Tetzaveh (You shall Command)
Exodus 27:20–30:10; 1 Samuel 15:1–34; 1 Peter 2:1–25
Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17–19
“Command [Tetzaveh] the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.” (Exodus 27:20)
In last week’s Torah reading, God instructed Moses and the Israelites to construct a Tabernacle (Mishkan) in the wilderness.
This week, God commands them to bring pure olive oil for the lamp, and to create holy garments for the priests (cohanim).
The Role of Beauty and Splendor in Serving God
“These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve me as priests.” (Exodus 28:4)
In this Parasha, sacred garments are to be made for the priests so they can serve God.
One of them is the breastplate of judgment (Choshen Hamishpat).
The breastplate is associated with the Urim and Thummim, and they are used for divining the will of the Lord.
The priestly breastplate was made of embroidered linen sized and shaped into a square cubit. It contained four rows, each with three precious gems embedded within the plate and surrounded with gold.
Each jewel in the priest’s breastplate represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel, whose names were engraved upon the stones. God would use the individual letters of these names to spell out His judgments for Israel when the Urim was used to consult Him.
“He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.” (Numbers 27:21)
In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), John describes his vision of the New Jerusalem, in which the foundation stones of the city walls are adorned with 12 precious gems. Some, if not all, of these gems are also in the breastplate.
Some of the stones’ true identities may have been lost, since the Hebrew and Greek cultures shared no definitive gem names, especially during the 1000 years between the writing of 1 Samuel and the Book of Revelation:
“The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.” (Revelation 21:19–20)
There are over 30 different opinions concerning the identification of the breastplate stones in rabbinical literature and tradition. (Temple Institute)
What we see in the description of the Breastplate and New Jerusalem is that God considers beauty to be glorifying as we serve Him on earth and in Heaven, where we will one day be surrounded by the brilliant splendor of streets paved with gold and divinely cut jewels embedded in foundations.
God also considers certain colors and material important and glorifying in service to Him.
“You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.” (Exodus 28:2)
The ephod, or garment underneath the breastplate, was made out of fine linen and woven out of gold, blue, purple and scarlet threads. Although a priestly garment, it seems that King David wore it as well when he brought back the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
“Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing with the singers. David also wore an ephod of linen.” (1 Chronicles 15:27; see also 2 Samuel 6:14)
Serving God in the Beauty of Holiness
Everything God creates in His physical world helps us understand His spiritual world. The use of physical gems on the breastplate of the Kohen Gadol is no different. Since these stones represent the 12 tribes, and the breastplate is connected with discovering the will of God, the stones represent how precious Israel is to the Lord and His desire to lead them into His will.
The precious stones embedded in the foundations of the New Jerusalem also represent the 12 tribes. From this we can understand the continued importance of Israel in the Messianic Age.
All Believers in Yeshua play a significant role, as well. Scripture says that we are a holy priesthood and living stones, a spiritual house through Yeshua the Messiah:
“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Messiah Yeshua.” (1 Peter 2:4–5)
Like a precious jewel, precisely cut, shaped and polished by a master lapidary, we each have the ability to uniquely reflect the beauty and glory of God’s Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) as we serve Him.
When we fulfill that destiny, we take our place in a spiritual house, whose cornerstone—the One who holds it all together—is, of course, Yeshua HaMashiach.
“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (1 Peter 2:6)
Because this is the Shabbat before the festival of Purim (Lots), a special reading from Deuteronomy 25:17–19 is studied in addition to the regular Scripture portion. It is also called the Zachor (Remembrance) reading, because it details God’s command that we remember the wickedness of Amalek:
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt.
“That he encountered you on the way and cut off those lagging to your rear, when you were tired and exhausted; he did not fear God.
“And it shall come to pass, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shall obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget.”
These Scriptures to remember Amalek are read on the Sabbath before Purim, which celebrates Esther’s victory in helping to save the Jewish people from annihilation in Persia.
Why do we read them now? Because the one who plotted the annihilation, the anti-Semite Haman, is believed to be a descendant of Amalek. We must remember what he did as well.
This Shabbat is, therefore, also called Shabbat Zachor (Shabbat of Remembrance), and is one of four special readings before Pesach (Passover).
Haftarah Zachor: The Aftermath of Disobedience
“Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Samuel 15:3)
In Haftarah Zachor (1 Samuel 15:1–34), God remembers the Amalekites and tells Saul through the Prophet Samuel (Shmuel HaNavi) that He is going to punish them for fighting Israel after they left Egypt. Saul, therefore, is to utterly obliterate the memory of the Amalekites.
Although Saul does destroy the Amalekites and everything considered useless, he spares King Agag and keeps the best of the sheep and oxen and everything considered valuable.
Saul defends his disobedience by saying that he kept the best of Amalek for a sacrifice to the Lord; nevertheless, God sees through his so-called “good intentions” and Samuel rebukes Saul’s defiance with a word from the Lord:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
“For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22–23)
Saul’s misplaced mercy in keeping King Agag alive almost wiped out the Jewish People.
According to commentaries, Agag impregnated a maidservant before his death and, therefore, the Amalekite lineage survived. Haman, who is called the “Agagi,” was his offspring.
Through Haman, Amalek once again tried to destroy the Jewish People.
Remembering Agag and Haman reminds us that our own disobedience can negatively affect those whom God loves, long after we are gone. Let us, therefore, set our hearts on being obedient, rather than simply doing what seems best at the time.
Amalek Lives On
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10–12)
Amalek represents all evil forces throughout history trying to stop God’s plan. It is the opposite of everything beautiful and glorifying to God.
It still exists today as an anti-Messiah spirit that does not fear God, but instead despises God’s people with a venomous hatred.
The spirit of Amalek is against Israel.
We see this same spirit active within the fundamentalist Jihadi Islamic factions whose sole aim is to kill and destroy Christians and Jews once and for all time—that is the foundational ideology of Islamic scriptures.
What is the only way to defeat the spirit of Amalek? Zachor—remember.
We must never forget what the spirit of Amalek has done to the Jewish People over the past 3,000 years, as expressed in the slogan for Holocaust Remembrance Day—“Never Forget.”
Even as the last of the Holocaust Survivors become elderly and pass away, the remembrance of the horrors of the Holocaust that the spirit of Amalek committed against God’s people through the Nazis must never be forgotten.
We must always remember and never forget that we have an enemy who seeks to steal, kill and destroy; therefore, we must be continually on the alert and wear our spiritual armor daily.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)