing themselves of restraint and self-control.  The Mishkan, by contrast, was characterized by discipline and obedience, carefully complying with God’s rules down to the last detail.

            And thus the Mishkan is called “Mishkan ha-eidut” specifically here, as the Torah introduces its accounting of the materials donated for this project and how they were used.  The very fact that such an accounting was made testifies to the fact that sin of the golden calf was corrected.  The mindless, undisciplined worship of the calf was replaced with the careful, patient, calculated service of God in the Mishkan, which represents the patience and close attention to detail that is required in avodat Hashem generally.  The “pekudei ha-Mishkan” is itself the antidote to the golden calf, modeling for us the need for discipline, precision and restraint in the service of the Almighty.


            The final verse of Parashat Pekudei tells that after God took residence, as it were, in the Mishkan, His presence was displayed in the form of a cloud that hovered over the Mishkan by day, and a pillar of fire that stood over the Mishkan at night.  Many darshanim have sought to uncover the symbolic meaning and significance of the cloud and fire that represented the Divine Presence in the Mishkan.

            Rav Chaim Aryeh Leib Panster, in his Sha’ar Bat Rabim, explains (citing the work Yitev Leiv) that these manifestations of the Shekhina reflect the private nature of spiritual expression.  The pillar of fire, he explained, burned even during the daytime, but it was concealed by the thick cloud.  The daytime in this instance symbolizes our public image, the way we conduct ourselves out in the open, among our peers.  In public, the “fire” of religious fervor and passion is best kept “concealed,” rather than broadcast and put on display.  We should not be looking for opportunities to show our “fire,” our spiritual yearnings, in public.  The “fire” should be unveiled specifically at “night,” in private, within ourselves.  Of course, we are to conduct ourselves appropriately in public and not act in a manner that raises suspicions about our religious commitment.  However, the “fire” of spiritual drive should be mostly concealed and out of the public view.

            As the Sha’ar Bat Rabim notes, the exception to this rule is Jewish leaders, who bear the obligation of leading primarily through the example of piety that they set.  Their religious fervor must indeed be put on display in order to present a model for others to emulate.  And thus when Moshe turned to God before his death to ask that He appoint a successor, he asked that He appoint a leader “who will go out before them and come before them” (Bamidbar 27:17), which may be understood as a reference to a public persona, the example the leader would have to set through his public display of piety.  In response, God instructed Moshe to appoint Yehoshua, “ish asher ru’ach bo” – “a man within whom is the spirit [of God].”  Specifically because the leader must present a public image of piety, it is imperative that he has “ru’ach bo,” that internally he is sincerely committed and devoted to the ideals which he outwardly represents. When a person is expected to put his “pillar of fire” on display, and publicly exhibit a model of piety, it is especially important for him to ensure that this “fire” also burns within him, internally, and that his public image is an accurate reflection of who he is really is.


            One of the garments worn by the kohanim which are described in Parashat Pekudei is the avneit (belt).  The Torah (39:29) tells that the belt was woven from several different materials, including sheish (flax) and tekhelet – dyed wool.  As the Gemara notes in several places, the avneit was, fundamentally, forbidden to be worn because it contained sha’atnez – wool and linen woven together.  The Torah, however, explicitly required wearing the avneit when performing the service in the Mikdash, and thus it is permissible for the kohen to wear it for this purpose.

            The Gemara (Yoma 12a, Chulin 138a) raises the question of whether this was true of the avneit worn by all kohanim, or only of the belt worn by the kohen gadol.  Although the Torah explicitly describes the avneit as containing sha’atnez, it is uncertain whether this refers specifically to the avneit worn by the kohen gadol, or even to those worn by the other kohanim, and this issue is subject to a debate among the Sages.  The Rambam, in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash (8:11), writes explicitly that an ordinary kohen (“kohen hedyot”) may not wear his avneit when he is not performing the service, because he would then violate the prohibition of sha’atnez.  Clearly, then, the Rambam followed the view that even the avneit worn by ordinary kohanim contained sha’atnez, and this feature was not unique to the avneit of the kohen gadol.

