The Living Torah is a weekly publication distributed in and around North West London. Written by members of Hasmonean High School's Sixth Form programme - we aim to bring you divrei torah for your Shabbat table each and everyweek.

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Friday, 26 February 2010

Torah and the Kehuna

“And you will command the children of Israel that they shall take for you clear olive oil, crushed, for illumination, to light a continual flame.”

This commandment is addressed to Moshe, yet is a change in the way that ה has been giving instructions until now, where the word va'tisa has been used instead. So why suddenly change to אתה תצוה?

The Ramban answers that Moshe had a special responsibility when it came to the oil of the Menorah. This is further emphasised by Rav Elie Munk, in his commentary on Chumash, Kol HaTorah, where he quotes the Zohar who asks a question on the grammatical construction of the pasuk. The word ואתה (and you) seems extraneous, as תצוה itself means ‘you will command’. He answers that by addressing Moshe so specifically, ה is giving him authority over the whole of the B’nei Yisrael, which notably includes Aharon and his sons.

The emphasis placed on Moshe recalls ה’s original intention to make Moshe the Kohein Gadol, which is explained in Gemara Zevachim, (102a), “and Hashem’s wrath burned against Moshe” (Shemot 4:14), Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha said: Every time ‘charon af’, ‘burning wrath’ is mentioned in the Torah, it leaves a permanent mark, with the exception of this occasion. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: this occasion also left a permanent mark, for it says [in the same pasuk] “Is there not Aharon your brother, the Levite”. It doesn’t say he was a Kohein [but a Levi]. So Hashem said: I said you would be a Kohein, and he a Levi, now he will be a Kohein and you a Levi. The Chachamim said: Moshe never served as a Kohein except for in the seven days of building the Mishkan.” To leave no doubt as to the reason for Moshe’s apparent demotion, the seven days he spent as Kohein Gadol parallel the seven days he spent protesting at the Burning Bush.

The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah, ch.37) says that whenה told Moshe to appoint Aharon as Kohein Gadol he resented it. The Ibn Ezra seems to suggest that actually, Moshe was glad to remove himself from the responsibilities of the Kehunah, as he had enough duties as head of the Judiciary. However, Rav Munk suggests that even if Moshe had accepted ה’s instructions immediately, he would still not have been able to take the post of Kohein Gadol as a result of killing the Egyptian taskmaster, as a Kohein who has killed another person cannot serve in the Mishkan.

As a result of Aharon’s appointment as Kohen Gadol there was a “separation of powers” established between the authority of the Kehunah and that of the Judiciary, embodied by Aharon and Moshe respectively. Moshe certainly represented the judiciary, as Rashi says in D’varim (33:21), on the words צדקת ה' עשה.

Where he states that Moshe was the object of this statement. A further indication of Moshe’s status as the head of the judiciary is that he is told by‘ה to announce Aharon’s appointment as Kohein Gadol, a task which in future would go to the head of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court.

All of this comes from the specific addressing of Moshe through the word v’ata which appears three times in the opening five pesukim of Tetzaveh. This repetitive stressing of Moshe’s remaining important responsibilities served to revitalise him. The Chatam Sofer offers a different explanation for the repetition of v’ata, which is not necessarily incompatible with that of Rav Munk. He points out that v’ata is mentioned five times in the next few Perakim, three times in Tetzaveh, and twice in Ki Tisa, and says that each one represents a historical era or event. 

The first occurrence, v’ata tetzaveh, describes the purity of the Menorah, and is symbolic of one of the most blissful periods of Jewish history, from Yitziat Mitzrayim to the destruction of the first beit hamikdash.

The second v’ata orders Moshe to take Aharon and his son this alludes to Chanukah, a miracle facilitated by the descendants of Aharon.

The third v’ata is followed by the advice mar d’ror which alludes to the miracle of Purim. The Gemara in Chullin (139b) says that mar d’ror is a hint from the Torah about Mordechai.

The fourth v’ata is “V’ata tedaber el kol chachmei lev” is a reference to the time of the Mashiach, when the world will be filled with wisdom and knowledge of ה.

The final v’ata is a reference to Olam Haba, a universe of rest and peace – an eternal Sabbath - the commandment is to keep Shabbat.

Returning to the original point, the fact is that Moshe, through the accentuation of his role as teacher and judge, came to realise that the Torah is more precious than the Kehunah, as it is accessible to all Jews, not just those of certain lineage.

“Torah Tzivah Lanu Moshe, Morsha Keheilet Yaakov” - the Torah is available to any Jew, and this is the great achievement of Moshe Rabbeinu.

By Michael Deutsch


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. according to many kohanim today are not even real kohanim. see