Parasha: Tetzaveh

תצוה (Exod 27:20-30:10)


Shabbat Shalom, and Hag Purim Sameach — Happy Purim! Today, we are going to celebrate and discuss the important story of Purim, but first, let’s spend a minute looking at our weekly parasha.

Our parasha this week is called תְּצַוֶּה  te-tzav-eh, which comes from the verb “צוה” (meaning “command”) so te-tzav-eh =  “you shall command.” Here, God is speaking with Moses at Mt. Sinai telling him what to tell the people of Israel regarding how to build of the Tabernacle.

Now, when it comes to the Tabernacle, it is sometimes easy to get lost in the details. So, before we focus in on the parasha itself, I want to zoom out and take a broader look at what is happening in the book of Exodus. The entire book of Exodus could really be divided into three parts: We have the Redemption of Israel (Exodus 1–18); this is when God took Israel out of Egypt and brought them through the wilderness. Next, we have the Revelation to Israel (Exod 19-24); this is where God gave Israel the Torah on Mt. Sinai. And finally, the third part is God’s relationship with Israel (Exod 25–40): Here, God focuses on the place where Israel will meet with Him — the Tabernacle. This is the section we started exploring last week.

Now, keep in mind that the Tabernacle represented the very presence of God on earth; it was a new type of Garden of Eden; just as humanity dwelled with God in the Garden of Eden, so now they will dwell with God in the Tabernacle. And we see many parallels between the Tabernacle and the Garden of Eden. For example, in the Garden of Eden, God “walked around” with humanity (Gen 3:8). This exact same verb is used about the Tabernacle, where God said to Israel “I will also walk among you and be your God” (Lev 26:11).

When God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden, he placed a cherub to guard the entrance. In the Tabernacle, we have cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant, still guarding the presence of God. Finally, when God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden, they went east. However, to enter the Tabernacle, you had to enter from the east. So, it is as though you are re-entering the Garden. And the main point, just as we spoke last week about Yeshua’s being God’s presence on earth, all of this testifies to God’s desire to be in relationship with you.

Now, as important as the tabernacle is, if you read through Exodus 25–40 (details regarding the tabernacle), it might become a little complicated if we don’t pay close attention. There are at least two reasons for this.

First, it is going to seem like there is a lot of repetition; you will probably find yourself asking “Didn’t I read this already?” The reason is because while in Exodus 25–31 (first 6 chapters) we have the instructions and details for building the Tabernacle, Exodus 36–40 (last four chapters) contains the account of Israel building the Tabernacle. Therefore, there is often quite a bit of overlap.

Second, the instructions for building the Tabernacle are not given in a specific order, but it instead jumps around to different parts of the building, which make it hard to keep track of what details go where.

Now, if we look at the Tabernacle, there are really three main areas: The Outer Courts, where we have the alter for sacrifice and the laver for washing hands. We then have the Holy Place which has the showbread, golden lampstand, and other items we spoke about last week. And then the Holy of Holies, where we have the Ark of the Covenant and God’s presence.

Last week, we heard about details inside the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place. In our parasha this week, parahsa Tetzaveh, we will focus on the priests: their clothing in Exodus 28 and their anointing in Exodus 29. Now, if you read Exodus 28, you are going to see a lot of commandments concerning their clothing: the colors for the garments, the pieces of jewelry and stones they had to wear, the engravings to be done, and so on. But one reoccurring theme we find in the priestly clothing helps us better understand the function of the priest, and also helps us better understand the status of Yeshua as our high priest.

As we read about the clothing, we see how the high priest carries the names of Israel on him. On the shoulders of the priest, they had two stones with the names of Israel on it. Why? “Aaron shall bear [carry] their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial” (Exod 28:12). In other words, the high priest represented the nation before the Lord. He was the mediator.

Then on the breast plate of judgment you had 12 stones, with each stone having a tribe of Israel written on it. This was done for the same reason: “Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually” (Exod 28:29). There is no way Israel could ever feel forgotten because the High Priest always represented them. Even the Gold Plate on the turban, which says “holy to the Lord,” was given so that “Aaron shall take away [carry] the guilt of the holy things which the sons of Israel consecrate” (Exod 28:38).

This language of carrying/representing Israel reminds us of the scapegoat at Yom Kippur, who carried the sin of the people away (Lev 16:22). In a real sense, the priest was Israel’s representative: he embodied the nation before God (see Exod 28:30). And this study of the priest’s clothing helps us for at least two reasons.

First, this helps us better appreciate Yeshua as our high priest, who is in the heavenly realm representing us. Hebrews says: “He [Yeshua] is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). The question for us, then, is: just as the high priest carried Israel’s name, is our name known by Yeshua? Do we have a relationship with Yeshua? Yeshua warns in Matthew 7 that many will come to him at the end and say, “Lord Lord,” and He will say “I never knew you.” So, we must ask: Have we acknowledged God’s revelation through Yeshua so that He is our heavenly high priest? If not, remember the warning in book of Hebrews: “Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart” — today is the day to become a partaker in Yeshua’s priesthood. So, first, we better appreciate our heavenly High Priest.

Second, as followers of Yeshua, we are called to act in a priestly manner to one another. Just as the high priest carried Israel’s burdens, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. Paul wrote in Galatians 6: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of the Messiah” (Gal 6:2). In other words, we fulfill the law of loving God and loving one another when we stand by one another and help each other. So, if somebody shares a difficulty or struggle with you, we do not ridicule or rejoice in their difficulty, but sit by them and support them; and through this harmony together, we demonstrate the power of God’s love. As Yeshua says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:35). So, in this way, we give testimony to the priesthood even today.

Finally, I find the imagery of “an intercessor — a mediator — one standing in the gap” to be very appropriate for our celebration of Purim today. You see, the story of Purim recounts how a man named Haman tried to destroy all the Jewish people. But unfortunately, antisemitism is not just found in the Hebrew Bible; it is a reoccurring event today. But one element that is not always emphasized in the history of antisemitism is the role of non-Jewish people played by standing in the gap and protecting Jewish people in times of struggle. Whether it is those during the Holocaust, where people risked their lives and hid the Jewish people, or those of us today who stand up against antisemitic theology and cultural stereotypes, I am very grateful for our community of Jews and Gentiles who follow Yeshua and who stands against anti-Semitism and all injustices.

So, as we celebrate Purim, let’s remember this important calling we have to rejoice in our Messiah, to bear one another’s burdens, and to stand for God’s truth in every situation, no matter the cost.