            Rav Meir Simcha Ha-kohen of Dvinsk, in his Or Samei’ach (Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash 5:16), suggests that underlying this debate is a more fundamental question regarding the relationship between the high priesthood and the status of ordinary kohanim.  Namely, do we view the status of the kohen gadol as something entirely different from that of ordinary kohanim, or do we view a kohen gadol as essentially an ordinary kohen with special obligations and laws?  The kohen gadol wears the same four garments as ordinary kohanim, plus an additional four garments.  As he wears the same four garments as all other kohanim, we might view him as fundamentally a regular kohen who given additional responsibilities and privileges.  Alternatively, however, we might view the additional four garments as a reflection of a fundamentally different status. 

The Or Samei’ach asserts that if the kohen gadol wears the same avneit as other kohanim, then it seems more likely that he is, essentially, a regular kohen who is bound by special laws.  The fact that he shares the exact same garments as other kohanim likely indicates that he is like them, only with a heightened level of sanctity reflected by his additional four garments.  If, however, the kohen gadol wears a different avneit than other kohanim, and thus he and they do not share the same garments, we might likely conclude that he is not an ordinary kohen, as his status fundamentally differs from that of other kohanim.

            Tomorrow we will iy”H explore several possible implications of this question.


            Yesterday, we noted the question posed by the Or Samei’ach (Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash 5:16) regarding the special status of the kohen gadol.  As we read in Parashat Tetzaveh and Parashat Pekudei, there were four special garments worn by all kohanim – including the kohen gadol – and then an additional four garments worn exclusively by the kohen gadol.  Seemingly, this indicates that the kohen gadol is, fundamentally, the same as ordinary kohanim, though he is given additional responsibilities and privileges.  According to this perspective, the status of the kohen gadol is merely an expansion of the status of ordinary kohanim.  Alternatively, however, we might view the kohen gadol as something else entirely.  His status is not an extension of the status of standard kohanim, but rather a fundamentally different status of kedusha.  As we saw, the Or Samei’ach suggested that this question underlies the debate recorded in the Gemara (Yoma 12a, Chulin 138a) as to whether the kohen gadol wears the same kind of belt as the belt worn by other kohanim.  If the kohen gadol wears a different kind of belt, and thus even his four basic garments are not the same as those worn by ordinary kohanim, then we would be more inclined to view his status as something fundamentally different than that of the other kohanim.

            The Or Samei’ach discusses this issue in the context of the Rambam’s ruling (there in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash) concerning the case of a kohen who was appointed kohen gadol before he had ever performed the service in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  As the Rambam rules in the previous halakha, a kohen who performs the avoda (service in the Temple) for the first time must first offer a special mincha offering.  Likewise, a kohen who is appointed kohen gadol must offer this mincha offering before he begins functioning as kohen gadol.  In a case where a kohen is appointed kohen gadol before having ever performed the avoda, the Rambam rules that the kohen must offer two mincha offerings – one as his consecration to serve as an ordinary kohen, and a second as his consecration to serve as kohen gadol.  Significantly, the kohen must first be consecrated as an ordinary kohen before he can be consecrated as a kohen gadol.  This would certainly seem to suggest that the kohen gadol’s status is an extension of that of ordinary kohanim.  If we viewed the kohen gadol’s status as something completely different from that of an ordinary kohen, then, seemingly, there would be no need for the newly-appointed kohen gadol in this case to offer the first mincha sacrifice.  His ascent to the position of kohen gadol would not depend on his previous consecration as an ordinary kohen, and thus it should suffice to offer only the mincha whereby he is consecrated for the position of kohen gadol.

            Another possible ramification of this question, as noted by Rav Asher Weiss (Minchat Asher, Parashat Pekudei, p. 458), relates to an issue raised by the Panim Yafot (Parashat Tetzaveh) concerning the intent required when making the priestly garments.  The Rambam, in Hilkhot Beit Ha-bechira (1:20), rules that all the utensils and articles involved in the Beit Ha-mikdash must be made “li-shmah” – specifically for their purpose in the Mikdash.  If a given article was made for some other purpose, then even if it meets all the precise specifications outlined by the Torah, it may not be used.  The Panim Yafot thus raised the question of whether the kohen gadol’s garments must be made specifically with the kohen gadol in mind, or whether it suffices that they were made for the purpose of being worn by kohanim generally.  For example, if a ketonet (tunic) was made with the intention that it would be used by a regular kohen, is it suitable for the kohen gadol?  This may likely hinge on the question raised by the Or Samei’ach.  If we view the kohen gadol’s status of sanctity as an extension of that of ordinary kohanim, then it stands to reason that a ketonet made for an ordinary kohen would be suitable for the kohen gadol, since he wears it as a regular kohen.  If, however, we view the kohen gadol’s status as something separate and apart from that of regular kohanim, then we would likely require that all his garments – including the four basic garments which are also worn by regular kohanim – be made specifically for the purpose of the kohen gadol.


