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Dan Has Questions About Good Deeds, Light, And Following Instructions: Parshat Tetzaveh

03/02/2023 08:19:12 AM


Dan Leemon

After many weeks of great adventures — from a fiery bush that doesn’t burn to extraordinary plagues, sea waters parting, drinking water coming out of rocks, food falling from the sky, and God’s voice speaking the 10 Commandments from a mountaintop — we now turn to the topic of:  assembly instructions.  This week’s Parshah is called Tetzaveh — “and you shall command”.  God gives Moshé more orders to relay to the people.  Starting with last week’s Parshah, many of the commands in the coming weeks have to do with the building and workings of the Mishkan, a portable building where God can “live in the midst of the children of Israel and be their God”.   The instructions go into extraordinary detail on the materials, dimensions, and furnishings of the Mishkan.  Rather than go into all the details — the list of materials from gold, silver, and gems to wood, wool, and olive oil — let’s talk a bit about why this is happening in the first place.

- Why does it matter what the mishkan is made of, or how it’s designed?


The instructions are very specific that all the materials need to be contributed by the people, and that they will do the construction work.  It’s clear from earlier Parashiot that God could make the Mishkan appear in a moment — after all, God is making food fall from the sky every day. So:

- Why do you think the people have to contribute all the materials?

- And why do they have to do all the construction work?


The Mishkan has curtains, an altar for sacrifices, an ark (cabinet) in which the tablets of the 10 Commandments are stored, a washstand (a basin to wash one’s hands in), a menorah, and many other features.

- If you were designing a Mishkan – a portable synagogue -- for our use today, what would you make sure to include?

- God’s instructions are very specific.  When is it a good idea to follow specific instructions, and when is it a good idea to make up your own way to do something?


One of the instructions in Tetzaveh is to provide oil for a “ner tamid”, a light that is always lit.  We continue this tradition in synagogues today with a “ner tamid” over the ark where we keep the Torah. 

- Why do you think God instructs that there be an always-lit light in the Mishkan?

- What does light mean to you?  What do you like about the light, and what do you like about the dark?  Is there one that you prefer?


The Parshah goes on to talk about the special clothing that the priests should wear.  The priests are Aaron and his sons (and descendants), and their role is to supervise what goes on in the Mishkan, making sure that everything is as it should be, that the sacrifices are offered correctly, etc.  One of the things the priest is told to wear is a breastplate (a sort-of shield) that contains 12 gemstones, each one representing one of the 12 tribes, so that all people are represented in the Mishkan.

- Why do you think the priests needs special garments?  Why does it matter what they wear in the Mishkan?  Does it matter what we wear in our synagogue?

- What other jobs can you think of for which people where special clothes?  Why is this?

- Are there times when you wear special clothes for a particular reason?

- This may seem an obvious question, but why were priests needed in ancient times?  If we are all equal in God’s eyes, why do we need Rabbis and Cantors? 


Since we recently discussed the 10 Commandments and other mitzvot, and this week’s Parshah has the same root word as “mitzvah”, let’s spend a moment on what that means.  The word “mitzvah” literally means a commandment, law, or obligation.  Yet it has also come to mean “good deed” — often when we think about something nice to do, we might say “it’s a mitzvah”.  

- In what way is a commandment a good deed, or a good deed a commandment?

- What if someone commands you to do something bad.  Is it still a “mitzvah”?


I wish you a week of good deeds, light when there is darkness, and following instructions when you need to.

Shabbat shalom,


Wed, March 22 2023 29 Adar 5783