Headlines »

April 13, 2019 – 10:58 pm | 93 views

Have you ever noticed that we eat bland Matzah at the Seder table?
There are no spices in Matzah; we don’t add anything to give it zest because we want it to resemble the poor man’s bread. We don’t even add salt. In fact, we are not permitted to add salt …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life

Concepts

The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Tetzaveh

Tezaveh: A Full Complement

Submitted by on February 21, 2010 – 3:28 amNo Comment | 1,209 views

Two Stones

The vestments of the high priest included two beautiful stones that adorned his shoulders. These stones, which were engraved with the names of the twelve tribes, served to invoke the memory of the Jewish nation as the High Priest discharged his duties in the temple’s inner sanctum. In the words of the Bibilcal commentator, Rashi, “the Holy One, blessed is He, will see the [names of the] tribes written before Him, and He will remember their righteousness.” (1)

Rashi’s employment of the words, “he will remember their righteousness,” implies that the names of the tribes, engraved upon the stone, articulate the righteousness of our people. How is that?

One Unit

The names, engraved on two stones, is reminiscent of the Ten Commandments, which were also engraved on two stone tablets. The five commandments engraved on the first tablet are ritual in nature; they govern our relationship with G-d. The five commandments engraved on the second tablet are social in nature; they govern our relationship with our fellow.  (2)

When the high priest approached the altar he did so in representation of the entire nation. Among the people there are few who scrupulously observe all the laws. There are those, who are meticulous about the ritual commandments such as the dietary laws and the Shabbat and those, who are meticulous about the social laws such as honesty and decency.

The lack of virtue of the first group impugns the virtue of the second group and vice versa. The High priest therefore wore both stones on his shoulders and on them the insignia of all twelve tribes, to demonstrate that when viewed as a single unit the nation is observant of all the laws. There are some that observe the social laws and others that observe the ritual laws; taken together our mandate is complete. Thus, when G-d sees our names etched in stone He remembers our commitment to the Torah, which is etched in stone and this stimulates His memory of [the entire nation’s] righteousness. (3)

Modern Day Application

This tension between the ritual and social laws continues to plague us to this very day. Too often one hears the indictment of fellow Jews on account of their lack of observance. Ritually observant Jews condemn honest and decent Jews for their failure to observe the rituals. a full complement - innerstreamOn the other hand, honest and decent Jews condemn Shabbat observant Jews for their lack of honesty and decency.

Condemnations fly back and forth and in the meantime we forget that we are a singe people; one family, a cohesive unit. Let us examine the metaphor of the body. The hands can build, but cannot run. The feet can run, but cannot build. Is this reason for the hands and feet to condemn each other? On the contrary each is pleased that the other provides the service they cannot themselves provide.

The same is true of our people. Rather than condemn one another we are better served to remember the message of Aaron’s shoulder stones. Though some Jews excel in the social arena and others excel in the ritual arena, taken together we are a complete people; observant of our entire mandate. (4)

Like Hand in Glove

The reader is justifiably skeptical of this favorable approach because the Torah’s mandate was not given to the nation collectively, but to each Jew individually. When we fail in one area we are guilty and the fact that another Jew excels in that area does not compensate for our failures.

This argument is well founded which is why I issue the following challenge. If as a ritually observant Jew you note your fellow’s laxity in the ritual arena, why not teach and encourage, rather than castigate and condemn? After all, this is your area of strength! The same holds true on the other end. If as a socially conscious Jew you take note of another Jew’s laxity in this area, why not teach and encourage instead of castigate? This is your area of strength!

You and the one you condemn are perfectly suited to help each other; each is strong where the other is weak. It seems almost providential that you met and took note of one another’s weakness; the outsider would conclude that you were fated to help each other. They fit like a hand to a glove. Yet rather than help you condemn each other. Is this not a waste of fate?

Right and Left

The reason we condemn rather than reach out is that we are each convinced that our area of strength is the more important ethic. The Shabbat observant Jew emphasizes the ritual over the social whereas the honest and decent Jew prioritizes the social over the ritual. We would all do good to remember that both tablets, the ritual and the social laws, were given at the same time. G-d did not prioritize one over the other and neither should we.

This too is implied in the stones worn by the High Priest. The stones contained the names of the tribes, but there was no engraving on the stone that identified which stone represented the ritual laws and which represented the social laws.

Furthermore, though one stone was worn on the right shoulder and the other on the left shoulder, which might imply a preference for the right stone over the left, the commentaries hasten to point out that the High Priest wore the stones before G-d. When Aaron stood before G-d the stones worn on his left were to the right of G-d and the stones worn on his left were to the right of G-d. This further indicates that there is truly no preference for one category of law over the other. (5)

Time To Change

This leaves us with the true reason for our condemnation of each other. It simply easier to find fault in others than it is to find fault in ourselves. Even when recognition of our own fault is inescapable, we still find it easier to sidestep our faults by drawing attention to another’s fault.

We might escape our responsibility in the short term, but in the long run we are hurting ourselves; we are tearing our nation apart and in the process pulling ourselves down. Let us remember that a high tide raises all ships. We need not put down others to raise ourselves up; rather let us raise ourselves up and lift others along with us.

Footnotes

  1. Exodus 28: 12 and Rashi ad loc.
  2. The first tablet contained the commandments
    related to faith and the Sabbath. The second tablet included
    prohibitions against murder, theft adultery and false testimony.
  3. See Meshech Chochmo on Exodus 28: 12  that the one
    stone represents faith in G-d the other stone represents honesty and
    good will among people.
  4. See Malbim ad loc. For a similar explanation with a different approach see Toras Moshe (Sofer) ibid.
  5. See Panim Yafot ad loc. c.f. Divrei Yisroel on
    Exodus 28: 11 for a fascinating insight into the message of the
    engraved names.
Tags: , ,

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also Comments Feed via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.