24.1. The Anointing of the Priests (29:1-37)

(1) This is what you shall do to them in consecrating them to serve Me as priests: Take a young bull of the herd and two rams without blemish;

(2) also unleavened bread, unleavened cakes with oil mixed in, and unleavened wafers spread with oil — make these of choice wheat flour.

(3) Place these in one basket and present them in the basket, along with the bull and the two rams.

(4) Lead Aaron and his sons up to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and wash them with water.

(5) Then take the vestments, and clothe Aaron with the tunic, the robe of the ephod, the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the decorated band of the ephod.

(6) Put the headdress on his head, and place the holy diadem upon the headdress.

(7) Take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.

(8) Then bring his sons forward; clothe them with tunics

(9) and wind turbans upon them. And gird both Aaron and his sons with sashes. And so they shall have priesthood as their right for all time. You shall then ordain Aaron and his sons.

(10) Lead the bull up to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the head of the bull.

(11) Slaughter the bull before the Lord, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting,

(12) and take some of the bull’s blood and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger; then pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar.

(13) Take all the fat that covers the entrails, the protuberance on the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat on them, and turn them into smoke upon the altar.

(14) The rest of the flesh of the bull, its hide, and its dung shall be put to the fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.

(15) Next take the one ram, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the ram’s head.

(16) Slaughter the ram, and take its blood and dash it against all sides of the altar.

(17) Cut up the ram into sections, wash its entrails and legs, and put them with its quarters and its head.

(18) Turn all of the ram into smoke upon the altar. It is a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the Lord.

(19) Then take the other ram, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the ram’s head.

(20) Slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear and on the ridges of his sons’ right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet; and dash the rest of the blood against every side of the altar round about.

(21) Take some of the blood that is on the altar and some of the anointing oil and sprinkle upon Aaron and his vestments, and also upon his sons and his sons’ vestments. Thus shall he and his vestments be holy, as well as his sons and his sons’ vestments.

(22) You shall take from the ram the fat parts — the broad tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the protuberance on the liver, the two kidneys with the fat on them — and the right thigh; for this is a ram of ordination.

(23) Add one flat loaf of bread, one cake of oil bread, and one wafer, from the basket of unleavened bread that is before the Lord.

(24) Place all these on the palms of Aaron and his sons, and offer them as an elevation offering before the Lord.

(25) Take them from their hands and turn them into smoke upon the altar with the burnt offering, as a pleasing odor before the Lord; it is an offering by fire to the Lord.

(26) Then take the breast of Aaron’s ram of ordination and offer it as an elevation offering before the Lord; it shall be your portion.

(27) You shall consecrate the breast that was offered as an elevation offering and the thigh that was offered as a gift offering from the ram of ordination — from that which was Aaron’s and from that which was his sons’ —

(28) and those parts shall be a due for all time from the Israelites to Aaron and his descendants. For they are a gift; and so shall they be a gift from the Israelites, their gift to the Lord out of their sacrifices of well-being.

(29) The sacral vestments of Aaron shall pass on to his sons after him, for them to be anointed and ordained in.

(30) He among his sons who becomes priest in his stead, who enters the Tent of Meeting to officiate within the sanctuary, shall wear them seven days.

(31) You shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh in the sacred precinct;

(32) and Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.

(33) These things shall be eaten only by those for whom expiation was made with them when they were ordained and consecrated; they may not be eaten by a layman, for they are holy.

(34) And if any of the flesh of ordination, or any of the bread, is left until morning, you shall put what is left to the fire; it shall not be eaten, for it is holy.

(35) Thus you shall do to Aaron and his sons, just as I have commanded you. You shall ordain them through seven days,

(36) and each day you shall prepare a bull as a sin offering for expiation; you shall purge the altar by performing purification upon it, and you shall anoint it to consecrate it.

(37) Seven days you shall perform purification for the altar to consecrate it, and the altar shall become most holy; whatever touches the altar shall become consecrated.

(1-2) This is what you shall do to them in consecrating them to serve Me as priests: Take a young bull of the herd and two rams without blemish: In the course of the Tabernacle’s consecration three sacrifices are brought: chattat, olah, and milu’im[1].