            Earlier this week, we noted the ruling of the Rambam, in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash (8:11), that a kohen may not wear his avneit – the special belt worn by kohanim – at times when he does not perform the avoda (service) in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  Since the avneit contained both wool and linen, it constituted sha’atnez and was thus forbidden to wear it except in the situations when the Torah requires wearing it, namely, while performing the avoda

            Curiously, in formulating this halakha, the Rambam mentions specifically that this is forbidden for a kohen hedyot – an ordinary kohen, as opposed to the kohen gadol.  Seemingly, it is permissible for a kohen gadol to wear his avneit even when he does not perform the avoda – despite the fact that the kohen gadol’s belt also contained sha’atnez.  In fact, as we noted earlier this week, the Gemara in a number of places cites a debate as to whether the belts of the ordinary kohanim contained sha’atnez like the belt of the kohen gadol.  According to all views, it seems, the kohen gadol’s belt contained sha’atnez, and thus should be forbidden to be worn outside the context of the avoda.  The question thus arises as to why the Rambam chose to mention specifically the ordinary kohanim in presenting this halakha.  (It should be noted that the Mishneh Le-melekh (8:2) cites a version of the text of the Rambam’s ruling according to which the kohen gadol’s belt did not, in fact, contain sha’atnez.  The Mishneh Le-melekh dismisses this version, however, noting that, as mentioned it seems clear from the Gemara that the kohen gadol’s avneit contained wool and linen.)

            The Radbaz (Hilkhot Kilayim 10:32) explains that in the Rambam’s view, the kohen gadol is allowed to wear his avneit at any time because he has the right to insist on performing the sacrificial rituals in the Mikdash whenever he so desired.  The other kohanim were divided into shifts, and members of each shift were selected for the various rituals based on a lottery system.  However, the kohen gadol reserves the right to perform any of the rituals whenever he wishes, as the Rambam explicitly rules in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash (5:12).  The Radbaz thus suggests that since the kohen gadol can at any moment decide to perform the avoda, he is always permitted to wear his avneit.

            A different theory is advanced by Rav Baruch Teomim-Frankel (author of the famous work Barukh Ta’am), in his Ateret Chakhamim (Y.D. 23).  He cites the Rambam’s formulation in Sefer Ha-mitzvot (asei 33) in describing the mitzva upon the kohen gadol to wear his special garments, where the Rambam writes that the kohen gadol is commanded “to always wear these garments in the Temple.”  The implication of this phrase is that unlike other kohanim, who are required to wear their special garments only when they perform the avoda, the kohen gadol is commanded to wear his special garments at all times when he is in the Beit Ha-mikdash, and not just when he performs the avoda.  As such, the Rambam’s ruling that a kohen may not wear his avneit when he is not performing the avoda is not relevant to the kohen gadol, who is to wear his garments at all times.

            It should be noted that the Rambam mentions this halakha also in Hilkhot Kilayim (10:32), where he writes simply that it is forbidden for kohanim to wear the avneit when they are not performing the avoda.  In this context, the Rambam does not note a distinction between the kohen gadol and other kohanim, as he does in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash.  Regardless of how we explain the implied distinction drawn by the Rambam in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash, his comments there appear to contradict his ruling in Hilkhot Kilayim, where no such distinction is drawn.  We might speculate that in Hilkhot Kilayim the Rambam wrote “kohanim” as a reference to specifically the ordinary kohanim, but the question still remains why he made this distinction clear in one context but not in the other.

(See Rav Asher Weiss’ Minchat Asher, Parashat Pekudei, chapter 69)


            As we’ve discussed earlier this week, the Rambam rules in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash (8:11) that a kohen may not wear his avneit (special belt) when he is not performing the avoda in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  The avneit consisted of both wool and linen, and was thus generally forbidden to be worn due to the prohibition of sha’atnez.  The Torah requires wearing the avneit while performing the avoda, essentially suspending the sha’atnez prohibition for this purpose, but at other times, it is forbidden for a kohen to wear the avneit due to the prohibition of sha’atnez.

