In parashat Terumah, we saw God instruct the Jewish people how to build the Tabernacle, the means by which He would dwell both in this world and within each one of us. And—since the Torah is eternal and its every word applies in a personal as well as a historical sense—these instructions in all their minutiae also tell us how to construct our own personal Tabernacle: how to make ourselves, our lives, and our sphere of influence into a "home" for God, that is, how to refine them so they can be imbued with and sustain Divine consciousness.

But once a home is built, it must be lived in. The Tabernacle itself is just an empty stage: a shell that, it is true, is optimally "configured" for spiritualizing reality, but that needs to be utilized. The connection that has been set in place must be activated. Therefore, once God has finished instructing us how to construct the Tabernacle, the next stage is for Him to tell us how to use it. After Terumah comes Tetzaveh; Tetzaveh means "you will command," but also "you will connect."

Thus, in parashat Tetzaveh, God describes the priests, who officiate in the Tabernacle, and how they are to be installed into this office.

True, when God gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, He prefaced the revelation with the promise that "you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."1 On a certain level, every Jew is supposed to be a priest, a being consecrated solely to the service of God, so wholly imbued with Divine consciousness that it overtakes and encompasses him entirely.

Nevertheless, ideal as this may sound, living at such a level would in the end be counterproductive. It would undermine the purpose of creation, since God created us not to be angels who have no relation to the here and now, but to be human beings who engage in the mundane tasks of living, in order to elevate and refine all aspects of the mundane world and cause Divine consciousness to permeate all aspects of reality.

Therefore, just as creation at large functions on a duel level—heaven and earth, sun and moon, day and night, male and female, breathing out and breathing in—so must the process of bringing the Divine presence into the world reflect this duality. There must be priests and lay people. In a sense, the priests are the exception that proves the rule. They serve both as the ideal that the lay population is to strive for and the channel through which Divine consciousness is transmitted to the laity. As the former, the people are inferior to them and strive to emulate them; as the latter, they exist only to serve the people and provide them with the inspiration they need in order to accomplish their task—which is the true purpose of creation.

On the personal level, then, this parashah is important for each of us because it describes both how our priestly proxies are made into what they are and—more to the point—how we are to consecrate a portion of our personality to the sole purpose of serving God. By creating ("installing") the priest within, we can then relate to the physical, human priest and both see him as the idealized vision of ourselves and derive through him Divine consciousness and inspiration.

The greater part of this parashah therefore deals with the process of making an individual into a priest. There are two phases in this process: vesting him in the priestly garments and performing on him the installation rites. The first half of the parashah describes the former, the second half the latter.

However, the parashah is also framed by two shorter segments that would seem to belong in the previous parashah. At the beginning of the parashah, Moses is told to prepare the oil for the lamps of the Candelabrum, and at the end of the parashah, to build an incense altar to be located in the outer chamber of the Tabernacle.

Positioning the commandment to make an incense altar at the end of this parashah is particularly unsettling. The Torah is, in effect, telling us that all the lengthy and detailed descriptions of the Tabernacle and the office of the priesthood are just a prelude or antecedent to the incense altar. Indeed, we are told in the Midrash that after "the Tabernacle and all its vessels were completed and all the installation rites were performed…the Divine presence did not descend [and manifest itself] until the incense was offered."2

This is because the incense differs fundamentally from all the other offerings brought in the Temple; it is in a class by itself. The purpose of the other sacrifices and offerings is to elevate or refine the physical, bodily aspect our being, while the purpose of the incense is to bind our soul to God. The word for "sacrifice" in Hebrew (korban) means "[a means of] coming close," while the word for "incense" (ketoret) means "[a means of] binding." Whereas the other sacrifices primarily engage our four more "physical" senses—touch, sight, hearing, and taste—the incense engages our fifth, more "spiritual" sense—smell.3

The Tabernacle and the priestly office effect the indwelling of the Divine presence in the Jewish people, as is evident from the summary verses that conclude their description (just before the Torah gives the commandment to build the incense altar):

It is there [the Tent of Meeting] that I will convene with the Israelites, and it will thus be sanctified through My glory. I shall sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the [outer] Altar, and I will sanctify Aaron and his sons to minister to Me as priests. I will dwell in the midst of the Israelites and I will be their God. They shall know that I am <G>, their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I may abide in their midst; I am <G>, their God.4

But after this, there is a yet higher level to be achieved, that of total connection between us and God, not just God dwelling within us. This is what is achieved by the incense; the incense transforms us from separate beings who are able to "host" God into beings that are no longer separate but one with God. The smell of the incense transports us to the highest level of our being, where we are virtually a part of our Creator.

Still, as we said above, the purpose of life is not merely to achieve this sublime transcendence of total Divine consciousness but to bring it into reality. This is reflected in the very interesting connection between the burning of the incense and the lighting of the lamps of the Candelabrum:

Aaron shall burn spice incense upon [the inner altar]; he shall burn it every morning, when he cleans out the lamps. Aaron shall [also] burn it when he kindles the lamps in the afternoon—a continual [i.e., daily] offering of incense before <G> throughout your generations.5

In other words, the incense was burned in conjunction with the kindling of the Candelabrum lamps. In fact, tradition tells us that the incense was actually burned in the middle of the ritual of kindling the lamps!6

There were no windows in the Tabernacle, but when the permanent Temple in Jerusalem superseded the Tabernacle it was built with windows. However, the Temple's windows were built differently than normal windows. The windows of ancient buildings were typically built narrow on the outside and wide on the inside, in order to enable the incoming light to diffuse throughout the room. The windows of the Temple were built the other way around: wide on the outside and narrow on the inside, as if to enable the light of Temple's Candelabrum to diffuse outward into the world.7 The purpose of the Candelabrum, thus, was to transmit the Divine consciousness embodied in the nearby incense altar and diffuse it throughout reality. In this way, God's purpose in creation can truly be fulfilled; the whole world can attain the Divine consciousness of the Temple and thereby become God's home.

The light of the Candelabrum accomplishes this objective because its light was simply a physical manifestation of the true spiritual light of the world, the Jewish soul: "The lamp of God is the soul of man."8 The way our soul shines its light into the world is through our study of God's Torah and performance of His commandments: "The commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light."9

Just as the priests burned the incense and kindled the Candelabrum regularly as part of the daily ritual of the Tabernacle, so are we to renew our intrinsic connection with God and diffuse this consciousness to the outside world on an ongoing, daily basis. We offer our daily "incense" by reciting the Shema every morning, thereby asserting our conviction in the absolute singularity of God in creation—how there is nothing apart from Him—and by uniting with Him in the morning Amidah. We light our "Candelabrum" every day by taking this inspiration and applying it to our daily lives. Even though we must perforce retreat from the rapture and transcendent consciousness of the Shema and the Amidah, the inner point of Divinity within us—once contacted—can remain in the backdrop of our consciousness even as we go about our daily affairs. In this way, we remain connected and united with God throughout the day.

It is therefore clear why the sections describing the kindling of the Candelabrum and the incense altar frame this parashah, even though they would logically seem better situated in parashat Terumah. Together, they epitomize the message of the parashah, the actualization of the Tabernacle's potential by the office of the priesthood. The Jew becomes totally one with God—a total member of the "kingdom of priests" and the "holy nation"—through the incense, and then transforms the world into one great Temple of God through the Candelabrum.10