03/01/2012 08:47 pm ET Updated May 01, 2012

Parshat Tetzaveh: Weekly Torah Portion Summary, Questions, Resources

Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Tetzaveh with interlinear Hebrew/English.

And command the Children of Israel: Bring pure, clear, ready-to-light olive oil to ignite the lamp so that it may burn continually.

Aaron and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Itamar, should arrange it so that it will burn from night to morning. This law is eternal.

Draw Aaron and his sons close to you. Elevate them from the rest of the people so that they may be priests for God. Make holy garments of honor and splendor for Aaron. Speak to the Children who have the spirit of wisdom, and they shall make priestly garments for Aaron: a breastplate, an apron, a robe, a checkered tunic, a turban, a sash. The wise ones shall collect gold, turquoise, purple and crimson wool, and linen to make these.

A professional weaver should make an apron of gold thread, turquoise, purple and crimson wool and twisted linen with a decorative belt and shoulder straps of the same material. Engrave two Shoham stones with the names of the 12 Tribes -- six on each stone, in order of birth, engraved clearly, as stones of remembrance. Place these on the shoulder straps.

Make a breastplate of judgment and atonement. The settings and the cables should be gold. The plate, from the usual gold-turquoise-purple-crimson-and-linen, should be one span by one span and set with precious stones in four rows of three: red quarts, emerald and yellow quartz; ruby, sapphire and beryl; red zirconium, striped quartz and amethyst; yellow-green olivine, onyx and opaque quartz. Engrave the names of the Tribes on the stones. One tribe for one stone, in birth order. Make chains and rings of gold to fasten the breastplate to the apron so that it will not move. When Aaron, the High Priest, enters the holiest place, he will have the names of the 12 Tribes on his heart. Always on his heart. Place a parchment with God's name -- the Urim and the Tummim -- into the breastplate. God will be on Aaron's heart now, too. Always.

Make a turquoise robe with a coat-of-armor collar to be worn beneath the apron. It may not be torn. At the bottom edge of the robe should be sewn pomegranates and gold bells, one after another all around. When Aaron enters and leaves the Holy of Holies, the bells will be heard so that he will not die.

Make a pure-gold forehead plate engraved with these words: "Holy to God." Upon a ribbon of turquoise wool, it should be placed on the priest's turban. Always it will be upon him, and he will obtain forgiveness for impure offerings.

Make a tunic and turban from linen. Make an embroidered sash, too. Make thigh-length linen pants. These four garments should be worn by Aaron and his sons. You should anoint, inaugurate and sanctify them as God's priests. When they do priestly services, they should wear the appropriate garments. This law is eternal.

Questions and resources:

Why must the people bring olive oil? How does one turn gold into thread? And why is gold, which is used in the Golden Calf, such an important part of this holy lineage? What are Shoham stones? Why is it a breastplate of judgment? Why will the bells prevent Aaron from dying?

It is not just the priests who have to do holy work, but all people are involved in maintaining the light. The animated Tetzaveh takes a look at the Torah's sudden impassioned -- seemingly impossible -- fashion sense, while Canfei Nesharim explores our modern overuse of gold and its proper use in the Torah. The Jewish Encyclopedia has a detailed discussion of these biblical stones. The commentator Rashi explains, among other things, why the breastplate is connected to judgment. Hasidic thought explains why even the lowest things -- like a hem -- are integral to life.

To sanctify them as priests, take one young bull and two rams -- blemish-free, all of them -- and unleavened bread of three varieties: boiled and fried, mixed with oil before baking, anointed with oil after baking. Make the breads from fine flour.

Bread in a basket, bull and rams in hand, bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the Tabernacle. Immerse them in water. Clothe Aaron in all the priestly garments and pour anointing oil on his head. Dress his sons in the tunics, sashes, pants and turbans. The priesthood is eternal for them.

Bring the bull to the front of the Tabernacle. Aaron and his sons should touch the bull's head. Then, slaughter the bull. With your finger, place some of the blood on the horns of the altar. Pour the rest of the blood onto the base of the altar. Take the stomach fat, the diaphragm, the liver, the kidneys and all the fat that is upon them send them up in smoke from the altar. Take the flesh, the hide and the dung and burn them on the altar as a sin offering.

