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Parashat Tetzaveh – A Hebrew lesson from linen and wood – Rabbi Meir Kahane

You shall make a linen ['שש'] Tunic of a box-like knit. You shall make a linen ['שש'] Turban and you shall make a Sash of embroiderer's work. For the sons of Aharon you shall make Tunics and make them Sashes; and you shall make them Headdresses for glory and splendor. (Ex. 28: 39-40)

You shall make for it two gold rings under its crown on its two corners, you shall make on its two sides; and it shall be housings for the poles [לבדים] with which to carry it. You shall make the poles [הבדים] of acacia wood and cover them with gold. (Ex. 30:4-5)

In the Temple, שש and בד ['Shesh' and 'Bad'] were eternal symbols of our duty to trust in G-d, Who created the universe and directs it, Who 'brings low and raises up' (I Sam. 2:7). שש and בד evoke the shesh [שש also meaning six] from the six days of creation, through which G-d, alone [לבד] and set apart [בדד], created the world. The purpose of Creation was the Exodus from Egypt. That is, G-d created the world so mankind would know His greatness and might, praise and extol Him, and seek to emulate Him in thought and conduct. The Exodus concretely showed the world G-d's greatness and might, when He withdrew His nation from servitude to a nation from which until then not one slave had managed to escape, and established Israel as the Chosen People who would make known G-d's might to the world.

There is great significance to G-d's having called the ark poles [and, accordingly, the staves of the altar in our Parasha] a בד, ['Bad'] and not a מוט, ['Mot', also meaning stave or pole], because while 'Mot' can mean something that carries, it also connotes falling and collapse, as in, 'The earth trembles and totters ['mot hit'motet']' (Isaiah 24:19); and, 'All the foundations of the earth totter ['yimotu']' (Ps. 82:5). Thus, 'Mot' can mean both ascent and lifting up, as well as falling down. This is the connection between 'Mot' and 'Matah' [מטה]— meaning 'down'. Moreover, the person without strength collapses in bed ['mitah',מיטה]. 'Mavet' [מות]— 'death' — is also tied to 'Mot', for death is permanent collapse. Thus, every rod fashioned by man to strengthen and support, carry and lift, can ultimately break and collapse. Yet, the rod G-d commanded to be made to carry the ark cannot collapse and break, because it symbolizes the power of G-d, Creator of the Universe, of Whom it says, 'G-d established the earth upon its foundations that it should never ever collapse' (Ps. 104:5); and, 'The world is established. It cannot collapse' (Ps. 93:1). The ark pole is not a 'Mot' — it cannot collapse. Whoever trusts in what the ark pole represents, G-d's infinite power, will never falter. As it says, 'He will never let the righteous collapse' (Ps. 55:23), and, 'The righteous shall never collapse' (Prov. 10:30). The 'Bad' is not a 'Mot', but the symbol of Divine mastery and monarchy, of the yoke of His kingdom which will never collapse. The 'Mot', on the other hand, symbolizes the yoke of the nations which G-d broke during the first redemption: 'I am the L-rd your G-d Who brought you out from Egypt where you were slaves. I broke the bands of your yoke and led you forth with your heads held high' (Lev. 26:13).

So will G-d break the yoke of the nations in the future, as it says, 'They shall know that I am the L-rd, when I have broken the bands of their yoke and delivered them from those who enslaved them' (Ezek. 34:27). On the one hand, G-d called the pole a בד 'Bad'. On the other hand, He established for the kohanim, the holiest segment of the holy nation, linen [בד as well as שש also means linen] garments: 'The kohen shall put on his linen [בד] garment, and his linen breeches shall he put upon his flesh' (Lev. 6:3). Likewise, on Yom Kippur we find, 'He shall put on the holy linen [בד] tunic, and have linen pants on his body. He must also gird himself with a linen sash and bind his head with a linen turban. They are holy garments'(Lev. 16:4). We find the same thing when David dances before the ark: 'David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as were all the levi'im who bore the ark, and the singers... And David had upon him an ephod of linen'(I Chron. 15:27). Metzudat David comments, 'The linen ephod was akin to the ephod of the Kohen Gadol, and was reserved for those who isolate themselves in the service of G-d.'

Precisely when the Kohen Gadol is dressed in linen, and precisely when he stands between the ark poles [Badim], the poles of faith and trust in G-d, does the Kohen Gadol perform the Yom Kippur service. The holiest man is Israel on the holiest day in Israel performs the service dressed in linen, as stated above, and standing between the poles [בדים]. Indeed, linen garments were reserved for those isolating themselves in Divine service in the Temple, for they were the symbol of the Master of the Sanctuary Who created His world in six ['Shesh'] days. G-d therefore decreed that His kohanim must serve Him in linen garb, called 'shesh' [שש]. Following is Or HaChaim: “Israel shall thus dwell securely”: When? When they are alone. “They shall dwell” naturally follows “He shall proclaim, 'Destroy!'” G-d commanded Israel to annihilate every soul of the inhabitants of the land. By doing so, “Israel shall dwell securely, alone[בדד].” The Jew who believes and trusts in G-d, in בדים, will arrive at truth and faith and tranquility, whereas he who trusts in man, in human strength, will arrive, G-d forbid, at, 'How does the city sit alone' [בדד](Lam. 1:1).

To our sorrow, those who try to pervert the separatist faith and trust of 'a nation that shall dwell alone [לבדד]' (Num. 23:9) by claiming that it is forbidden to rile up the nations, and that the Jewish People, even when powerful, still depend on the nations, have no faith and distort the whole concept of trust in G-d. Yet faith and trust in G-d are no small matter. The Jewish People must prove their trust in G-d by difficult, frightening, and sometimes ostensibly dangerous acts, acts that demand of Israel courage, acts which by their very nature show disdain for the non-Jew, anger him and threaten to bring a confrontation between him and Israel, and all must be performed with complete faith and trust that if Israel do what is decreed upon them, then G-d, too, will fulfill what He promised His treasured nation. We must know and grasp this great principle, which is the key to speedy, magnificent redemption, without suffering or tragedy. A brilliant redemption, in which G-d's promise of “haste” (Isa. 60:22) is fulfilled, will come only when the Jewish People are alone, set apart, in isolation, and trusting fully in G-d to defeat our enemies.

[Dear readers, I'm aware that this Parasha commentary is difficult to follow, especially for those who don't know Hebrew. The commentary is excerpted and compiled from the Chapter 'Faith and Trust' of Rav Meir Kahane's book 'The Jewish Idea' and I tried to condense the explanation that the Rav ztz”l gives in this chapter. While working at it, it became clear to me that the translation into English itself is part of the problem: it is not really possible to transmit what in Hebrew is an elegant and powerful interpretation based on Hebrew word roots, into English and leave it intact, despite the great, good job that Raphael Blumberg did. And doubtlessly, my 'condensation' obfuscated it further. Someone famous, I forgot who, once said 'A translation is like a kiss through a handkerchief' – probably, a condensed translation is like a folded handkerchief - so, good luck in trying to get the best out of it... Tzipora]