Parshas Tetsaveh opens with HaShem’s instructions to Moshe about the lighting of the Menorah in the Mishkan. This Menorah was not quite the same as the one you light nowadays on Chanukah:
A Chanukah Menorah has 8 candles (plus one Shamesh), but the Menorah in the Mishkan had a total of 7 lights, 3 on each side and one in the middle – all the same height.
As mentioned in Parshas Terumah, the Menorah was made of one solid block of pure gold, but a Chanukah Menorah can be made from any material, whether it is gold, silver or simple tin. You can even make a no-frills “Potato Menorah”! You can make a miniature size Menorah or a giant Menorah. You can also decorate it just about any way you want… just use your imagination!
But HaShem wanted the Menorah in the Mishkan to have specific measurements and shape it with the exact decorations He wanted – “Decorate the branches of the Menorah with 3 shapes: 22 cups, 11 buttons, and 9 flowers,” Hashem commanded Moshe.
In addition, a Chanukah Menorah can be lit with either candles or oil. This was not the case in the Mishkan.
Moshe was given the task to make sure only the best oil was used for the Menorah. “You should command Bnei Yisrael,” said HaShem, “that they shall bring you the finest oil which comes from the first pressing of the olive – only the very first drop is pure enough to light My Menorah. Aharon and his children, the Kohanim, will be in charge of lighting the Menorah – “Tamid” – every single day.”
Once the pure olive oil was collected, it was the job of the Kohanim to prepare the Menorah and light it. Every morning, a Kohen would enter the Kodesh chamber of the Mishkan, where the Menorah stood, and climb the steps in front of it. He would clean out the oil cups from the previous day, replace old wicks with new ones, and pour new oil in so it should burn throughout the entire night. In the afternoon, before dark, the Kohen would light the Menorah once again. He did this every single day of the week, including Shabbos.
A special miracle occurred daily with one of the lights of the Menorah. All 7 branches had the same amount of oil in them, yet when the Kohen came in the morning to clean the Menorah, he would find the middle flame, called the Ner Ma’aravi, still burning, while all the other 6 flames had been extinguished! At that point, the Kohen would clean those 6 branches and let the middle flame continue to burn.
In the late afternoon, when it was time to light the Menorah again for the night, the Kohen would walk in, and lo and behold… the middle flame was still burning! The Kohen would take fire from that flame to light the other 6 wicks. Only after lighting them would he extinguish the middle light. He would then clean it up perfectly and proceed to light this middle flame.
And so, this was the miracle that happened every single day – without fail!
Have you ever noticed that people with specific jobs often wear uniforms that make them stand out in the crowd? Think about the clothes worn by policemen, firefighters, soldiers, airline pilots or doctors. Their clothes send us a clear message – these people have a special status, skill, or important task.
Similarly, the Kohanim wore distinctive clothing so that the Kohanim themselves would feel how important their jobs were, and so Bnei Yisrael would treat them with utmost respect. Truthfully, giving the proper respect to the Kohanim was a form of respect to HaShem’s special home – the holy Mishkan.
Interestingly, we have no idea about what type of clothes our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov wore. How about Yosef’s special coat given to him by his father, Yaakov? Besides the fact that it had many colors, the way it looked is a complete mystery. And how did Moshe and his wife Tzipporah dress? Once again, we have no idea.
Yet, when it came to the clothes of the Kohanim and the Kohen Gadol, HaShem elaborated and gave Moshe specific instructions, “You shall speak to the expertly skilled weavers, and have them make the clothes of the Kohanim, for dignity and splendor. Every Kohen serving in the Mishkan shall wear four special garments:
1) Kesones – a long, floor-length shirt made of white linen.
2) Avnait – a very long, multicolored belt, wound many times around the waist.
3) Michnasayim – white linen pants.
4) Migba’as – a white linen turban wrapped many times around the head, forming a point at the top.”
The Kohen Gadol wore twice as many clothes as the regular Kohanim. He wore the same Kesones, Avnait, and Michnasayim that the Kohanim wore, and a turban rounded on the top, called the Mitznefes (unlike the pointed top of the Migba’as of the regular Kohen), plus four more multi-colored garments.
Here’s a list:
1. Eifod – a colorful, woven apron, which draped down the back and tied around the waist in front. It had 28 threads made of different materials, including a thread made out of gold! The Eifod had 2 shoulder straps, each of which had a Shoham stone attached to it. The names of 6 tribes of Israel were engraved on the stone of the left shoulder strap, and the names of the other 6 tribes were engraved on the stone of the right shoulder strap.
2. Choshen Mishpat – a beautiful, woven chestplate, also made of 28 threads.
3. Me’il – a coat woven of blue wool. Hanging from the bottom hem were 72 little golden bells and 72 decorations shaped like pomegranates. The bells would jingle and make plenty of noise when the Kohen Gadol walked. This jingling reminded the Kohen Gadol and all of Bnei Yisrael how important his work in the Mishkan was.
