Parashas Tetzaveh

This week’s parashah describes the consecration of Aharon and his sons to serve as Kohanim in the Mishkan. Hashem introduces His description to Moshe of the consecration ceremony by saying (Shemos 29:1): “This is the matter that you shall carry out unto them to sanctify them to minister for Me.” The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 38:2):
Thus it is written (Havakkuk 1:12): “Are You not from primeval times, O Hashem, my Holy God? Let us not die! O Hashem, You have ordained him [the murderous Babylonian enemy] for judgment.” Before Adam arose and ate from the tree, You would tell him not to eat from it, so he would not die. As it is written: “Are You not from primeval times, O Hashem, my Holy God? Let us not die!” But because he violated Your command, You brought death upon man, to smite him, as it is written: “You have ordained him for judgment.” You decree (cf. Vayikra 19:2, Bamidbar 15:40): “Be holy unto your God!” And similarly here: “This is the matter that you shall carry out unto them to sanctify them to minister for Me.” [Man pleads:] “Master of the Universe! If you are asking us to be holy, take death away from us, as it is written [reading the verse from Havakkuk homiletically]: ‘Are You not, from primeval times, Hashem the God who sanctified me? Let us not die!’” [Hashem responds:] “It is impossible, as it is written: ‘O Hashem, You have ordained him for judgment; [and the verse concludes: O Rock, You have established him to admonish].’”
The Maggid explains this difficult Midrash with a parable. A father warned his son not to eat a certain food. The lad disobeyed and ate the food, and he got sick. The father summoned a doctor, who treated the lad with harsh medicines until he finally cured him. From that day on, the father kept this doctor as permanent guest in his home, with a special room set aside for him, and supplied him meals and other needs. Why did the father keep the doctor in his house? He had two aims in mind. His first aim was to have a safeguard in place in case his son would again eat the food that made him sick. His second aim was to deter his son from eating the food again – by seeing the doctor in his home, the lad would constantly recall the harsh medicines, and the father hoped that this would keep him from repeating his mistake.
The parallel is as follows. Adam was initially created as purely intellectual being, with no urges for physical pleasures. He cared for his physical needs with composure, giving his body only what it needed for good health. Hashem knew that if Adam would eat from the tree of knowledge, he would be stricken with physical urges. So Hashem told Adam not to eat from the tree, and created death to deter him from doing so. Ultimately, however, Adam ate from the tree, and was stricken with physical urges as Hashem had anticipated. Death now served man as a treatment, to purge him of the corroding effects of physical urges.
Later, in the days of the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash, we were in a state similar to the state Adam was in before the sin. Our souls and our bodies were in harmony. As we ate from the meat of the offerings, our souls would be nourished by the offering’s holiness, while our bodies would be nourished by the meat. Our souls and our bodies would join in a song of praise to Hashem, as it is written (Tehillim 84:3): “My heart and my flesh shall sing praise to the Living God.” This was the state of affairs that was brought into being through the inauguration of the Mishkan. Hashem decreed: “Be holy!” We then thought that since Hashem had sanctified us and brought us to the primeval state of Adam before the sin, death was no longer a necessary element of the world, for there was no defilement within us that death was needed to purge. We were infused with the sanctifying influence of Torah, as it is written (Tehillim 40:9): “Your Torah is in my innards.” So we said: “Are You not, from primeval times, Hashem the God who sanctified me? Let us not die!” But Hashem answered that it was impossible. Why? Because death served not only as an instrument of judgment to purge us of the effects of sinful thoughts and acts (“You have ordained him for judgment”) but also has an instrument of admonishment to keep us from falling into sin again (“You have established him to admonish”).
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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