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  • Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein

            Parashat Tetzaveh is one of the main parashot dealing with the Mishkan and its vessels. Its haftara (Yechezkel 43:10-27) also fits in well in the series of haftarot for the parashot in the book of Shemot that deal with the issue of the Mishkan. However, unlike the rest of the haftarot for the parashot of the Mishkan,which are taken from the chapters describing the First Temple built by Shelomo, the haftara of Tetzaveh was selected from among the prophecies of Yechezkelthat describe the Temple that will be built in the future to the people who were sent into exile following the destruction of the First Temple. The haftara's preoccupation with the Temple of the future that has not yet been built, rather than the Temple of the past that had already been built, creates a bridge between the past, the present, and the future, between the Mishkan and the Temple built by Moshe and Shelomo and the Temple that will be built in the future, between a description of a reality and a process that already took place and a lofty vision. Thus, the haftara fits in well with the end of Parashat Tetzaveh, which deals with the dedication of the Mishkan[1]and the transition from a point of time in the wilderness to service that will be performed for all generations ("once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations"; Shemot 30:6).


            This haftara is different from the other haftarot relating to the Mishkan on one very important point – namely, the standing of the altar in the context of the entirety of the Mikdash. When we examine the verses of the haftara, we find that most of the haftara deals with the altar, rather than with the Temple. Even though it opens with the declaration, "Describe the house to the house of Israel" (v. 10), several verses later it begins to focus on the altar, to which it devotes most of its attention.


            This point is both interesting and surprising, for at first glance, we do not perceive the altar as the center of the Mikdash. After all, the most sanctified place in the Temple is the Holy of Holies and the ark located within it, and the altar is not directly connected to it. The sanctity of the various components of the Mikdash stems from their relationship to the ark and the Holy of Holies, the site of the resting of the Shekhina, and the level of the sanctity of the rest of the parts of the Temple stems from the connection between those places and the source of the sanctity. Indeed, the very name of the Holy of Holies testifies to its importance, its rank, and its centrality in the Mikdash.


This perception of the sanctity of the Temple, of concentric circles moving out from the Holy of Holies and spreading out toward the rest of the Temple, clearly emerges from the mishnayot at the beginning of tractate Keilim, which establish the Holy of Holies as the center of sanctity in the world:


There are ten grades of holiness: The Land of Israel is holier than all other lands. And what is the nature of its holiness? That from it are brought the omer, the first-fruits, and the two loaves, which may not be brought from any of the other lands. Cities that are walled are holier, for lepers must be sent out of them, and a corpse, although it may be carried about within them as long as it is desired, may not be brought back once it has been taken out. The area within the walls [of Jerusalem] is holier, for it is there that holy things of a minor degree and second tithe may be eaten. The Temple Mount is holier, for neither zavim nor zavot nor menstruants nor women after childbirth may enter it. The rampart is holier, for neither idolaters nor one who contracted corpse uncleanness may enter it. The court of women is holier, for no tevul yom may enter it, although no sin-offering is thereby incurred. The court of the Israelites is holier, for a man who has not yet offered his obligatory sacrifices may not enter it, and if he enters he incurs thereby a sin-offering. The court of the priest is holier, for no Israelites may enter it except when they are required to do so in connection with the laying of hands, slaughtering, or waving. The area between the Ulam and the altar is holier, for men afflicted with blemishes or with a wild growth of hair may not enter it. The Heikhal is holier, for no one whose hands or feet are unwashed may enter it. The Holy of Holies is holier, for only the High Priest on the Day of Atonement at the time of the service may enter it.


            There are thus ten concentric circles of sanctity that spread out from the Holy of Holies until they encompass the Land of Israel. Accordingly, the Temple courtyard and the altar are inferior in their level of sanctity to the more inner areas.


            This mishna, however, represents only one perspective, according to which the Holy of Holies is indeed the center of sanctity in the world. But the truth of the matter is that there are two focuses in the Mikdash: the first is the Heikhal, which includes the Holy of Holies, the most important part of the Heikhal, whereas the second is the altar. Both are represented in our haftara.


            To support this argument, we must consider the laws of the Mikdash and its vessels and understand the relationship between them. The Mikdash houses many utensils – for example, the ark, the table, the candlestick, the laver, and the altars – which are enumerated in the parashot of the Mishkan in the book of Shemot in the framework of the commandment to build and erect the Mishkan. The vessels are an essential and integral part of the Mikdash. Therefore, the fashioning of these utensils is not considered an independent mitzva, but rather is included in the mitzva of building the Mikdash, for "the candlestick, and the table, and the altar, and all the others are part of the Mikdash, and it is all called Mikdash, and there is a command for each part” (Rambam, Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, positive precept 20).