They should touch the head of a ram. You should slaughter it and place some blood on the two opposite horns of the altar. You should dissect the ram into parts and burn it all together on the altar as a fire-offering to God with a God-pleasing aroma. They should touch the second ram, which should then be slaughtered. Take some blood and place it on the cartilage of Aaron and his sons' right ears, right thumbs and right big toes. Sprinkle the blood all around the altar. Take some of this blood and some anointing oil and sprinkle this on Aaron and his clothes. On his sons and on their clothes. Thus, they will become consecrated.

Take the abdominal fat, the tail-piece, the fat of the innards, the diaphragm of the liver, the two kidneys and the right thigh, one unleavened loaf and another that's boiled and fried in oil, and one wafer -- one-tenth of the basket before God -- and place it all upon their palms and wave their hands with them. Wave to God. Send the bread up in smoke upon the altar along with the burnt-offering. Take the ram's breast and wave it before God. It will be your portion. In the future, the breast and thigh will be donated to the priests to eat. This should be an eternal donation from the people to God.

Aaron should pass his garments on to his successors. The next high priest should wear them for a week.

Take the rest of the ram and cook it in the Tabernacle courtyard. Aaron and his sons should eat this and the bread as an inauguration. Non-priests may never eat this. Any sacred leftovers should be burned in the fire.

Do all of this for seven days. Offer a bull as a sin-offering on each day to cleanse the altar. Then, the altar will be holy. Offer two lambs on the altar every day. One in the morning, one in the afternoon. All should be in their first year. Offer with a mixture of fine flour, crushed olive oil and wine. This should be a regular burnt offering to God.

The Tabernacle, the altar, Aaron, his sons -- all will be sanctified. God will dwell among the Children. They will know that God is God. That God brought them out of Egypt.

As a final connection between God and the people, make an altar of acacia and gold to offer incense. Make rings and poles in the prescribed way, and place this altar in front of the partition, in front of the Ark. Aaron should make incense go up in smoke -- in the morning when he cleans the candelabrum and in the afternoon when he lights it. This incense is eternal. Do not offer anything other than this.

On the Day of Atonement, Aaron should pour blood on the horns of the altar to achieve atonement. The atonement sacrifice is the Holy of Holies for God.

Questions and resources:

What's the significance of the right side and why the ears, hands and feet? Why doesn't the priest do the slaughtering? Why do the priests get a special portion of food that no one else can eat? How are the twice-daily lamb sacrifices different from the initial purifying and sanctifying sacrifices described earlier? Why is the incense altar the "final connection" between God and the people? And why isn't Moses mentioned in this portion?

The priesthood is the embodiment of lovingkindness, which is associated with the right in Jewish mystical thought. Sprinkling blood on the ears, hands and feet of the new priests symbolizes pious devotion to God. The Jazz Rabbi explains why the daily sacrifices are a manifestation of the hard work of religious practice. Incense is a reminder us to align our bodies and souls. On the intriguing and prophetic absence of Moses.

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:

  • Haftorah Tetzaveh Summary -- In the supplemental haftorah, found in Ezekiel 43:10-27, the Prophet Ezekiel has an apocalyptic vision of the Third Temple. (My Jewish Learning)
  • The Animated Parshat Tetzaveh Why does fashion become so important in this Torah portion? (G-dcast)
  • All That's Gold Doesn't Glitter The prevalence of gold in the building of the Tabernacle and in the clothing of the priests raises questions about our consumption of this precious metal today. (Canfei Nesharim)
  • Rashi on Parshat Tetzaveh -- The classic commentator in all his interpretive glory. (Chabad)
  • The Responsibility To Maintain The Light -- A podcast that explores the meaning and implications of the eternal flame this parsha. (American Jewish World Service)
  • How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? -- Why the commandment to perform a daily sacrifice is considered by some to be the most important verse in the Torah. (Sixth St. Synagogue)
  • Refining Our Spiritual Wardrobe -- Clothes offer the opportunity to simultaneously reveal and conceal aspects of ourselves. Reflecting on the garments of this week's Torah portion allows us to realign our inner and outer selves. (IYYUN)
  • The World Is Built On Kindness An explanation of the mystical Jewish concept of Hesed, or lovingkindness, which is embodied by the priesthood. (Aish)