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Parshas Tetzaveh: A Story of Attempted Love — Featuring Clothes and Fragrances

Dear friends and family,

This week, I’m trying out a new format — story telling. Hopefully, this makes the lesson more memorable and relatable, while still packed with the usual depth and sources.

Summary: Building the strongest relationship means giving to them that which purely provides them joy for no ulterior motives. When we discover the gifts our loved ones like most, and give them generously simply to make them happy, then we have a real, beautiful relationship.

Have a Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

Parshas Tetzaveh: A Story of Attempted Love — Featuring Clothes and Fragrances

Understanding the power of smell

There once was a man who wanted very badly to please his wife. He was proud of his beauty, which he knew had come into form only because of Her shaping, but She refused to look at him this way. His beauty was marred by eight major flaws, and for each flaw, She asked him to cover up with a beautiful garment of clothing. They were as follows:

Breastplate

Moral Debauchery (source: Tractate Zevachim 88B)

Ephod

Idolatry

Robe

Murder

Tunic of a box-like knit

Arrogance

Turban

Corruption

Sash

Injustice

Tsetse Headplate of gold

Slander

Linen pants

Impudence

The man was ashamed he had made so imperfect the form She had given him, and asked if there was any way he could give Her what she most wanted. Although She had everything, She still loved receiving pure gifts from Him. The gifts She loved most were fine fragrances, so lofty that She could be sure he got no personal benefit from them except from the enjoyment in pleasing Her. With physical gifts, foods and moneys, there was always a part of him doing it for himself — to atone, to make peace, to request greater blessing. But with fine fragrance, all was for Her, and She loved them more than anything.

One day, the man got drunk and offered Her the fragrances to seduce Her. How dare he! The fragrances were for Her pleasure alone, not for granting favors, rewarding or forgiving his poor behavior. She lashed out at the man and his drunken follies were consumed by a fire through his nose. Never again would he try to get personal gain from Her favorite present, Her sweet smelling fragrances.

There were eleven fragrances, ten sweet and one foul. But She only accepted them as one bundle. Even the foul smell added depth and importance to the mix. If the man ever removed the foul spice, She would get angry and refuse his gift, until he made the foul smell feel just as at home as all the sweet ones.

When he lit them, She grew very happy, and they lived happily ever after.

Explanation:

The man in this story is the People of Israel. The woman is the shekinah, Hashem’s presence that rests among humanity.

Originally, Adam and Chava were born without clothing, without shame or attachment to the physical world, and the Shekinah was closer to them then than at any other point in human history. “Hashem blew into his nostrils the soul of life” (Br. 2:7). When they ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they became aware of their ability to separate from Hashem, to find short-term pleasures more alluring than connection to greater truth and happiness. They attempted to cover up their thoughts of separation, covering their bodies with clothing. Out of sight, out of mind. The word begged means both ‘clothing’ and ‘betrayal’. By going after physical lusts, they blinded themselves from elevating all toward a beautiful US relationship. The ME urge overcame them. From then on, humanity needed to wear clothes to keep from lustful thoughts and approach a relationship with their Creator. But though the clothing served as a protection, it certainly was less ideal than their pure state of origin. The Kohen Gadol had to wear these eight garments any time he approached the altar (Ex. 28:4). The holy garments designate both external appearances and inner morality, as King David writes, “let your Kohanim be clothed with justice” (Tehilim 132:9).

All sacrifices were brought to the Korban, the altar. The word Korban comes from the root Karov, meaning “come close” or “connection”. The sacrifices brought the Jewish people closer to G-d. Until the building of the Mikdash after Mt. Sinai, all sacrifices had been completely consumed on the altar. It was unthinkable that a human would eat from the sacrifice given to G-d (Avigdor Miller, the night of history audio lecture). Abel and Noah and Abraham all offered complete animal sacrifices on the altar. But with the Pesach offering, the people who brought the sacrifice ate with it. They turned their bodies into an altar, a connection point with their Creator. Only the Jews, a people dedicated to transforming their minds and actions into vessels of connection with Hashem, were capable of achieving this. And they were only able to as a complete unit — all of Klal Yisrael is thought as one being, one married partner in the relationship with G-d. An individual cannot take upon himself the Pesach offering — he must share it with the community or burn it altogether.

