And you shall command . . . (27:20)

Tetzaveh is the only Parshah in the Torah since Moses’ birth in which Moses’ name does not appear (with the exception of the book of Deuteronomy, which consists mostly of a first-person narrative spoken by Moses). The reason for this is that [when the people of Israel sinned with the golden calf,] Moses said to G‑d: “If You do not [forgive them], erase me from the book that You have written” (Exodus 32:31). This was realized in the Parshah of Tetzaveh, since the censure of a righteous person, even if made conditional on an unfulfilled stipulation, always has some effect.

(Baal HaTurim)

While Moses’ name does not appear in the Parshah of Tetzaveh, Moses himself is very much present: the entire Parshah consists of G‑d’s words to Moses! Indeed, the Parshah's first word is ve’atah, “and you”—the “you” being the person of Moses.

Indeed, the word “you” connotes its subject’s very self, while a person’s name is a more superficial “handle” on his personality. This means that Moses is more present in our Parshah—that is, present in a deeper, more essential way—than any mention of his name could possibly express.

This is fully in keeping with the Baal HaTurim’s explanation (cited above). Because Moses was prepared to forgo mention of his name in the Torah for the sake of his people, he merited that his quintessential self—the level of self that cannot be captured by any name or designation—be eternalized by the Torah. It is this level of Moses’ self that is expressed by his “nameless” presence in the Parshah of Tetzaveh.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

And you shall command the children of Israel (27:20)

The word tetzaveh, “you shall command,” also means “you shall connect” and “you shall bond.” Thus the verse can also be read as G‑d saying to Moses: “And you shall bond with the children of Israel.” For every Jewish soul has at its core a spark of the soul of Moses.

(Ohr HaChaim)


That they bring to you pure olive oil . . . to raise an everlasting lamp . . . from evening to morning (27:20–21)

These verses contain a paradox: “everlasting flame” implies a state of perptuality and changelessness; “from evening to morning” implies fluctuating conditions of lesser and greater luminance.

For such is our mission in life: to impart the eternity and perfection of the Divine to a temporal world, and to do so not by annihilating or overwhelming the world’s temporality and diversity, but by illuminating its every state and condition—from “evening” to “morning”—with the divine light.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Pure olive oil, crushed for the light (27:20)

Just as the olive yields light only when it is pounded, so are man’s greatest potentials realized only under the pressure of adversity.

(The Talmud)

Crushed for the light (27:20)

When one speaks crushing words of rebuke, it must be with the sole purpose of enlightening, illuminating and uplifting one’s fellow. Never, G‑d forbid, to humiliate and break him.

(Chassidic saying)

They shall make the ephod. . . . It shall have its two shoulder-pieces joined at its two edges . . . And the finely wrought girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same (28:6–8)

I haven’t heard, nor have I found in the Talmud, an explanation of [the ephod’s] form. My heart tells me that it is tied on the back, its width the width of a person’s back, its form like the apron worn by princesses when they ride horses . . .


“My heart tells me” is an uncharacteristic phrase for Rashi, who usually relates the simple meaning of the verse without citing sources or telling us how he arrived at a particular meaning. A popular explanation (which the Lubavitcher Rebbe relates to Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov’s famed dictum, “Everything that a person sees or hears should serve him as a lesson in his service of G‑d”) has it that Rashi one day happened to come across a party of noblewomen on horseback, and wondered as to what purpose divine providence had shown him this apparently meaningless scene. Then, when he was struggling to describe the form of the ephod, he realized that this was the model that fit its biblical description.

Ruby, chrysolite, beryl . . . turquoise, sapphire, diamond . . . ligure, agate, jasper . . . emerald, shoham, jade (28:17–20)

This English rendition is but one of several possible translations of the Hebrew odem, pitdah, bareket, nofech, sapir, yahalom, leshem, shevo, achlamah, tarshish, shoham, yashfeh. For a comprehensive anthology of renditions, see The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (Moznaim, 1985).

According to the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7), the colorings of the stones were as follows: Reuben’s stone, odem, was red; Simeon’s stone, pitdah, was green; Levi’s stone, bareket, was white, black and red; Judah’s stone, nofech, was sky-colored; Issachar’s stone, sapir, was dark blue; Zebulun’s stone, yahalom, was white (lavan, which can also mean clear); Dan’s stone, leshem, was of a hue similar to that of the sapir; Gad’s stone, shevo, was gray; Naphtali’s stone, achlamah, was the color of clear wine; Asher’s stone, tarshish, was “the color of the precious stone with which women decorate themselves”; Joseph’s stone, shoham, was black; Benjamin’s stone yashfeh, had the colors of all twelve stones.

