The Menorah Wedge (1)
Parashat Tetzaveh continues the narratives first introduced in last week's Parashat Teruma. Recall that last week, the Torah spelled out in exhaustive detail the vessels of the Mishkan as well as the building elements themselves. The data was presented in hierarchical format, with the most precious vessels – the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of the Showbread and the Menorah – introduced before the text went on to describe the boards of acacia wood, the precious textiles and the hides that together constituted their spatial envelope. The description of the building was in turn followed by that of the dividing curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the complex. After the Torah had completed the account of the building proper and its contents, it turned its attention to the outer courtyard, beginning once again with the primary vessel associated with that space, namely the altar of bronze. This was then followed by a description of the curtains that marked the borders of the outer courtyard, their supporting pillars, foundation sockets and associated pegs. Thus, the account of the Mishkan or Tent of Meeting was completed.
The transition to Parashat Tetzaveh is logically sound and thematically seamless:
As for you, draw near your brother Aharon and his sons with him from the midst of the people of Israel so that he might serve Me – Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, El'azar and Itamar the sons of Aharon. Make holy garments for Aharon your brother, for honor and for glory. As for you, speak to all of the wise of heart that I have filled with a spirit of wisdom so that they will fashion the vestments of Aharon to sanctify him so that he may serve Me…(28:1-3).
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE IBN EZRA
Thus, while Parashat Teruma was concerned with the vessels and the building, our Parasha is concerned with the garments of the priests as well as with the service of those Kohanim in the sanctified precincts of the Mishkan. The garments include the four articles of clothing donned by the typical priest for the performance of his service, as well as the additional specialized and highly ornamented vestments of the High Priest. As Ibn Ezra comments in his opening remarks to our section (commentary to 27:20):
Let me first indicate the explanation for the joining of the sections. After having completed the discussion of all of the holy vessels, the dividing curtain, the boards, the tent, its covering, the altar of sacrifice, the courtyard and its screens, the Torah begins to explicate the matters concerning those that minister in the Mishkan and the nature of their exclusive service. They are to kindle the lights with pure olive oil and not of another kind. It is appropriate that these servants (the priests) be distinguished and set apart both by their lineage as well as by their garments. These are therefore recounted one after the other. Then the text mentions that they must practice their rites during the seven days of the dedication, during which time Moshe is to teach them and to prepare them (29:1-37). Only afterwards, are they to serve, to offer the daily sacrifices upon the bronze altar (29:38-46), not upon the golden altar, for the latter is reserved for the incense offering and upon its horns they are to offer atonement but once during the course of the year…(30:1-10).
The scheme of the narratives is therefore very straightforward and reveals a striking analog: sanctified vessels and their enveloping building are parallel to sanctified priests and their enveloping garments. Just as the essence of the Mishkan is signified by its precious ritual articles while the building and its curtains are but their necessary protective container, so too the essence of the service is signified by the priests while their vestments in turn are but the necessary external trappings of their office.
THE ANOMALY OF THE MENORAH
There is, however, one anomaly to this otherwise perfectly balanced and hierarchically organized narrative, a short series of verses that even Ibn Ezra glossed over without sufficient elaboration. How straightforward the matter would have been had last week's section that concluded with the description of the outer courtyard been flawlessly joined to this week's Parasha beginning with the passage quoted above, in which Moshe was commanded to draw Aharon and his sons near and to fashion holy vestments for them. Then the text would have been arranged thus:
All of the pillars of the courtyard around were belted with silver, their hooks were silver and their sockets were bronze. The length of the outer courtyard was one hundred cubits and its width was fifty by fifty, and its height was five cubits of twisted linen fabric, and the sockets were of bronze. All of the (other) vessels of the Mishkan for all of its rituals, all of its pegs as well as the pegs of the outer courtyard, all of them were made of bronze (conclusion of Parashat Teruma, 27:17-19).
As for you, draw near your brother Aharon and his sons with him from the midst of the people of Israel so that he might serve Me – Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, El'azar and Itamar the sons of Aharon. Make holy garments for Aharon your brother, for honor and for glory. As for you, speak to all of the wise of heart whom I have filled with a spirit of wisdom so that they will fashion the vestments of Aharon to sanctify him so that he may serve Me…(opening of Parashat Tetzaveh, 28:1-3).
In fact, however, Parashat Tetzaveh begins not with the above paragraph that represents the natural and organic continuation of Parashat Teruma (as outlined earlier by the Ibn Ezra), but rather with a short series of two verses that constitute a glaring and inexplicable wedge between the sections:
As for you, command the people of Israel to provide pure olive oil from the press for the lighting, to kindle the lights perpetually. Within the Tent of Meeting beyond the dividing curtain that is opposite the (Ark of the) Testimony, there Aharon and his sons shall arrange it from evening until morning before God, an eternal statute for generations from the people of Israel (27:20-21).