            There is, however, a significant difference between the ark's connection to the Temple and that of the other vessels. As opposed to the other vessels, whose place is exclusively in the Mikdash, the sanctity of the ark does not stem solely from the fact that it is part of the Temple. Rather, it is holy in and of itself, and the ark has meaning even outside the Mikdash. We therefore find it serving as a source of sanctity even when it is not situated in the framework of the Temple. It leaves the Mikdash and goes out to war because it is the "ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth" (Yehoshua 3:11), and it does not diminish in significance because it is outside the Temple.


            This doubling is reflected in the Torah's accounts relating to the ark. In addition to its place in Parashat Teruma as the vessel that opens the list of the Mikdash's vessels, two sections are dedicated to the ark by itself as an independent focus of sanctity, without any connection to the Mikdash: the section of "Vayehi bi-neso'a ha-aron" ("And it came to pass, when the ark set forward") (Bamidbar 10:35) and the section of "At that time the Lord said to me" (Devarim 10:1).[2]


            This point regarding the uniqueness and independent significance of the ark as opposed to the rest of the holy vessels was emphasized by the Ramban in his discussion of the count of the mitzvot regarding the vessels. In his view, the fashioning of the ark "is a separate mitzva standingon its own, not a preparation towards another mitzva like the candlestick, the altars, and the table," and therefore it should be counted, unlike the rest of the vessels. This is because the other vessels are part of the Mikdash or a means by which to offer sacrifices, whereas the ark has independent standing.


            The truth is that we are dealing here not only with the independent standing of the ark, but also with the establishment of the basic relationship between it and the Mikdash as cause and effect. Whereas the rest of the vessels are intended to serve the needs of the Mikdash and they therefore draw their significance from the fact that they are vessels of the Mikdash, regarding the ark the situation is just the opposite – the Mikdash draws its meaning from the fact that it is the place where the ark is stationed. The ark does not merely integrate within it, but rather is the source of the sanctity, and the Mikdash and its walls serve as a casing around it.


This point was emphasized by the Ramban (Shemot 25:2):


Now the main desire in the Mishkan is the site of the resting of the Shekhina, which is the ark, as it is stated: "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the covering" (Shemot 25:22). Therefore, the ark and its cover are mentioned first, for it is first in importance.


            This understanding of the ark as the focus of the Temple's sanctity is also what underlies the opening lines of our haftara:


This is the Torah of the house; upon the top of the mountain its whole limit round about shall be most holy. Behold, this is the Torah of the house. (Yechezkel 43:12)


            After this, however, the haftara does not develop the motif of the ark and the Holy of Holies, but rather deals at length with the altar.[3] Now, if we consider the criteria mentioned above as attesting to the independent importance of the ark, we find many parallels between the ark and the altar. Like the ark, the altar is also different from the rest of the vessels of the Mikdash, in that we find it outside the Mishkan as a vessel with its own spiritual meaning that does not require the framework of the Mishkan in order to be regarded as a holy vessel. Throughout the Torah – until the building of the Mishkan – the altar serves as a place of drawing near to God, whether to offer sacrifices or to call out in the name of God. Noach brings a sacrifice when he emerges from the ark, Avraham builds altars and calls out by them in the name of God, Moshe marks the victory over Amalek by building an altar, and even later in Scripture we read about many altars outside the Mikdash. We should not be surprised, then, to find regarding the altar, similar to the ark, that a separate section is devoted to it outside of the framework of the sections dealing with the Mishkan – "An altar of earth shall you make to me" (Shemot 20:21). This establishes it as a factor with independent importance. The Raavad (strictures to the Rambam's short counting of the mitzvot, positive precept 20) even counts the building of the altar as a separate mitzva.


            Note should also be taken of the position of the Rambam, who establishes the sacrifices as the focus of the Mikdash:


It is a positive commandment to construct a house for God,3 prepared for sacrifices to be offered within. We [must] celebrate there three times a year, as it is stated (Shemot 25:8): "And you shall make Me a sanctuary." (Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bekhira 1:1)


            It should also be emphasized that not only the sacrifices, but even the altar itself is a focal point for the Shekhina. Therefore, the absence of the altar or damage to it impairs the sanctity of the Temple as a whole, and not only use of the altar itself. This follows from two passages in Tractate Zevachim:


When R. Kahana went up, he found R. Shimon the son of Rabbi [Yehuda Ha-Nasi] teaching in the name of R. Yishmael the son of R. Yose: How do we know that all the sacrifices slaughtered at a damaged altar are unfit? Because it is said: "And you shall sacrifice thereon your burnt-offerings and your peace-offerings." Now, do you then sacrifice on it? Rather, [it means:] when it is whole, and not when it is defective. (Zevachim 59a)


