V’Asisah Tzitz Zahav


Summary text


This week’s Torah portion, T’tzaveh, contains a description of the Sanctuary that the Jews consecrated to G-d in the wilderness, as well as the sacred implements and priestly garments used therein. These included eight specific items to be worn by Aharon (Aaron), the High Priest, in performing the sacrificial rites on behalf of the Jewish people.

Like all implements of the Sanctuary, the priestly garments were not arbitrarily selected, but were mandated by G-d as symbols of His relationship with us Jews. One of these, a thin plate of gold worn across the forehead of the High Priest, was called the “tzitz.” Let us explore some of its spiritual significance.

In describing the tzitz, the Torah states (Exodus 28:36), “You shall make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it [in letters like the] engravings of a signet [the words], ‘holy unto G-d.’” The Talmud teaches (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 4:1 and Megilla 1:9; Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 63b and Sukkah 5a) that the writing on the tzitz occupied two lines: the words “holy unto” were on the lower line and the name of G-d was on the upper line.

The Torah goes on to say of the tzitz (Exodus 28:38), “And it should be upon Aaron’s forehead; [consequently] Aaron will bear [i.e., atone for] the iniquity of the sacrifices [that had been tainted by ritual impurity when offered] ... and it shall be always upon his forehead, as an [instrument of] favor for them before G-d.” The tzitz thus served to atone for iniquity, and by wearing it always upon his forehead, Aaron drew down Divine favor upon the Jews.

The above will be understood in light of the following:

The word “tzitz” connotes shining forth, blooming, bursting out, as used in verses like (Psalms 132:18), “yatzitz nizro” (his crown will bloom); (Song of Songs 2:9), “meitzitz min hacharakim” (he peers out through the cracks); and the expression “neitz hachamah” (sunrise, when light first bursts over the horizon). In the context of Aharon’s forehead-plate, it refers to the great love for G-d that it was the function of Aharon to instill in the Jewish people.

A shepherd’s function is to tend his or her flock and supply its members with their needs. Jewish mystical tradition (See Micah 5:4; Succah 52b; Tikkunim to Zohar Chadash 104a (regarding Aharon)) compares the Jewish nation to a flock “shepherded” by seven great figures of Jewish history, each of whom channeled a particular form of spiritual influence to the Jews. Aharon the High Priest was one of these Seven Shepherds, and his particular role was to channel to us from above the ability to reach a level of love for G-d which cannot ordinarily be attained by mortals.

And one should not ask how this can be, in light of the teaching (Brachos 33b; Zohar I:59a), “All is in the hand of Heaven [i.e., preordained] except fear of G-d” — which implies that fear of G-d and similar religious matters are up to a person to  develop within themselves — because this teaching refers to a different level of love for G-d.

There are two levels (generally speaking) of love for G-d. One is aroused by intellectual contemplation of G-d’s greatness; this is not really different from any other love that we may develop. For example, the more one contemplates how wonderful are the workings of nature, and the more one understands of biology, the interdependency of species, and related matters, the greater the appreciation and love one develops for the environment, ecology and all living things. Or, to use another example, the more one understands of history, government and world affairs, the greater will be one’s patriotism and love for a free and democratic country. Since we can consciously turn our minds to dwell upon matters that arouse this type of love for G-d – especially by studying Torah – we are expected to develop it ourselves to the best of our ability.

There is a higher degree of love for G-d, however, which is beyond human ability to reach without Divine assistance. G-d is the only true existence, and a genuine realization of that fact carries with it the natural desire of a Jew to return to his or her source and be re-absorbed (as it were) into G-d’s very Self — even though this means actually ceasing to exist as a separate being. G-d’s omnipresence and unity is something that is beyond the human mind to fully grasp. Nevertheless, our Jewish souls, which are themselves a “part” of G-d Himself, possess a natural, though subliminal, love for G-d that transcends intellectual understanding; it is a function of the soul’s inherent longing to reunite with her “father.” To turn this potential into open yearning for G-d, into the degree of love (known as ahava rabba, or “great love”) that involves cessation of one’s separate existence and re-absorption into G-d – that is, to actually experience, and not merely know about, this great love – requires Heavenly aid.

As noted above, the Seven Shepherds of the Jewish people are the vehicles through whom G-d channels this type of spiritual influence to our souls. It was Aharon’s particular function to transmit to us from Above the ability to experience not just ordinary love of G-d, but the “Great Love” just described.

(This Great Love is hinted at in the wording of the verse (Deuteronomy 11:13), “to love G-d, your G-d.” As in English, the Hebrew word “love” can be either a noun or a verb, depending upon context. In Hebrew, though, the word takes one grammatical form as a verb but another as a noun. In the verse in question, the context (“to love G-d…”) requires a verb, which should grammatically be le’ehov. However, the word used is l’ahavah, which is technically a noun. The reason for this is that the Torah is hinting to us that we are not merely to “love” G-d (as a verb) in the same sense as we love any other thing, in which we ourselves perform the action of “loving.” Rather, there exists a degree of “love” for G-d (a noun, something that exists in its own right, independent of our action) that we cannot reach by the ordinary human action of “loving.” This is the level of “Great Love,” ahavah rabbah, which we need Heavenly assistance to attain. The Torah is suggesting that we strive for this higher degree, because by doing all that is within our power to love G-d ourselves, we merit the G-dly assistance that will indeed bring us to that level.)

It is this love that is meant by the verse (Song of Songs 2:9), “meitzitz min hacharakim,” which can be understood to mean, “shines forth through the cracks.” The verse previously says “He [a reference to G-d] stands behind our wall” – for, since the Holy Temple was destroyed, it is as though a barrier, a “wall” separates us from our Father in Heaven (Brachos 32b). (Nothing, of course, can impede or be a barrier to G-d, but the idea is that our sins prevent us from reaching G-d (Isaiah 59:2), not the other way around). This wall prevents the spiritual influence, the “light,” of ahavah rabbah, the Heavenly love of G-d, from reaching us. Still, it bursts through, it shines through the cracks and (as the verse also says) “looks in through the windows.” A person must engage in heartfelt soul-searching and honest, even brutal, self-appraisal of one’s shortcomings and spiritual flaws, and, broken-hearted over one’s sins, repent with the utmost sincerity. This broken heartedness itself “breaks” through the barrier between us and G-d, opening up breaches – windows and cracks – in the wall, and allows ahavah rabbah to shine through after all.

Aharon the High Priest, the Shepherd responsible for endowing us with the capacity for this ahavah rabbah, thus wore the tzitz, symbolic of the bursting forth of this shining light.

[to be continued…]


Ó 2003 Yitzchok D. Wagshul. Please note that the foregoing is an informal synopsis by a private person, and that, therefore, errors are possible. Also, the Hebrew original contains much more than could possibly be presented here, and constitutes a much more direct transmission of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings. Furthermore, the synopsis may contain supplementary or explanatory material not in the original, and not marked as such in any way. Thus, for those with the ability to learn in the original, this synopsis should not be considered a substitute for the maamar. Good Shabbos!