In addition to the names of the tribes, the Talmud states that the stones also contained the words “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, shivtei yeshurun (‘righteous tribes’),” so the breastplate should contain all 22 letters of the Holy Tongue.

The breastplate shall not budge from the ephod (28:28)

The ephod was worn in back and below the waist; the breastplate, on the front and upper part of the wearer. Thus the deeper significance of the commandment “The breastplate shall not budge from the ephod” (which ranks as one of the 365 prohibitions of the Torah) is that there must be no “gap” between the upper and lower aspects of life, or between its forward and backward elements. True, the human being consists of both the sensitive heart and the functional foot; true, life is composed of sublimely spiritual moments as well as the daily tending to one’s material needs. But the “ephod” must be securely bound to the “choshen.” The upper must permeate the lower, and the external must never lose sight of its inner essence and purpose.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

You shall put into the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Tumim (28:30)

The Urim and Tumim (“illuminator and verifier”) was an inscription of the name of G‑d. Inserted in the folds of the breastplate, it caused the letters inscribed on its stones to light up in response to queries posed by the community leaders, as it is written (Number 27:21): “[Joshua] shall stand before Elazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of the Urim before G‑d: by this word shall they go out and by this word they shall come in, both he and all the children of Israel with him.” This is why it was called the “breastplate of judgement,” since it decided and determined things for the people.

(Rashi; Talmud)

Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before G‑d continually (28:30)

Why are the sections on sacrifices and the priestly vestments written next to each other? To teach you: as sacrifices make atonement, so do the priestly vestments make atonement.

The tunic atoned for bloodshed, for it is said, “They slaughtered a he-goat, and dipped [Joseph’s] tunic in the blood” (Genesis 37:31).

The breeches atoned for lewdness, as it is said, “You shall make them linen breeches to cover the flesh of their nakedness” (Exodus 28:42).

The turban made atonement for arrogance—let an article placed high up come and atone for an offense of hauteur.

The sash atoned for [impure] meditations of the heart, beneath which it was placed.

The breastplate atoned for neglect of civil laws, as it is said, “You shall make a breastplate of judgment” (Exodus 28:15).

The ephod atoned for idolatry, as it is said, “Without ephod or teraphim” (Hosea 3:4).

The cloak atoned for slander—let an article of sound (i.e., the bells on the cloak’s hem) atone for an offense of sound.

The crown, worn on the forehead, atoned for brazenness . . . as it is written, “Yet you have a harlot’s forehead” (Jeremiah 3:3).

(Talmud, Zevachim 88b)

On the hem [of the cloak] you shall make . . . bells of gold . . . and its sound shall be heard when he goes in to the Holy (28:33–35)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: There are four things which the Holy One, blessed be He, hates, and I too dislike them . . . [the fourth thing is,] one who enters his house suddenly—how much more so his neighbor’s house . . .

When Rabbi Yochanan went to inquire after the welfare of Rabbi Chanina, he would knock at the door, in conformity with the verse “Its sound shall be heard when he goes in.”

(Midrash Rabbah)

You shall make the sash, embroidered work (28:39)

The Sash was 32 cubits (approximately 48 feet) long (Midrash; Maimonides). It was wound 32 times around the waist (Tosafot). Other say that it was 36 cubits long (Midrash). It was 2, 3 or 4 fingers wide (Maimonides; Josephus).

[The priestly garments] shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in the Tent of Meeting, or when they come near to the altar to minister in the holy place, that they not bear iniquity and die (28:43)

There was once a prince whose tutor would enter into the presence of the king on behalf of the prince; but the tutor was afraid of those who stood by the king, lest one of them should attack him. What did the king do? He clothed him in his royal purple cloak, so that all who saw him might be afraid of him.

Similarly, Aaron used to enter [into the presence of G‑d] . . . and had it not been for the many merits which entered with him and aided him, he would have been unable to go in, on account of the angels that were there. For this reason G‑d provided him garments after the pattern of the Divine garments . . . as it says (Isaiah 59:17): “[G‑d] donned righteousness as a coat of mail, and a helmet of salvation upon His head, and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as with a cloak.”

(Midrash Rabbah)

You shall make an altar for the burning of incense; of shittim wood shall you make it. . . . And you shall overlay it with pure gold (30:1–3)

Resh Lakish stated: The fires of hell have no power over the transgressors in Israel, as may be inferred from the golden altar: If the golden altar, on which [the layer of gold over the wood] was only of the thickness of a dinar coin, lasted for many years and the fire had no power over it, how much more would that be true of the transgressors in Israel, who are as full of good deeds as a pomegranate [is full with seeds].

(Talmud, Eruvin 19a)