Still, G-d’s favorite preference is not for animal sacrifices but for incense. Midrash Tanchuma (Parsha Tetzaveh, simon 14) explains that Hashem prefers ketores incense offerings over all others. All the animal sacrifices fill the interests of the sacrificer — whether shlamim (peace), guilt, precautionary, or voluntary offering, all were done to perfect the giver. Only the incense were done purely for G-d’s pleasure, as Tractate Berachos explains (Daf 43, amud beis), smell helps the soul but not the body. That’s why it’s allowed, even encouraged, on Yom Kippur to smell spices.

Animal sacrifice is comparable to when a husband picks up groceries, or buys his wife a blender, or takes her out on a date. They are nice, but it’s clear he’s getting direct benefit as well. But when a husband surprises her with flowers for Shabbas, something that most women appreciate in a way most men do not, she knows he got them only in order to make her happy. And that thought makes her happiest of all.

Nadab and Avihu, two of Aaron’s four sons, got drunk on wine and offered incense offerings to Hashem. For their selfish desire to connect to Hashem without the proper clothes or community intentions, for acting as a limb rather than for the whole body, they were consumed. The fire went up their noses and took back the souls Hashem had breathed into them.

We are a community, composed of people of all strengths and challenges, of all intellects and disabilities. We care for each other, and the true test of caring is in how we care for the least fortunate among us. Amalek, the very opposite of Hashem, attacks the weakest first. In contrast, Hashem loves those who care most attentively to the most easily ignored. That’s why one of the 11 fragrances is foul smelling — it represents the part of the community most people would rather leave out. But Hashem makes our responsibility as a community clear — even the bruised and battered play a critical role in defining us, and we must give them equal stand among us. When we do, we bring out the greatest connection we have. In the Niddah cycle of women’s purity, there are 11 days of clear-sailing when a woman is guaranteed clean. In this span, she can have the closest relationship with Her husband of the month (Midrash Yilkati Rueveni parshas Ki Teitze). Every day is precious.

It is no surprise that the word Ketorah means Keter, “connection” (Aramaic, Recanti on Ex. Perek 30) or “to tie” (Tractate Shabbas, daf 61, amud 1). The Ketores are what bind us to Hashem, because we light them purely in order to please.

May we be blessed to serve our loved ones what they most desire, not what we most desire for them. By pleasing them by understanding what they want, may our relationships become ever deeper and stronger.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman

Bonus: Avraham married Ketorah after Sarah died and had many children by her. He sent the children to the East with immaterial, spiritual gifts. Scents are the closest we get to understanding the spiritual world, as they have no physical matter. Is it any surprise then that incense are so popular in the East?

  

Much of the content of this shir came from Zolly Claman, a student of R. Kelemen’s kollel.

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Parshas Terumah: Why does the sanctuary look like a slaughterhouse?

Build a Sanctuary Inside Your Heart

* “They shall make a Sanctuary/Mikdash for Me — so that I may dwell among them (lit. In them). Shelah explains that a person must develop their heart and mind as an altar for G-d, to uplift his soul. These means that once we intellectually believe there is a creator, we must direct our thoughts and activities to bring His splendor into our every moment. The Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh recommends reflecting on the Creator’s closeness and greatness regularly, starting with when you wake up and when you go to sleep, and gradually thinking about the wonders and gratefulness the Creator bestowed on us every fifteen minutes toward even shorter periods. In so doing, we will eventually think of everything through a G-d infused lens, carrying a complete soul throughout all our activities.

*The table in the sanctuary demonstrates the sanctification of our physical and material existence. Bringing holiness to the family table and to the material world becomes the joy of the Jew. Each increased Halachah, each law of purity and diet add levels of refinement and sensitivity to our material existence. The Zohar adds that sharing words of Torah through conversation, and hosting guests, especially those poor in resources or less fortunate in Torah knowledge, raise the table to the level of an altar. R. Yochanan says that now that the Temple no longer exists, the family table serves this function (Menachos 97a).

May we be blessed to make our hearts and our family tables an altar to Hashem, a portal to our love and presence of mind.

Most of the above were taken from R. Elie Munk’s The Call of the Torah: Shemos pgs. 367 & 375

Q: Why does the sanctuary look like a slaughterhouse?

*The Altar of Kelm remarks that the Beis Mikdash/Sanctuary looks like a slaughterhouse. But with the Aron Hakodesh there, since the focus of the korbon sacrifice process is entirely to connect to Hashem, the most physical environment becomes the most spiritual one.

This is one of my favorite novel insights in Torah: Our greatest weaknesses are reflection of our greatest strengths. What we work hardest to overcome becomes our area of greatest expertise and personal growth.

