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Parashat Tetzaveh

"And you shall command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil."

What significance is olive oil to the Jewish people, apart from Chanuka and for tasting great on Israeli salad?  Rabbenu Bechaye writes that it says in Proverbs: "Oil and incense gladden the heart, and so too the sweetness of a friend's wise counsel". This verse comes to teach how to behave towards the poor amongst us.  Food is likened to oil and incense to show us that we should honour the poor person by serving him delicacies in order to 'gladden his heart'. The words 'sweetness of a friend' means that we should speak sweetly to a pauper, just as if he were a close friend [this of course also applies to anyone less fortunate than ourselves]. We should speak sincerely, not like some people, who with cordial phrases invite the poor to come and eat, but do not really mean it.

The oil that was used for the menorah was the finest olive oil, as opposed to inferior oils such as sesame or nut oil.  Only the first pressing was used - the remainder was used for the mincha sacrifice.

Regarding this, the Midrash says that the oil of the Temple and its fragrant incense bring as much joy to G-d as the creation of the world did.  G-d created man after everything else, for man was the most important of creations.  Similarly, G-d commanded the Kohen Gadol to light the menorah and burn the incense after the construction of the Mishkan, for these duties were the most important of all.  Think about that - a simple offering can equal the creation charter.  Boy, did we do something right!

The commentary Tzror Hamor writes that the Jews are like olive oil.  The Torah which they learn illuminates their way like the light of burning oil.  The verse says that the Menorah should be lit "to you" to show that G-d says, "I have no need for light.  There is sufficient light in heaven".  This obviously means that the light is meant for our benefit, and not His.

This can be explained by the following example: A person leads the way for a blind man, and tells him, "Light a candle for me."  The blind man retorts, "I took you to light my way and lead me on the right path, and YOU want ME to light a candle?!"  The man answers him, "I want you to light the candle so that you can do something for me, too."

G-d's people are like the blind man walking in the dark, with G-d lighting their way.  He tells them to light a candle so that they will do something to serve Him, and as a result they will be found worthy of receiving many blessings.


Later on in the sedra, we are told about the order of the priestly garments.  One of these, the m'eel, was decorated with bells.  Whenever the Kohen Gadol would enter the Temple, his presence would be announced by the jingling of the bells on his garment.  Rabbi Yochanan learned from this the practice of always knocking on the door of his house before entering.  This is one of the seven directives that Rabbi Akiva gave to his son Rabbi Yehoshua: "Don't enter your own house suddenly (i.e. without knocking); all the more so, the house of your neighbour."

Six of the eight priestly garments of the Kohen Gadol (listed below) are mentioned in this parsha, who is compared to an angel, and must have these special garments to do his work.  Just as an angel is pure, so must the Kohen Gadol be pure as he accomplishes his tasks.  The Talmud says that just as the sacrifices atoned for sins, so too did the priestly garments atone for sins.  The choshen (breastplate) was next to the heart, and atoned for sins against the heart.  The ephod (apron) atoned for idolatry.  The m'eel (outer coat) atoned for the sin of slander (which would explain the 'loud' bells - a slanderer's reputation always precedes him).  Underneath the m'eel was the ketonet, which atoned for accidental murder.  The mitznefet (hat) atoned for haughtiness.  The avnet (belt) atoned for ill feelings of the heart.  The tzitz (golden platelet) was worn on the forehead, and atoned for stubbornness.  Lastly, the michnasayim (trousers) atoned for lasciviousness.

The most fascinating of these garments was the ephod.  It was lined with twelve stunning precious stones, representing the twelve tribes.  These, says Rabbenu Bechaye, were the most precious gems in the world.

1 . REUVEN: The odem (ruby) chosen because Reuven was red-faced when he disturbed his father's sleeping quarters.  If a pregnant woman wears a ruby, she does not miscarry, as Reuven was the one who found the dudayim (mandrake plants) which promote fertility.

2 . SHIMON: The pitdah (topaz) chosen because Shimon turned green and yellow during the sin with the Midianite women.  This stone cools the ardour, and is found in great numbers in the land of Cush (Ethiopia) where people are full of desires.

3 . LEVI: The barekes (garfinkel) gives off light like a candle, because Levi was a great scholar, illuminating the eyes of Israel with Torah.  Noah kept the stone in the ark for illumination.  This stone makes men clever.

4 . YEHUDA: The nofech (carbuncle) is green, and was chosen because Yehuda's face turned green with shame when he had relations with Tamar.  When a person wears this stone to war, his enemies fall before him.

5 . YISSACHAR: The sapir (sapphire) which is white, was chosen because Yissachar studied Torah. Moses wrote the Commandments on sapphire.  The sapphire from which the Tablets were taken stands underneath the Holy Throne, and thus one who learns Torah comes (after death) beneath the Holy Throne.

6 . ZEVULUN: The yahalom (mother-of-pearl) indicates riches, and when worn upon a person brings great luck.  It also helps induce sleep, since with Zevulun's birth, his mother said, "Now my husband will dwell with me."

7 . DAN: The leshem (jacinth) has the form of a back of a man, to show that Dan left G-d to worship idols.

8 . NAFTOLI: The shevo (agate) brings charm to its wearer.  If one wears it while riding a horse, one does not fall off.  The name Naftoli means `clasped' for the stone causes a person to cling to his horse without falling.

9 . GAD: The achlamah (crystal) is world-renowned.  Everyone knew the tribe of Gad because they were so numerous.  Also, Gad's victims in war were easily recognisable, because they would remove their victim's head and arm with one blow.  Crystal strengthens a person's heart so that he is not afraid in battle.

10 . ASHER: The tarshish (beryl).  The prophet Daniel centuries later saw an angel whom he describes as having a body resembling tarshish.

11 . JOSEPH: The shoham (onyx) gives grace to the wearer, just as Joseph was pleasing to everyone.  One who wears this stone finds that people listen to him and accept what he says.

12 . BENJAMIN: The yashpeh was an unusual three coloured stone: red, black and green.  It comes from 'yesh peh' ('there is a mouth').  Although he possessed a mouth, Benjamin kept it quiet by not letting his father know that his brothers had sold Joseph.  The stone stems the flow of blood, just as Benjamin stemmed the flow of his words.

Not quite the stones we'd expect to find in Hatton Garden....