R. Elazar said: If the altar was damaged, you cannot eat the remainder of the meal-offering on account of it, because it is said: "And eat it without leaven beside the altar." Now did they eat it then beside the altar? Rather [it means]: when it is whole, and not when it is damaged. (Zevachim 60a)


            We see, then, that there are two focuses in the Mikdash: the ark and the altar. It should be emphasized that they also differ in their spiritual significance. The ark represents God's descent into this world and the resting of His Shekhina in it. God descended, as it were, from on high, and dwells in our midst. As the Ramban emphasizes in the passage cited above, the ark is the place of "the Shekhina's rest," and the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan follows the pattern of what happened at Mount Sinai.[4] The altar, in contrast, represents the opposite direction – not God's descent to man, but man's drawing near to God. Man offers a gift to the King of kings, sacrifices of his own, expresses his gratitude to his Master, and even declares his readiness for self-sacrifice. With respect to the ark, God goes down to between the keruvim and man enters into the place reserved for the Shekhina with fear and trembling once a year, whereas with respect to the altar, man climbs up the ramp and ascends. He initiates and he brings the present, the meeting taking place in the courtyard of the Ohel Mo'ed, in a place that is accessible to man.[5]


            These two focuses can also be presented as representing the fundamental pair of principles – service out of love and service out of fear – with the intimacy of the Holy of Holies expressing the love and the encounter between man and God out of a relationship of closeness,[6] whereas the altar and the fire burning upon it and consuming the meat of the offerings express the world of fear and self-sacrifice.[7]


            To summarize, there are two different principles of sanctity, and they necessitate two different focuses in the Temple.


            The significance of the altar as a source of sanctity and the parallel between the standing of the altar and the standing of the ark is explained in a midrash cited by Rashi in his commentary to the Torah (Shemot 29:42):


Some of our Rabbis learn from this that it was from above the brass altar that the Holy One, blessed be He, spoke with Moshe after the Mishkan was erected. But some say that He spoke from above the cover of the ark, as it is stated: "And I will speak to you from above the cover" (Shemot 25:22).


            Returning to our haftara, we can understand the transition from "the Torah of the house," which emphasizes the centrality of the Holy of Holies at the beginning of the haftara ("This is the Torah of the house; upon the top of the mountain its whole limit round about shall be most holy. Behold, this is the Torah of the house"), to occupation with the altar throughout the rest of the haftara (vv. 13-27). This also creates the connection between the haftara and the parasha, for a major portion of what is stated in the haftara (vv. 18-27) relates to the dedication of the altar, the topic appearing at the end and at the climax of Parashat Tetzaveh.


            If we examine the verses relating to the consecration of the Ohel Mo'ed and the altar (Shemot 29:42-46), which follow the command relating to the consecration of the priests and the milu'im, we see that they speak of the consecration of the Mikdash and the resting of the Shekhina in its midst in terms reminiscent of the opening verses of Parashat Teruma. In this way, they create a framework for all of the sections dealing with the Mishkan found in these parashot:


This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the Tent of Meeting before the Lord: where I will meet you, to speak there to you. And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and I shall be sanctified by My glory. And I will sanctify Aharon and his sons, to minister to Me in the priest's office. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God that brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God. (Shemot 29:43-46)


            As stated above, the words "And I will dwell among the children of Israel" direct us toward "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8). But whereas there we pass naturally from the resting of the Shekhina to the fashioning of the ark (as noted by the Ramban, cited above), here we find a combination of the altar and the ark, with the altar serving as the primary component. In this context, it should be noted that also in the book of Bamidbar, in the account of the dedication of the tribal princes, the emphasis is on the dedication of the altar, and not on the dedication of the Mishkan or of the ark ("This is the dedication of the altar").


            We see, then, that the haftara presents us with the two focuses of sanctity in the Mikdash that represent two different principles regarding the resting of the Shekhina, while focusing on the role of the altar in the context of the Mikdash as a whole. It is thus similar to the parasha, which also recognizes these two elements and establishes the altar and its dedication as a central component in the resting of the Shekhina in the midst of the people of Israel.


