TETZAVEH (You shall Command)
Exodus 27:20–30:10; Ezekiel 43:10–27; 1 Peter 2:1–25
“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, Terumah, 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, objects used to divine 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 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 1,000 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 that are used in service to Him to be glorifying, such as the garments worn by the Kohen HaGadol (High Priest):
“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 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 (Revelation 21:19–20) also represent the 12 tribes. From this we can understand that Israel retains foundational importance in the Messianic Age.
“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 Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) 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)
Haftarah Tetzaveh: A Vision of Hope
“So the altar shall be four cubits; and from the altar and upward shall be four horns.” (Ezekiel 43:15)
Today’s Haftarah (Prophetic) portion falls in the midst of a longer section that discusses the building of the Third Temple. Today’s portion from the Book of Ezekiel begins with God’s instruction to describe the coming Temple to the children of Israel who are exiled in Babylon.
The reason for this is not to build anticipation or excitement but, rather, to give them hope after expressing shame for the sins that caused the First Temple to be destroyed and the people to go into exile.
God tells Ezekiel that only when the people are embarrassed because of their sins, then He could show them the plan of His House, which reflects His holiness.
There, only 14 years into the Babylonian exile, which stretched on for more than another 50 plus years, the people received a message of hope and comfort — “the priests are to present your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar. Then I will accept you, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezekiel 43:27)
At that point in their exile, they must have thought themselves totally rejected by God, but God reaches into their darkness to show them a vision of eternal redemption.
Israel obviously did repent because the Book of Ezekiel goes on to describe the Third Temple in great detail and the coming of the Messiah in the final eight chapters.
God loves Israel, and this timely message of repentance reveals that no matter what predicament God’s people find themselves in, they can play a role in God’s present and future plans by turning from their sin.
May each of us put on the garments of holiness and serve Him with all of our strength.