4. Tzitz – a golden headband, which had the words “Kodesh L’HaShem” – Holy to HaShem – engraved on it. The name used for HaShem was the holy, four letter name: Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey.
Did you notice that there seems to be something missing from this list of clothing? What about special shoes for the Kohanim?
Well, there weren’t any! HaShem wanted the Kohanim to feel the holy stones of the Mishkan floor – so no shoes or socks were allowed!
Let’s talk a bit more about the Choshen Mishpat.
This special garment was a square piece of material folded over to make a pocket, and inside it was the Urim V’tumim, a piece of parchment with HaShem’s holy name. On the front of the Choshen Mishpat were 12 gemstones, with one name of the 12 tribes engraved upon each stone.
This Choshen Mishpat functioned not only as a garment of the Kohen Gadol, but was also a miraculous “answering machine,” coming straight from HaShem!
Here’s how it worked:
Whenever there was an important question to be asked of HaShem, the question would be brought to the Kohen Gadol. The great Torah commentator, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, also known as the Ramban (1194-1270), gives us an example how this process worked:
When Bnei Yisrael crossed the Yarden (Jordan River), about to enter the Land of Israel, they knew that they had to conquer the land by defeating the nations occupying the land. They wanted to know which of the 12 tribes would lead the way. Pinchas was the Kohen Gadol at the time. He entered the Mishkan wearing the Choshen Mishpat and posed the question.
“Which of the 12 tribes shall be at the front line – Reuven, Shimon, Yehudah, Yisachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Menashe, Ephraim, or Binyamin?”
Immediately the answer came! The Urim V’tumim lit up certain areas of the Choshen which caused the letters י,ה,ו,ד,ה to shine. Now, Pinchas understood that the soldiers of the tribe of Yehudah had to be the first ones to go to war.
INSIGHT: Drunk, Worthy, or Like Sarah? Puzzle SHAZAK Drunk or Righteous? A Letter Mixup! It wasn’t always easy to figure out the answers of the Choshen Mishpat. A great, famous Rabbi, known as the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), relates the following story, which demonstrates how once a Kohen Gadol misread the Choshen Mishpat: In the book […]
Legend has it, that one day, the great Torah commentator, Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki – 1040-1105) who lived in France around a thousand years ago, noticed a noblewoman riding by on horseback and for some reason he was gazing at her clothes. Later, he was bothered by this. “Why was I paying so much attention to that noblewoman?” He couldn’t figure it out.
When Rashi came home that day, he was busy writing his commentary on Parshas Tetsaveh, about the special clothes of the Kohen Gadol. When he tried to describe the Eifod – the apron – he got stuck. He wrote, “I have not heard any explanation of its form…”
Suddenly, he remembered the noblewoman riding the horse. Aha! Now he knew. He had a feeling, deep down in his heart that the Eifod of the Kohen Gadol looked something like the riding apron worn by ladies on horseback!
These are the continuation of Rashi’s words in that Pasuk – Chapter 28 verse 4: “My heart tells me that it was something tied behind him… like an apron of sorts… which the ladies of the nobility wear while horseback riding.”
That’s why he had noticed the noblewoman – so that he could explain to the whole world exactly how the Kohen Gadol’s clothes looked!
And now you know… the rest of the story!
There was one more important structure needed in the Mishkan – an altar for burning incense. This Mizbei’ach was 2 Amos tall, which is around 4 feet tall and much smaller than the copper Mizbei’ach, on which Bnei Yisrael sacrificed animals.
HaShem commanded Moshe, “Make it out of acacia wood and cover it with pure gold. Make a gold crown surrounding it. Place the altar near the Menorah in the Kodesh section of the Mishkan.”
Every morning and afternoon, a Kohen burned incense on the altar, and the fragrant smoke of the spices went straight up to HaShem!
This altar had several names – Mizbei’ach HaKetores, the altar of incense; Mizbei’ach HaZahav, the altar of gold; and Mizbei’ach HaPnimi, the inner altar, situated inside the Kodesh.
You might think that the description of the Mizbei’ach HaKetores should have been in last week’s Parsha, Parshas Terumah, when all of the other objects for the Mishkan were described.
But, as mentioned several times, the Torah is not a history book that follows a specific order. Sometimes, certain things are told in unexpected places in the Torah, just for the purpose of setting them apart and showing us how important they are. The incense offering was a special sign of the love between HaShem and Bnei Yisrael!
The Jewish People now had everything they needed to serve HaShem – a special, holy place – the Mishkan – and special, holy people – the Kohanim, who wore special, holy garments. But soon, we will learn about something not holy at all – the terrible sin of the Golden Calf!