The young bull is the chattat (29:11-14), “sin offering,” a sacrifice brought for atonement. Since the Temple of Aaron is engaged, primarily, in the cleansing of sins, the first order of the day is to atone for the sins of the priests themselves.

The first ram is the olah (29:15-18), “burnt offering.” It represents the idea that the priest himself has become, as it were, a “burnt offering.” That is, the priest no longer exists as a personality in his own right, for he has now entered a completely subordinate state, becoming a “walking utensil” within the Temple.

The second ram is the milu’im (29:19-22), “the ram of ordination,” an offering respecting assumption of office. Unlike the olah, this sacrifice was not burned; rather, Aaron and his sons were to eat it, in recognition of their newly elevated status in life.

These three sacrifices represent three stages traversed by Aaron and his sons in the process of taking office.

The first stage is purification. Then comes the second stage, in which the priests renounce their status as individuals (in essence, they cease to exist as such). And finally the third stage – the return to life, with food, which symbolizes that spirituality, initially dissevered from materiality, must eventually return, to reconnect with the material.

An important of this idea can be seen in a fascinating midrash, which states, that before the High Priest entered the Temple’s Holy of Holies (which he did only once yearly, on Yom Kippur), a rope would be tied around his leg.

The purpose of the rope, according to the usual, simple explanation, was that, in the event that something unforeseen were to occur, causing the High Priest to die or lose consciousness, he could be extracted from the Holy of Holies by means of the rope, since it was forbidden for anyone else but him to enter that supremely sacred space.

However, there is an alternate explanation: The purpose of the rope was to tether the High Priest to life outside the Temple, as a tangible reminder to him of where he had come from before entering the Holy of Holies, in case he might suddenly decide that he preferred to remain there permanently.

The human soul, as it comes near to God, must not forget that its primary task is to return to the day-to-day world.

(4) Lead Aaron and his sons up to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting: The literal translation is: “Bring Aaron and his sons close to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” But the Hebrew word takriv, which means “you shall bring close,” can also mean “you shall bring as a sacrifice,” as it often does.

When, like the other vessels of the Temple, the priests are anointed with oil to initiate them into the Temple service, they are themselves “sacrificed,” as it were, losing their personal identity, and assuming instead the status of mere “Temple utensils.”

A priest cannot live a completely natural life. For example, death is an integral part of life, but a priest must have no contact with the dead, for he is forbidden to defile himself with the impurity of death (an ordinary priest is allowed to attend the funeral of only his seven closest relatives, but the High Priest is prohibited to do even that). Thus, the priest lives in a highly idealized world in which it seems that there is no death.

But other crises too happen in life, the most significant of these being crises of family life – divorce, or the death of a spouse. A priest is largely insulated from these as well – he is forbidden to marry a divorcée; that is, he must have no connection with a person who has survived the crisis of married life. And the High Priest must not marry even a widow.

But there is more. Work, too, is an integral and essential part of life. It adds much complexity to life, but also leads to self-realization. A priest, however, does not “earn a living” as the rest of us do. He lives off Temple offerings and other “priestly gifts,” and has no freedom to choose an occupation or profession, for his duties are strictly proscribed.

Thus, the priest deals neither with death, nor with life crises, nor with the workaday world. All this means that the priest has been severed from the natural order of life, and in this sense the priest has himself been “sacrificed.” His private, personal life is sacrificed, so that he can instead serve the community.

And wash them with water: This means full immersion in a mikveh of “natural waters,” which creates a channel of communication with the Creation.

(5) Then take the vestments, and clothe Aaron with the tunic, the robe of the ephod, the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the decorated band of the ephod: The “sacrificial” status of the priests is further emphasized by their passivity in the consecration procedure, as described here in the Torah: “Clothe Aaron,” “gird him,” and so on. The Kohen does not dress himself – he is dressed, he is washed. The Kohen is not a subject, but merely a Temple utensil.

(7) Take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him: Anointing is the process of initiating a person into a higher role; in other words: imposing a mission on him. The anointing is done with special olive oil made for this purpose. Not only in the Temple’s menorah, but in ancient times, in general, a primary use of olive oil was for lighting lamps for illumination at night. Thus, oil is symbolic of enlightenment. The first recorded anointings were done by Moses for initiating the priests and dedicating the original Temple vessels. Later, kings and priests assuming their new offices were anointed in recognition of the event.

