Questions and Concepts for Parsha Tetzaveh
(Exodus 27:20-30:10)

This parsha, dealing with the set up of the Tabernacle and attire of the High Priest, contains many "hidden" concepts. We will touch on a few here (hoping to spark your curiosity for deeper study!)

As associated with the Tabernacle, four distinct groups of people are found, each with different roles:

  • High Priests - were the connection to the Divine. As the only ones who could enter the Holy of Holies, they were held to the strictest levels of integrity and purity and privy to the most intimate level of Torah.
  • Priests - Served in the sanctuary, serving the High Priest and directing the Levites. They also accompanied the army in battle. They were also teachers of the deeper (hidden) aspects of Torah
  • Levites - Taught the people at a "lower level" than the Priests, focusing on issues of the soul, ethics and customs
  • Israelites - Performed the physical rituals and their own personal actions

At the deeper levels of Torah learning, "existence" consists of four levels, which parallel the above hierarchy:

  • Atzilut ("nearness," e.g. to God) is the level of existence prior to Genesis 1:1. This level has no concept of separation or change, and is "Divine" in nature. It is the "image" of God that we are created in. This is the level of service of the High Priest, who along with the Ark made the "direct connection" to God.
  • Beriah ("creation") is the first level of creation, reflected in the Genesis account prior to the Garden of Eden. It is associated with the "Throne Room" of God, the realm of archangels, and the highest level of prophecy, that of Moses or John in the book of Revelation. This is also the level the Priesthood served.
  • Yetzirah ("formation) is the next ("lower") level of creation, associated with the Garden of Eden in Genesis, the realm of our souls and the angels (both "good" and "bad" ones, hence Yetzirah is also called the "mixed realm.") This is the level of the Levites.
  • Asiyyah ("making") is the lowest level of creation, the physcial realm (which maintains its own "spiritual dimension" to it.

These four levels of existence are associated with man, and are also mirrored in the garments of the High Priest. The ephod, the outermost garment, reflected these four worlds in the colors found.

Exodus 28:5-6 - They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked.

The four colors mentioned have precise meaning in Hebraic esoteric tradition:

  • Gold represents the Divine purity of Atzilut
  • Blue is the spiritual realm of Beriah
  • Purple (a blend of blue and red) is the "mixed realm" of Yetzirah
  • Red is that of the earth or man (i.e., blood) - Asiyyah

There is a great deal of mystical teaching concerning the incense altar, located at the center of the sanctuary. This is a critical juncture as it is here that a person goes from a stage of "approaching" God, to one of deveikut (communion/cleaving) with God. (This is in fact commanded by God in Deuteronomy 4:4; 10:20; 11:22; 13:4; 30:20.) This was the function of the incense, which ascended to the heavenlies creating the bond between man below and God above.

As mentioned above, the Levites (associated with the world of Yetzirah and the soul of man) served in the courtyard. If one views the set up of the Tabernacle in a "verticle" fashion (with the Holy of Holies being at the top), it can be said that the Levites were "below" the incense altar. Thus the souls of men (corresponding to the teaching level of the Levites) are also "under the altar." Consider that the "souls of the saints," in the book of Revelation (whose prayers are mixed with incense), are seen as located "under the altar."

Another curious point is that the High Priest was the one who wore the crown (even though he held no political or military power) while the King of Israel did not. However, the king had to copy and carry his own Torah scroll. (So much for separation of "church and state!")

It is interesting to note that miracles were associated with each of the five vessels found in the Tabernacle:

  • The Ark with its rods should have taken up all the space from wall to wall in the Holy of Holies. But when the High Priest entered, he could walk around it as the Ark did not take up any "physical space."
  • The Bread of the Face was never stale even after being left uncovered for a week.
  • The middle lamp of the Menorah (the ner ma'arivi) did not stop burning until the High Priest would extinguish it.
  • Fire fell from heaven and fell on the Burnt-Offering Altar. The smoke would always proceed vertically even when there was wind.
  • The wood of the incense altar, under only a thin layer of gold, was never scorched.