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by Efraim Levine

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Now you shall command the Children of Yisroel that they shall take for you pressed olive for illumination to kindle the lamp continually. (Shemos 27:20)

During the era of the Chanukah miracle the Syrian-Greeks defiled the Beis Hamikdash. The Gemara records that when the Chashmanoyim prevailed and regained control over the Beis Hamikdash they did not find pure olive oil for the lighting of the menorah except for one flask that was affixed with the seal of the kohen gadol. This flask was not sufficient for even for one day. Nevertheless, they lit the menorah with its oil and miraculously it lasted for eight days. The commentators note how the Gemara emphasizes that the jar of oil was affixed with the seal of the kohen gadol. What was the nature of this seal? Why specifically the kohen gadol?

One popular solution offered by the commentators is that this oil was originally designated for the minchas chavitin. Everyday the kohen gadol would offer a special meal offering. Half was offered in the morning and half in the afternoon. The oil used for this offering was of superior quality similar to the quality used for the menorah. The oil used for ordinary meal offerings was not of the same quality and thus not fit for the menorah or the kohen gadol’s meal offering. To separate the oil used for the meal offering of the kohen gadol and the oil used for an ordinary meal offerings, the kohen gadol would affixed his unique seal. It was this flask that was found by the Chashmanoyim at the time of the Chanukah miracle. Due to the fact that its quality was the same as that used for the menorah the Chashmanoyim were able to substitute it for this purpose.

However, the simple understanding of the Gemara is that this oil was specifically set aside for the menorah. If so, the question returns. Why did the kohen gadol affix his seal to the oil used for the menorah?

In the sefer Shiras David, Rav Aron Dovid Goldberg demonstrates that this was a special requirement sanctioned by the Torah. The source for this requirement is the first posuk of this week’s parsha. The posuk says that Hashem commanded Moshe to instruct the Jewish People that they take “for you” pure olive oil. The Torah stressed that the oil was “for you.” This is interpreted to mean that Moshe himself must inspect every jar of oil and ensure that it was acceptable. This job was later passed from Moshe to Aaron who was the acting kohen gadol. Throughout history it remained the job of the kohen gadol to inspect every jar of oil used for the menorah and affix his personal seal. We now understand why the Gemara mentions that the flask contained the seal of the kohen gadol.

Now that we have discovered the Biblical source for this requirement we may ask what is the homiletic understanding of this requirement?

The commentators teach us that the menorah is symbolic of the study and teaching of Torah. We may suggest that the pure crushed olive oil is symbolic of new Torah insights. Just as oil was crushed and refined, likewise, accomplishment in Torah study only comes with great diligence and crushing toil. The lighting of the menorah represents the teaching and dissemination of the new Torah insights. Just as the lighting of the Menorah provided light, likewise, the dissemination of new Torah insights sheds new understanding and clarity in Torah.

The Torah is teaching us that just as every flask of oil must first pass inspection by the kohen gadol, likewise, before one disseminates ones new Torah insights to the public one must first seek approval from the leading Torah sages.

When the torah is open for interpretation by the masses, it leads to distortion and perversion. Only one who is properly trained with fear of heaven may present new Torah thoughts and insights. One must first seek permission and authorization from the leading Torah sages.

Indeed before one lectures publicly on a Torah subject it is customary to first ask permission from the sages present. Likewise it is customary to preface a new sefer with approbations from leading Torah sages and most importantly before one may decide what is Torah Law one must receive Rabbinical Ordination.

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They shall attach the Breastplate from its rings to the rings of the Ephod with a techailes cord so that it will remain above the belt of the Ephod, and the Breastplate will not will not loosened from upon the Ephod. (Shemos 28:28)

You shall make a head-plate of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it, engraved like a signet ring, “Holy to Hashem.” You shall place on it a cord of techailes and it shall be on the Turban, opposite the front of the Turban shall it be. (Shemos 28:36,37) 

In this week’s parsha we learn that two vestments of the of the kohen gadol were fastened with a cord of techailes, namely the Breastplate and the Head-plate. Parenthetically it should be noted that the use of a cord of techailes to fasten these vestments differs from the Robe which was completely techailes.

Twice a day in the last section of shemah we recite the mitzvah of tzitzis. We read that “you are to place on upon the tzitzis of each corner a cord of techailes.” The posuk continues to instruct us “that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them and not explore after your heart and eyes which you stray” (Bamidbar 15).

Chazal teach us that by looking at the cord of techailes of the tzitzis we will be reminded of the ocean. This will then remind us of the heaven and finally Hashem’s throne. This process of remembrance will inspire us to fear Hashem.

Let us suggest a homiletic interpretation.

As mentioned above, a similar mention of “a cord of techailes” is mentioned in connection to the vestments of the kohen gadol. One set of cords to fasten the Breastplate and one for the Head-Plate.

The Head-Plate was a vestment that was symbolic of the eyes. Indeed the Hebrew word for Head-Plate is tzitz which is translated as gaze. The Head-Plate was fastened on the forehead above the eyes similar to the tefilen which is called “a sign between your eyes.” Symbolically, the Head-Plate represents the notion that one must sanctify his eyes and be careful as to what he looks at.

The Breastplate is fastened to the heart. In the fold of the Breastplate was Hashem’s ineffable name. The fastening of the breastplate to the heart represents the notion that one must sanctify his emotions.

When one gazes at the techailes cord of the tzitzes one is reminded of the Breastplate and Head-Plate of the kohen gadol which is similarly fastened with a cord of techailes. One is reminded to contemplate on the sanctity of the holy kohen gadol, the spiritual leader of the Jewish leader and focus on the ideals that are represented by his Breastplate and Head-Plate. Indeed the posuk concludes that when seeing the tzitzis one will be able to overcome the temptations of “eyes” and “heart.” We may suggest that the eyes correspond to the Head-Plate and the heart corresponds to the Breastplate.

We may now further understand why the Torah requires that the tzitzis also have white threads. We are aware the when the kohen gadol entered the Holy of Holies he did not wear his extra four vestments. He entered only with the four vestments of an ordinary kohen. These garments are called by Chazal “the white garments.”

When looking at the cord of techailes one will connect with the kohen gadol. The contrast of white threads will then remind and inspire one of how the kohen gadol entered the Holy of Holies once a year. When one connects to kohen gadol standing in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur it is very unlikely he will sin.

In conclusion we may suggest that that Torah gave us the mitzvah of tzitzis as a tool to remind us of the sanctity of kohen gadol and his entrance into the Holy of Holies. Certainly, when contemplating these lofty matters one will be inspired to fear Heaven and will not easily be tempted by the evil inclination.


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© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5763/2003