(10) Lead the bull up to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the head of the bull: This is semichah, “laying of hands” on the head of an animal sacrifice. The idea is that the person bringing the sacrifice “transfers himself” into the animal, which is then slaughtered and sacrificed in his stead.

(11) Slaughter the bull before the Lord, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and take some of the bull’s blood and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger; then pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar: Moses himself executes all the sacrificial rites in the process of initiating the Kohanim (and yet, as noted earlier, Moses’ name appears nowhere here, nor anywhere in this entire weekly portion Tetzaveh; only Aaron is mentioned by name). Thus, all the priests receive their priestly status from Moses, who performs the entire ritual, although he never actually occupies the post of High Priest, not even temporarily during this initiation week.

Moses is a kind of “super-priest” by virtue of his state of dveikut, attachment to God. Aaron, in order to enter the Temple and meet with the Almighty, must first make many technical preparations – garments, ablutions, sacrifices, and so on. Aaron needs special garments to get closer to God, but Moses has no need for those, and enters the Holy of Holies dressed just as he is. Moses has none of Aaron’s limitations.

The source of this difference is that Aaron is busy atoning for sins, “going from minus to zero,” we could say, and so he remains immersed in those “negative” attributes, i.e., the sins and failings of the people for whom he seeks atonement. Moses, on the other hand, has none of these “negative” attributes. He is occupied with exclusively positive aspects – ascent and advancement towards God – and this is what he radiates to all with whom he comes in contact.

Aaron’s Torah derives from Moses’ Torah, and is an auxiliary to it. Atonement from sin is only a facultative, ancillary function with respect to Divine revelation; it is not an independent value in its own right.

(13) Take all the fat that covers the entrails, the protuberance on the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat on them, and turn them into smoke upon the altar: The parts of the sacrifice that are brought to the altar are located in the animal’s gut below the diaphragm. Rabbi Judah Halevi in his Kuzari (4:25) explains it this way:

“All organs located under the diaphragm are the foundation of nature and of genesis, for the diaphragm separates the realm of basic nature from the realm of conscious life. If a person wants to draw upon the most fundamental life force, he will sooner find it in the abdomen than in the heart and brain. In this area of nature is the root of all existence, and the seed for the birth of a new life comes only from there. It was from these organs that the Almighty chose the parts of the sacrifice: the fat, the blood, the liver membrane, and the two kidneys. He did not choose the heart, the brain, the lungs, or the diaphragm.”

Thus, what to us seems inferior actually contains within itself the essence of the most superlative.

(14-18) The rest of the flesh of the bull, its hide, and its dung shall be put to the fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering. Next take the one ram …Turn all of the ram into smoke upon the altar. It is a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the Lord: The sin offering is only an “external,” preparatory action – purification as preparation for service – and is therefore burned outside the camp. The burnt offering, on the other hand, is burned upon the altar, because it represents the Temple service itself.

To the Lord, a pleasing odor: It is pleasing to the Lord because the person who brings it demonstrates thereby his attentiveness to the Divine commandments.

(19) Then take the other ram, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the ram’s head: This is the “ram of ordination” (in Leviticus, where Moses and the priests actually execute the prescriptions of this chapter, this is made explicit: “He brought forward the second ram, the ram of ordination,” Lev. 8:22).

(20) Slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear and on the ridges of his sons’ right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet; and dash the rest of the blood against every side of the altar round about: Aaron’s body corresponds to the altar itself, and his extremities to the horns of the altar. The ear is symbolic of the priest’s willingness to hear and obey God’s instruction, the finger symbolizes that he is prepared to fulfill all of the Torah’s commandments, and the toe symbolizes alacrity – readiness to run to fulfill the duties assigned to him.

(21) Take some of the blood that is on the altar and some of the anointing oil and sprinkle upon Aaron and his vestments, and also upon his sons and his sons’ vestments. Thus shall he and his vestments be holy, as well as his sons and his sons’ vestments: Blood is a symbol of life, and oil of light. Blood and oil are used to consecrate Aaron, his sons, and their clothes, because those garments symbolize the functions and calling of the priests themselves.

(24) Place all these on the palms of Aaron and his sons, and offer them as an elevation offering before the Lord: Aaron and his sons serve as a link of transmission for bringing sacrifices to the Almighty.

