Tsav: Investiture

Moses did as the Lord commanded him. And when the community was assembled at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, Moses said to the community, “This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.”
Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. He put the tunic on him, girded him with the sash, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him, girding him with the decorated band with which he tied it to him. He put the breastpiece on him, and put into the breastpiece the Urim and Thummim. And he set the headdress on his head; and on the headdress, in front, he put the gold frontlet, the holy diadem — as the Lord had commanded Moses…
He poured some of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him. Moses then brought Aaron’s sons forward, clothed them in tunics, girded them with sashes, and wound turbans upon them, as the Lord had commanded Moses…And Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood that was on the altar and sprinkled it upon Aaron and upon his vestments, and also upon his sons and upon their vestments. Thus he consecrated Aaron and his vestments, and also his sons and their vestments.
Moses said to Aaron and his sons: …You shall not go outside the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the day that your period of ordination is completed. For your ordination will require seven days. Everything done today, the Lord has commanded to be done [seven days], to make expiation for you. You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, keeping the Lord’s charge — that you may not die — for so I have been commanded. (Vayikra 8:4-13, 30, 31-35)

The people crowd and stare up mutely
at the line of men, disrobed,
upright as a row of cedars
lit by rays of early sun.

Each in turn steps forward as
his skin is washed in sacred rite,
the cleansing water trickles down
in pools upon the courtyard floor.

The High Priest first is clothed in layers
tunic, sash and robe are tied,
invested in the mark of service
his head anointed then with oil.

His acolytes in turn stand forward
to be attired in priestly garb,
their faces solemn as they ponder
Whom it is they come to serve.

In an article on Parashat Tsav entitled Transparent Leadership, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/transparent-leadership/ Rachel Farbiarz comments “For as long as people have organized themselves into civil societies, corruption has placed its thumb on the scales of justice, diverted the flow of essential resources, and helped turn the wheels of power…Beside the economic burdens, corruption levies a perhaps even more damaging psychological toll, under which ordinary citizens come to feel powerless in the face of corruption’s constant, common debasements…
“Testament to the timelessness of corruption’s havoc, the Torah repeatedly exhorts Israel’s leaders to resist venality.” Farbiarz suggests that Parashat Tsav conveys this message in a more subtle manner “through the exquisite choreography of the ritual consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests.”
First, the investiture ritual was a public affair, taking place before the eyes of the entire people. We are told that Moses assembled Israel at the entrance to the Tabernacle where everyone, Rashi explains, was miraculously accommodated. We learn that the new priests were to stay at the Tabernacle’s entrance for the entire seven day period of the investiture, lest they die.
Farbiarz says, “The metamorphosis of Aaron and his sons into kohanim, or priests, was thus a process wholly transparent to the nation. All of Israel watched as Moses bathed Aaron and his sons. They stood witness as Moses clothed the naked initiates in tunics and girded them with sashes; as he wrapped his nephews’ heads with turbans; as he bedecked his older brother with the urim v’tumim, the jeweled breastplate of the High Priest (Leviticus 8:6-34).”
The people watched Moses demonstrate the rites of the korbanot to the first priests; they saw how he sprinkled sacrificial blood on Aaron and his sons, on their thumbs, toes and ears and on their vestments. Farbiarz suggests that this intricate ceremony of ordination transmitted a powerful message of “mutual responsibility between priest and nation.” She continues, “That the nation witnessed Aaron and his sons laid completely bare and then costumed bit by bit, chastened the priests to remember that critical to their holy transformation was the nation’s intimacy with their humanity. The nation, in turn, was vested with the awesome trust implied in witnessing the initiates change from naked, vulnerable men into God’s – and the people’s – servants.”
She submits that the “investiture’s peculiar pageantry” further conveys that the priests’ service was intended to be carried out in an altruistic spirit of dedication. “To both the nation and the initiates, the macabre image of Aaron and his sons, their garments, and extremities covered with sacrificial blood, conveyed a humbling message: Henceforth, the priests’ lives were to be like the korbanot with which they were entrusted–sacrifices to God on the nation’s behalf. The priesthood was emphatically not to be a life of self-aggrandizement and personal profit, but one of service and accountability to others.”
However, although this was a notably public spectacle of the ordination underscoring the priests’ accountability to God and the community, and thus exemplifying the priesthood at its best, it was a unique occurrence, a ritual that was never repeated. And the priesthood was later degraded by corruption and greed. Farbiarz notes, “The holy institution thus tragically succumbed to precisely what the investiture seemed crafted to derail: the powerful tendency of public institutions to become the people’s victimizers, rather than their servants, when transparency and accountability are abandoned.”
Finally, she points out that widespread corruption is rife the world over. In the world’s most impoverished countries, corruption is one of the most serious obstacles to progress, affecting nearly every aspect of life in these societies.
She mentions the courage of individuals around the world who frequently endanger themselves by exposing and fighting corruption. She concludes, “Their struggles lend hope that the priestly investiture’s emphasis on transparency and accountability will take root in their own communities and throughout the world.”

