Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Tetzave
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

Adar 5769
In the times of the Mishkan (four centuries worth) and then in the times of the First Temple (another four centuries) the High Priest of Israel was installed by being anointed with the holy oil prepared by Moshe in the desert as described in this week’s parsha. The kings of Judah were also anointed and inducted into office in the times of Samuel and later prophets by the use of this holy oil. In Psalms King David makes reference to this means of induction into holy office in his reference to the visage of Aharon and his countenance and beard. In Second Temple times this container of holy oil prepared by Moshe was no longer available. No substitute was ever prepared. So the Talmud teaches us that the induction of the priests in those Second Temple times (also approximately four centuries) was by the means of officially dressing the priests in their vestments and garments. Also it was observed that their service in the Temple also served as an official induction to their tasks. So to speak, doing the job made one worthy of being appointed to fulfill that role. Thus even though the holy oil of Moshe was no longer present the Torah tradition had provided for alternate methods of consecrating the priests to their official tasks in the Temple. The people of Israel certainly longed for the return of the oil of Moshe but it was not in itself - indeed as the Temple itself was also not - critical for Jewish survival and vitality.

Every person has something to contribute to human life and civilization. There are those who are fortunate enough that this becomes a holy calling, anointed so to speak by the oil of Moshe. In First Temple times these people were identifiable by their relationship to the prophets of Israel and to the experience of prophecy itself. In Second Temple times this gift of prophecy was no longer present in Jewish society. So people were called to higher service in the Temple by donning the special and holy uniform if you will of the priesthood. Yet the Talmud teaches us that one also became consecrated to the holy task of service in the Temple by basically and actually working at the task of service and holiness in the Temple. To paraphrase a gross commercial advertisement of current times, the Torah taught us that the way to do it was to just do it. The Torah is therefore a series of laws - commandments and activities that require performance and behavior on our part. We no longer have supernatural means of sanctifying ourselves to God’s service. The oil of Moshe has been hidden away from us. Nor do we have any official garb or vestments that grant us the mark of holiness and service to God and man, all reports and mores to the contrary notwithstanding. But we retain the ability to just do it - to behave in a holy and exalted fashion and to adopt the yoke of service to God and man upon ourselves. The ability to consecrate ourselves to that service has never been diminished or taken away from us. The results are up to us.
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