Why does a mention of the fuel for the Menora, the pure olive oil extracted from the first pressing of the ripe olives, intervene between the description of the Mishkan and what ought to naturally follow, namely the fashioning of the priestly garments? Why does the command concerning the kindling of the lights, important though it may be, impose itself in a manner that upsets the otherwise perfect symmetry of the sections? Recall that Ibn Ezra had briefly addressed the matter in his comments above, stating that:
After having completed the discussion of all of the holy vessels, the dividing curtain, the boards, the tent, its covering, the altar of sacrifice, the courtyard and its screens, the Torah begins to explicate the matters concerning those that minister in the Mishkan and the nature of their exclusive service. They are to kindle the lights with pure olive oil and not of another kind. It is appropriate that these servants (the priests) be distinguished and set apart both by their lineage as well as by their garments…
DIFFICULTIES WITH IBN EZRA
But his explanation is not sufficiently convincing, for at least three reasons. First of all, if our Parasha is meant to introduce the service of the priests, then the natural starting point for the discussion is not an otherwise contextually out-of-place mention of the olive oil and the lights, but rather the description of the vestments themselves. Second of all, strictly speaking the passage of the lights is not really about Aharon's service in ensuring their perpetual fire, but rather about the role of the people Israel in providing the oil. It is the oil furnished by the people of Israel that brackets the brief passage on both ends:
As for you, command THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL TO PROVIDE PURE OLIVE OIL from the press for the lighting, to kindle the lights perpetually. Within the Tent of Meeting beyond the dividing curtain that is opposite the (Ark of the) Testimony, there Aharon and his sons shall arrange it from evening until morning before God, an eternal statute for generations from THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL (27:20-21).
Thirdly and perhaps most tellingly, if the Torah wants to offer us a brief glimpse into the service of the priests, a literary interlude before it launches into the lengthy and detailed description of their garments, then why single out the Menorah, its fuel and its kindling for special mention? Why not include a short description of the service of the Showbread, the twelve special fresh loaves that were placed on the Table to remain from one Sabbath to the next? After all, the Menorah and the Table are the twin denizens that inhabit the space of the otherwise empty sanctuary, protectively flanking the Altar of incense on either side. As symbols of Divine involvement in the lives of the people of Israel, the Menorah and the Table are inseparable, for together they represent the binary foundation idea of God constantly bestowing upon His people Israel both spiritual wisdom as well as physical sustenance.
In fact, in a well-known and contrasting passage from Sefer VaYikra, the Menorah and the Table are appropriately twinned together. In Parashat Emor, after describing the popular observances of the holiday cycle as well as the special sacrificial rites that are to be performed in the Mishkan at those times, the Torah states:
God said to Moshe: Command the people of Israel to furnish pure olive oil from the press for the lighting, to kindle the lights perpetually. Within the Tent of Meeting beyond the dividing curtain that is opposite the (Ark of the) Testimony, there Aharon shall arrange it from evening until morning before God, an eternal statute for generations. Upon the pure Menorah he shall arrange the lights, before God in perpetuity.
You shall take fine flour and bake the twelve loaves, each one shall be made out of two measures of an "isaron." You shall place them in two sets of six, upon the pure Table before God. You shall place upon the set pure frankincense, and it shall be a commemoration for the bread that is offered by fire to God. On each Sabbath day he shall arrange it before God in perpetuity, and it shall be an eternal covenant from the people of Israel. It shall be for Aharon and his sons and they shall consume it in a holy place, for it is holy of holies for him from the fire offerings of God, an eternal statute (VaYikra 24:1-9).
AN ADDITIONAL REFERENCE
Thus, we are left to ponder the Menorah/oil reference in our Parasha, a series of verses that seems so entirely out of place. There is, however, an additional passage from the Torah that perhaps can shed some light on the matter. This time, we turn our attention to the Book of BeMidbar and to the description of the dedicatory offerings of the Tribal elders at the time of the Mishkan's consecration. There, the Torah spelled out in striking repetition the offerings of the twelve princes of Israel in turn, each one of whom presented identical vessels of silver and gold, offerings of fine flour and incense, as well as animals for sacrifice. The Torah concluded the passage of the "Dedication of the Altar," that took place after the inauguration of Aharon and his sons as ministering priests, by providing a listing of all of the contributed items:
…twelve silver trays, twelve silver bowls, twelve golden pans…twenty-four oxen for sacrifice, sixty rams, sixty goats, sixty sheep…these were for the dedication of the altar on the day that it was anointed. When Moshe would come to the Tent of Meeting to speak to Him, then he would hear the voice addressing him from upon the lid that was upon the Ark of the Testimony, from between the two keruvs, and He would speak to him (BeMidbar 7:84-89).
So concludes Parashat Naso. Parashat BeHa'alotkha then goes on to describe the inauguration of the Levites:
God spoke to Moshe saying: Take the Levites from among the people of Israel, and purify them. Thus shall you do to purify them – sprinkle upon them water of purification…(8:5 and onwards).
Intervening between the otherwise seamless two sections, the earlier one describing the dedication of the Mishkan, the latter describing the inauguration of the Levites who were to also minister within its sacred precincts, is nothing but another reference to the Menorah!
God spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to Aharon and say to him 'when you kindle the lights, opposite the front of the Menorah, there shall the seven lights shine'. Aharon did so, for opposite the front of the Menorah he lit the lights, just as God had commanded Moshe. This was the matter of the Menorah, it was beaten gold from its base to its flowers, and he fashioned the Menorah like the image that God had shown Moshe (BeMidbar 8:1-4).
To sum up thus far, we now have two entirely discrete passages, one from Sefer Shemot and the other from Sefer BeMidbar, both spelling out matters of the Mishkan and then service of its ministers, and both seemingly pivoting around a disjointed reference to the Menorah. While our section was concerned primarily with matters of objects and spaces, the passage of BeMidbar addressed matters of their inauguration and use, but the fundamental structure was otherwise similar. The third and unrelated passage in Sefer VaYikra that addressed the holiday cycle, included the Menorah as part of a larger discussion incorporating the Table as well, and thus does not seem to bear directly upon our discussion. How then to explain the cryptic reference to the Menorah? Next time, we will conclude the discussion by considering some of the solutions put forth by the commentaries to address the matter.
TO BE CONTINUED