Tazria: Affliction

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying: If a person has in the flesh of his skin a sore… The priest shall see the lesion…when the priest sees it… (Vayikra 13:1-3)

He nears the priest
bares his affliction,
heart throbbing,
awaiting the decree.

His cheeks flush red,
burning more
than scaly sores
under shameful scrutiny.

Attentive eyes
peruse his lesions,
moving then to search his face
to find the hidden light.

In his book, The Language of Truth – The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Arthur Green brings the teaching of the Sefat Emet in which he addresses these lesions which afflict the skin “or” (spelt with ayin). He cites the verse in Bereishit which says, “…the Lord God fashioned garments of skin for the man and his wife and He dressed them.” (Bereishit 3:21). The Midrash makes a play on the word “or” which also means light (spelt with aleph). The Midrash says that because of sin, the man and his wife came to be dressed in this coarse [scaly?] clothing, the skin of the snake. The Sefat Emet teaches that beforehand, Adam and Eve were spiritual beings (as he says humans will be again) and they entered their earthly bodies at this point. He adds that at the people were at this level too,  at the giving of the Torah, which is why it says of Moses, that the skin of his face was filled with light. But as we did not remain at that level, the afflictions reappeared – so the Midrash is relating the spiritual blemishes to the physical ones.
However, the Sefat Emet points out that skin is porous, and the tiny holes allow the light to shine through its “shells.” Only sin, he says, clogs up these pores, which is why “the leprous affliction” is translated in Aramaic as “segiru or closing.” And he adds that this is why the purification rites are entrusted to Aaron and his sons the priests, for they rectified the sin of the Golden Calf.
Rabbi Arthur Green adds, “ Here the word play between the Hebrew “or” and “or” (“skin” and “light”) becomes the vehicle for a profound assertion of ancient Hebrew myth: that behind and within the person of flesh there lies another self, one dressed only in pure light. That this is our true self is attested by the fact that it was our identity at the beginning of human history, and will be so once more at the end. Again, we have matter and spirit opposed to one another. But the Hassidic master, wanting to lessen this dichotomy, notes that our inner light can shine again through the very pores of our human skin! Even though we are again “blemished” and our skin has “closed up” after Sinai, the light still shines within us.”

Regarding the sentence, “The priest shall see the lesion…when the priest sees it…” the Meshech Chochmah wonders why the phrase is repeated, and he concludes that the first time it is literally as read. The second time, he says it means, “when the priest sees him…” – there is a different way in which the priest looks at him, to try to ascertain whether, in the time and situation that the sufferer finds himself, he is deserving of the impurity.

Rabbi Yisrael Yehoshua Tronk of Kutna* says on the same sentence, that there is a hint embedded here, that when sizing up a person, we should not only look at his deficiency, in the place where he is afflicted, but also at the whole person, including his good qualities. He quotes Balak saying “…you only see a part … and not the whole…” (Bamidbar 23:13). So he says the priest first sees the lesion and then he sees him – all of him.

In a commentary on Parashat Metsora entitled Leper as Other, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Weekly_Torah_Portion/metzora_ajws.shtml, Lydia Bloom Medwin addresses the care and involvement  (described in Parashat Tazria) that the priest would display from the moment he was shown the skin affliction. He would carefully examine the lesion. If necessary he would isolate the patient, but visit again in seven days. After re-examining the sufferer, the priest might call for another seven days to wait and see. At that point, the patient might be pronounced pure or declared a leper. If the latter, the patient was temporarily placed outside the camp until fully healed. Bloom Medwin says, “Until the moment of removal from communal life, the potential leper represented an important obligation for community leaders. Even though community health and ritual purity were their primary responsibilities, the priests spent time addressing each person individually, seeing each face, and understanding each person’s pain.
“This ethic underlies the priests’ decision to wait two weeks before making the difficult ruling of expelling a member of the community. They realized that the sickness not only affected the skin and they took time to see past the surface affliction to engage with the person…”


* Rabbi Yisrael Yehoshua Tronk (1821 – 1893) was born in Platsk . He was tutored by his father and showed early signs of great giftedness. His father died when he was 11, he was married at 14 and spent the next few years learning Torah with the support of his father-in-law. At 20 he became the Rav of the community of Shrensk where he founded a large Yeshiva. He subsequently moved to various communities to serve as the Rav (Gambin, Vurka and Poltosk). He finally reached Kutna where he remained from 1861 to his death. While there, he wrote three books on Halacha. He was friendly with the contemporary great Rabbis of Poland, including Chiddushei HaRim, R’ Hanoch Henich Alexander, and the Sefat Emet.

R’ Y.Y. Tronk was known for his love of the land of Israel, visiting in 1886 to encourage agricultural settlement, even visiting an etrog orchard which had been planted by his father-in-law and issuing a fervent plea to favour these etrogim over Greek and Italian ones! In 1889, he was one of the signatories on the first heter mechira for the Shemita year.