(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] See the Ramban's strictures to the Rambam's Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (principle 3), where he notes that the dedication of the altar was not a one-time event, but rather a mitzva that applies for all generations, and it therefore bears significance with respect to the dedication of the future Mikdash and altar. His statement includes verses from our haftara:

The dedication of the altar is certainly a commandment for all generations, as it is stated in Parashat Tetzaveh: "Now this is what you shall offer on the altar" (Shemot 29:38), which is the commandment of dedication. From this we learned (Menachot 49a): "The altar is only dedicated with the daily offering brought in the morning." It also seems that the Mishkan when it was erected and the Mikdash when it is built always require dedication. The offering of the princes was a temporary measure with respect to the quantities that they came up with, but the dedication itself was an obligation. Thus, Shelomo also had a dedication (I Melakhim 8; II Divrei Ha-Yamim 5), and so too the men of the Great Assembly (Ezra 6), and so too in the days of the Messiah. As they said (Menachot 45a): "The special consecration-offering was offered in the time of Ezra, just as it was offered in the time of Moshe."… And there were consecration-offerings on the altar to consecrate it, as it is written (Shemot 29:36): "And you shall offer every day a bullock for a sin offering for atonement, and you shall cleanse the altar, when you have made atonement for it," and it is written (ibid. v. 37): "Seven days you shall make an atonement for the altar and sanctify it." And these are the consecration-offerings that were brought in the days of Ezra, because the new altar required such offerings to consecrate it as at first in the days of Moshe… And it is further written explicitly regarding the altar (Yechezkel 43:25-26): "Seven days shall you prepare every day a goat for a sin offering; they shall also prepare a young bullock, and a ram out of the flock, without blemish. Seven days shall they make atonement for the altar and cleanse it; and they shall consecrate it." Thus it is explicit.

[2] The mitzva to fashion poles for the ark for all generations and the special prohibition of removing them – unlike the rest of the vessels in the Mishkan,which required poles only during the periods of journey in the wilderness, and even then there was no negative commandment forbidding their removal – also follow from the fact that the ark is different from the rest of the vessels. It is not considered a fixed part of the Mishkan that has no meaning outside of it, but rather like a vessel that when necessary is ready to be moved. This was true even after the ark was set up in the Temple in Jerusalem. See Sefer Ha-Chinukh, commandment 96: "Because the ark is the dwelling place of the Torah, which is our entire essence and glory, and we are obligated to treat it with all honor and splendor, to the best of our ability, therefore we were commanded not to remove the poles of the ark from it, lest we have to quickly leave with the ark to somewhere else."

Further support may be brought from the Rambam's position that in later generations, the ark was carried by the priests, and not by the Levites – this in contrast to the other vessels in the Mikdash. See Chiddushei Griz Ha-Levi al Ha-Rambam, letter from 5682 printed at the end of the volume. (See also Rav M. Ilan, "Torat Ha-Kodesh," vol. 2, no. 12.)

[3] It should be noted that in several verses in the book of Yechezkel close to and preceding our haftara, greater emphasis is placed on "the inner courtyard… the glory of the Lord filled the house," thus creating a more balanced picture of these elements. Our purpose here, however, is to discuss the haftarot and the points that they choose to emphasize, and not the prophecies of Yechezkel as a whole.

[4] "The mystery of the Mishkan is that the glory that rested upon Mount Sinai should rest upon it. As it is stated there (Shemot 24:16): 'And the glory of the Lord rested upon Mount Sinai,' and it is written (Devarim 5:21): 'Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness.' So too it is written with respect to the Mishkan (Shemot 40:34): 'And the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan.' It mentions twice with respect to the Mishkan: 'And the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan,' corresponding to 'His glory and His greatness.' And the glory that appeared to Israel at Mount Sinai was always with them in the Mishkan." (Ramban, Shemot 25:2)

[5] The presentation in this section suffers from excessive schematization. The issue is exceedingly important for understanding the world of the Mikdash and requires extensive discussion, more complex formulations, and consideration of a broader array of phenomena, conceptual and halakhic. It is important to emphasize that there are many dualities that reflect these dialectics even within each separate component. Thus, for example, the discussion concerning the altar should relate to the fact that a fire from heaven burns on the altar, but nevertheless there is a mitzva to bring a mundane fire. This, however, is not the forum to expand upon all these issues.

[6] See Yoma 54a: "R. Yehuda contrasted the following passages: 'And the ends of the poles were seen,' and it is written: 'But they could not be seen without.' How is that possible? They could be observed, but not actually seen. Thus was it also taught: 'And the ends of the poles were seen.' One might have assumed that they did not protrude from their place. To teach us [the fact] Scripture says: 'And the poles were so long.' One might assume that they tore the curtain and showed forth; to teach us [the fact] Scripture says: 'They could not be seen without.' How then? They pressed forth and protruded as the two breasts of a woman, as it is said: 'My beloved is unto me as a bag of myrrh, that lies between my breasts.' R. Kattina said: Whenever Israel came up to the Festival, the curtain would be removed for them and the keruvim were shown to them, whose bodies were intertwined with one another, and they would be thus addressed: Look! You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman."

[7] Similarly, there are commentators who distinguish between these worlds based on the duality of study and action, with the ark expressing the principle of the sanctity of the Torah and the altar representing the commandments and the world of action.