The Talmud writes that one born with inclinations of murder can become the most possible G-d fearing shoket, ritual slaughterer. It also writes, “In the place where a ba’al teshuva stands, a Tzaddik from birth cannot stand”. Our struggles are what shape us. Our worst aspects are our greatest assets. What we are most self-conscious of, we’ve developed great sensitivity toward.

Eckhart Tolle transformed his suicidal depression into a multimillion dollar meditation and staying-present career. Victor Frankl, in Man’s search for meaning, transformed the greatest experience of worthlessness of life into a career recognizing life’s greatness.

Thus, the place for the highest highest of spirituality in the physical world lie in the most physical of environments, a slaughterhouse.

Can you think of where your area of weakness is also your greatest potential for strength?

May you be blessed to elevate your challenges in a way that can make the worst parts into Holy vessels. May you be an inspiration to the world.

Q: Hashem asked the Jewish people for two fixed contributions and one voluntary from “any whose heart motivates him”. Why this pronged system of collecting money?

A: The Talmud (Megillah 29B) observes that the word Terumah, meaning portion, mentioned three times in the first verse (Shemos 25:1), alludes to three different types of offering as follows:

Amount:

1/2 shekel

1/2 shekel

Whatever heart desires

Used For:

Adonim/ Sockets

Korban/ Altar

Build Sanctuary

Atone For:

Golden Calf

Impurity in the sanctuary

Represents:

Stray from Evil/ Neg.

Stray from Evil/ Neg

Do Good/ Positive

Tehillim/Psalm 34:14 says “Stray from Evil and Do Good.” The simple understanding of this passage is that before you can actively do good, you must first stop doing bad things. So for example, before a person can start being a caring father, he must first stop going to the bar every night and be a present father. Or before a person can start training for a marathon, he must first stop eating solely greasy fast food.

The Ba’al Shem Tov flips it, saying “[To] stray from evil, do good”. In this mindset, actively taking on more positive activities will naturally lead to more good behavior, leaving no time or place for improper behaviors. This one connects with me more as an active way to take control of life.

One of the most defining analogies that opened me up to the world of Torah-observance came from Andrew Penn, a Meor Alumni. He equated life to a bowl of oil. As we fill our life with Torah, we don’t have to actively take anything bad out. As we keep pouring more water in and it flows to the bottom and really connects, improper activities will naturally spill out over the sides. The more we do good, the less room we’ll have for evil.

As part of my personal training to build a sanctuary in my heart, I’ve been thinking of the Creator’s greatness for a few seconds every fifteen minutes. I struggle with a constantly wandering mind, always focussed on the future. But those few seconds of reflecting on His greatness and the privilege I have in my life right now focuses my mind. In short, trying not to think of the Purple Elephant is extraordinarily more difficult than simply thinking as often as possible about far more productive, healthy and important thoughts. Eventually, my brain won’t have room for the Purple Elephant until I want it, when I actively work on that project.

The Tzaddik HaCohen explains “Stray from Evil” as meaning that everyone is judged equally. “And do good” is dependent on how much you do. All of Klal Yisrael gets equal credit for straying from evil, but we are individually judged for what good we add to the world.

The Midrash at the beginning of Parshas Terumah says, with your ingredients, Hakadosh Baruch Hu (G-d, the Holy one may he be blessed) will fill in. The Altar of Revardek explains, anything you can’t reach, can’t accomplish on your own, Hashem will fill in. Do as you see possible with whatever gifts you were given and Hashem will shape it so that it works out. In other words, do all you can and leave the rest to G-d.

Moshe didn’t know how to make the menorah, even when G-d showed it to him multiple times. Finally, Hashem told him to throw the gold into the fire and Hashem will form the menorah. If we prepare and try our hardest, Hashem will keep the light on permanently. Put Judaism and Hashem in your heart and Hashem will fill you with spiritual strength to get through any challenge.

We now have many different tools to understand “Stray from Evil and Do Good”. The more we take on good, the more good we’ll receive.

That’s why the same verse says “Let them take for Me a portion”. They are giving, not taking! But actually, everything we’ve gotten in this world has been a gift from G-d. All the ingredients of our being — our families, our jobs, our strengths and weaknesses, our abilities and handicaps — these are truly G-d’s that we take from Hashem. Thus, even the act of building for Hashem is an act of taking, but it is an an act of taking for G-d, rather than for ourselves. The more we can “take” for G-d, directing our thoughts and our hearts and our resources for G-d, as we say in Shema Yisrael, the more we receive.

May you be blessed to do good all your life.

Great Shabbas!

-Ari Melman