Parshat Tezaveh

Torah Reading for Week of March 1-March 7, 2009

“Essence of Teaching”

by Rabbi Bennett Blum, MD ’07
Bennett Blum, MD Inc.

“Who is good enough to be your student?” When Reb Mimi Feigelson asked this question in a rabbinic school class several years ago, the intent was to sensitize us to our limitations, biases, and needs as teachers. Do we see students as they are, or do we project our wishes and see a reality that does not exist? This week’s parsha gives some advice—though you have to search for it.

Tetzaveh describes the Priestly garments in great detail, and the subsequent consecration of the priests. In fact, most drashot I have seen for this parsha are variations on the theme “clothes make the man.” Other lessons are not at all obvious. To make it a little easier to follow, here are the pertinent ideas and passages:

  1. Various mitzvot are directed to Moshe (Rabbeinu) to fulfill or direct others.
  2. The names of the twelve tribes are engraved on two stones that are part of the Ephod (Shemot 28:6-10).
  3. The names are to be engraved “k’toldotam” – usually translated as “according to their birth order, or “by seniority” (Shemot 28:10).
  4. The names are referred to as “the names of the sons of Israel” (Shemot28:11).
  5. The engraved names are to stimulate memories and thoughts by the people, Aaron, and G-d (Shemot 28: 12).
  6. The word translated as “engrave” is petach (piel form of pehtach).
  7. Names hint at the Divine essence of the name-bearer.

Putting this together, Moshe is commanded to instruct talented artisans (literally those with “wise hearts” who have been endowed with “wisdom”). An argument can be made that educators share some of the traits of artisans, at least metaphysically. That is, there is an art to educating and guiding students. Next, the artisans are to create many things, including a wearable memorial of the twelve tribes. They are to “engrave” these names; however, the word petach actually refers to creating a relief. After the letters are written, the surrounding material is carved away. This causes the letters to be raised above the surface, and there are commentaries that this is how the letters were created for the priestly garments (see Gittin 20a and b). It is much like the statement attributed to Michelangelo that he saw the beautiful image inside a slab of rock and “cut away the excess.” Furthermore, the artists did not merely engrave tribal names, they were told to engrave the “names of the sons of Israel” – meaning, remembering thesignificance of the name of the person that founded each tribe. This is also the conclusion of Rabbi Yaakov Tzevi Mecklenberg regarding the word “k’toldotam.” In his commentary, Haketav veHakabbalah, he writes:

The truth is that the Torah does not mean to instruct us here in theorder in which the names have to be written, but in the manner in which they have to be written . . .the names would represent the respective founding fathers of each tribe, not the name of the actual tribe as Moses would call them [Haketav veHakabbalah, trans. By R. Eliyahu Munk, Lambda Publishers, p. 1121 (emphasis in the original)].

That is, the names on the Ephod were reminders of unique individuals. Now the link to educators and their relationships with students becomes clear. The teacher with a “wise heart” is directed to look at, and remember, the essence of each student. It is by the essence, stripped bare of superficial factors, that a teacher (or artist) knows what he can teach, and to whom.

Shabbat Shalom