(25) Take them from their hands and turn them into smoke upon the altar with the burnt offering, as a pleasing odor before the Lord; it is an offering by fire to the Lord: The altar is an extension of Aaron’s hands.

(26) Then take the breast of Aaron’s ram of ordination and offer it as an elevation offering before the Lord; it shall be your portion: The Almighty is addressing all these instructions to Moses. Thus, “your portion” means that this portion belongs to Moses as “super-priest.”

(27) You shall consecrate the breast that was offered as an elevation offering and the thigh that was offered as a gift offering: The literal translation is: “You shall consecrate the breast of the wave-offering, and the thigh of the heave-offering, which is waved, and which is heaved up.”

The breast which is waved (chazeh ha-tenufah) and the (right) thigh which is heaved up (shok ha-terumah) were the primary ritual parts of the sin-offering. They were “waved” and “heaved,” and then put on the altar, but were not completely burned, being given instead to the priests, to be eaten by them. The breast is the “realm of feelings,” “the temple of the heart,” while the thigh represents action. Both of these aspects of life must be subordinated to God and to our connection with Him.

This initiation offering of the priests was the only sacrifice in which this distinction was made between the breast and the thigh. The breast was for Moses to eat, and the thigh went to Aaron. Moses is the source of actual communication with God, while Aaron is only the this-worldly action as applied to Moses’ other-worldly ideal – the realization of Moses’ potential.

(28) And those parts shall be a due for all time from the Israelites to Aaron and his descendants. For they are a gift; and so shall they be a gift from the Israelites, their gift to the Lord out of their sacrifices of well-being: In future sacrifices too these parts would be given to the priests. When in later generations Jews brought shelamim, “sacrifices of well-being,” the breast and the thigh from the meat of the sacrifice had to be given to the priests, and those parts were themselves the “offering.” The remainder of the sacrifice would be eaten near the Temple by the offerer, his family, and their guests, in the form of a festive meal.

(29-30) The sacral vestments of Aaron shall pass on to his sons after him, for them to be anointed and ordained in. He among his sons who becomes priest in his stead, who enters the Tent of Meeting to officiate within the sanctuary …: These garments, a prerequisite for assuming the post of High Priest, emphasize that the priest is not an entity, but merely a function.

He shall wear them seven days: When a new High Priest first takes up the Temple service, he goes through an orientation process that lasts seven days, during which time he may not leave the Temple. Only after the completion of that process can he begin to serve. Those seven days of preparation allude to the Seven Days of Creation, i.e., to nature. Thus, the Kohen begins his service in the Temple one step above nature, on the eighth day[2].

(31-33) You shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh … and Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram …These things shall be eaten only by those for whom expiation was … ordained and consecrated: Partaking of the flesh of the sacrifice highlights the idea that the Temple service represents the fullness of life. It does not mean transitioning to total spirituality and being entirely separated from everything material.

(34) And if any of the flesh of ordination, or any of the bread, is left until morning, you shall put what is left to the fire; it shall not be eaten, for it is holy: Leaving over any edible part of the sacrifice until the next day would demonstrate indifference toward the sacrifice. It must therefore be eaten without delay.

(35) Thus you shall do to Aaron and his sons, just as I have commanded you. You shall ordain them through seven days: The seven days of consecration for the priesthood correspond to the seven days of Creation.

(36) And each day you shall prepare a bull as a sin offering for expiation; you shall purge the altar by performing purification upon it, and you shall anoint it to consecrate it: This process of atonement (“purging”) and sanctification of the altar took place simultaneously with, and parallel to, the initiation of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood.

(37) Seven days you shall perform purification for the altar to consecrate it, and the altar shall become most holy: The Temple vessels will acquire their special status of “most holy” only after their consecration (see 30:29). But for the time being, their purpose is only to perform their designated functions in the Sanctuary.

Whatever touches the altar shall become consecrated: In this sense the altar is like all other Temple vessels. Anything that touches them is raised to consecrated status, and must not be used for ordinary, profane purposes.

[1] The various types of sacrifices are covered in more detail in many sections of Leviticus, and we will comment on them there.

[2] This topic is discussed in more detail in the book of Leviticus, in weekly portion Shemini. We will offer our comments on it there.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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