SALT - Sunday, 21 Adar 5777 - March 19, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Yesterday, we noted the Gemara’s comment (Shabbat 63b, Sukka 5a) concerning the phrase “kodesh le-Hashem” which the Torah (Shemot 28:36, 39:30) requires engraving upon the tzitz – the gold strip worn on the kohen gadol’s forehead.  According to the straightforward reading of the Gemara, as Rashi (in Masekhet Shabbat) explains, the words are written in reverse.  The word “kodesh,” as well as the first letter of the word “le-Hashem,” were written on the bottom line of the tzitz, while the Name of God was written on the top line.  This was done, presumably, so as not to disrespect the divine Name by having text preceding it.  Other Rishonim, however, challenged this notion, questioning why the Torah would require writing text in the opposite way from which text is normally written and read.  Likewise, the Maharsha raises the question of why there should be any concern with writing text before the Name of God.  The Torah itself mentions God’s Name on many occasions, with text before and after it.  Why should this be a problem specifically on the kohen gadol’s tzitz?

            To answer these questions, Rav Yitzchak Zev Diskin proposes in his Zivchei Tzedek commentary to Masekhet Sukka that Rashi followed a different understanding of the phrase “Kodesh Le-Hashem,” which is commonly understood as announcing that the kohen gadol was “sacred unto the Lord,” consecrated exclusively for the service of the Almighty in the Temple.  The Talmud Yerushalmi (cited by the Ritva in his commentary to Masekhet Shabbat) compares the arrangement of the text of the tzitz to a king sitting on his throne.  In other words, the Name of God, representing God Himself, appears on top, as though “sitting” on the “throne” – the words “kodesh le-.”  This imagery clearly reflects Rashi’s view, and seems to imply that the text depicts the kohen gadol as the “throne” upon which God rests.  The Name of God depicts God, and the words “kodesh le-” depicts the kohen gadol who is devoted to God’s service and designated for the purposing of bringing honor to God, like a throne is designated for a king’s honor.  Accordingly, the text is not written in reverse, with the first words underneath the last, but is rather arranged in an illustrative manner, using imagery to depict the exalted role of the kohen gadol.