            The Mabit (Rav Moshe di Trani), in his Kiryat Sefer commentary to the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, advances the surprising theory that the Rambam refers here to a rabbinic prohibition.  On the level of Torah law, the Mabit claims, the Rambam concedes that a kohen is permitted to wear the avneit even when does not perform the avoda.  The Mabit explains that clearly a kohen does not violate the prohibition of sha’atnez during those moments after he completes the avoda before he has an opportunity to remove the avneit.  Once the Torah commands the kohen to wear the avneit while performing the avoda, it must, necessarily, also permit him to wear the avneit for a few minutes after performing the avoda, as a human being cannot possibly avoid wearing the avneit during those moments.  It stands to reason, the Mabit contends, that just as the Torah does not forbid wearing the avneit during those moments, it permits wearing the avneit at any time when the kohen is in the Mikdash.  And thus when the Rambam codifies a prohibition against wearing the avneit outside the framework of the avoda, he must necessarily refer to a prohibition enacted by Chazal as a safeguard against violations of sha’atnez.

            Rav Asher Weiss (Minchat Asher, Parashat Pekudei, p. 460) noted the difficulty with the Mabit’s theory, as it seems to be contradicted by the Rambam’s formulation in Hilkhot Kilayim (10:32).  There the Rambam writes explicitly that a kohen who wears the avneit when he does not perform the avoda, even if he is in the Beit Ha-mikdash, is liable to corporal punishment.  This clearly indicates that the prohibition applies on the level of Torah law, as one is not liable to court-administered punishment for transgressing a prohibition enacted by Chazal.

            In defense of the Mabit’s position, Rav Weiss suggests a distinction between a kohen who puts on the priestly garments when not performing the avoda, and a kohen who leaves his garments on after performing the avoda.  Possibly, the Mabit speaks specifically of the latter case, when a kohen performed the avoda and did not then immediately remove the avneit.  In such a case, according to the Mabit, the kohen does not violate the Torah prohibition of sha’atnez, which had been suspended for the purpose of the avoda and thus does not forbid wearing the avneit even after completing the service.  In Hilkhot Kilayim, the Rambam addresses the situation of a kohen who puts on the avneit when he is not performing the avoda.  In such a case, the sha’atnez prohibition was never suspended, and so the kohen violates the Torah prohibition of sha’atnez, even according to the Mabit.


            The Gemara in Masekhet Arakhin (16) comments that the me’il, the robe worn by the kohen, serves to atone for the sin of lashon ha-ra – negative and offensive speech about other people.  The basis of this connection is the bells which ran along the bottom of the me’il and produced a ringing sound as the kohen gadol walked.  The Gemara comments that the sound produced by the me’il serves to atone for the sin which is violated through sound – namely, lashon ha-ra.

            Based on the Gemara’s remark, the Chafetz Chayim, in his famous work on the topic of lashon ha-ra (2:15), associates various aspects of the me’il with the vitally important obligation of shemirat ha-lashon – refraining from negative speech about others.  One such aspect is the safa, or binding, which was stitched onto the me’il around the neck.  The Torah (Shemot 28:32, 39:23) instructs that the binding should resemble that of a “tachra,” which Rashi explains to mean an armored coat.  Surprisingly, the Torah commanded that the me’il, one of the garments worn by the kohen gadol in the Beit Ha-mikdash, should have the appearance of armor worn by warriors in battle.  The Chafetz Chayim explained that symbolically, this association between the me’il and armor signifies the protective effect of avoiding lashon ha-ra.  The more a person speaks negatively and offensively to and about other people, the more resentment he evokes and the more hostility he invites upon himself.  The me’il, which represents the antidote, as it were, to lashon ha-ra, thus resembles a coat of armor, as avoiding lashon ha-ra helps shield us from other people’s hostility.

The Chafetz Chayim speaks in this context specifically of one who finds himself in a quarrel or disagreement with another person.  The way to protect himself from the other person’s hostility, the Chafetz Chayim writes, is through silence.  The natural instinct is to launch verbal attacks against one’s adversary and try and knock him down, but more often than not, this only backfires and further fuels the flames of acrimony.  The Chafetz Chayim urges us to protect ourselves from unnecessary conflicts and tension through shemirat ha-lashon, by exercising restraint and keeping silent even when our instincts tell us to speak negatively and disdainfully about others.