Parsha Halacha – Parshat Tetzaveh/Parshat Zachor

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The Torah portion of Tetzaveh discusses the clothing of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) as well as of those of all the kohanim. The Talmud (Erkin 16a) says that each of the Kohen Gadol’s eight garments atones for a different sin. This article will focus on the hat of the Kohen Gadol. The hat atones for the sin of arrogance as it is the highest garment on a person’s body, thus atoning for the sin of being overly “high.” The Maharsha explains that covering one’s head leads one to have fear of G-d, which is the antidote to arrogance and atones for it. The Jerusalem Talmud (Yoma 7:2)


derives this from the verse (Exodus 29:6) which states that the hat should be placed on “his head.” Since it is obvious that a hat should be placed on a head, the verse seems superfluous. Its purpose is to teach us that the hat atones for people who consider themselves (improperly) to be “a head.”


The Turban of the Kohen Gadol and the Hats of the Regular Kohanim
The hat of the Kohen Gadol was made of a sash of material which was wound around and around the head in order to form a turban. According to the Rambam (Rambam Klei HaMikdash 8:19), the same was true for the hats of the ordinary Kohanim. Both were made of sashes that were 16 amot long.
(This measure seems to originate in a Midrash. See Torah Shleima on Exodus 28:39)


The Rambam (ibid halacha 2) writes, “The turban mentioned in the Torah with regard to Aaron corresponds to the hat mentioned with regard to his sons. [The difference is that the] turban of the High Priest is worn like fabric wrapped around a broken bone (i.e., it is more circular) while the hat of the ordinary priest is worn like an ordinary hat (i.e., it is more conical). Hence, its name [migba’at which is similar to mikba’at and the Hebrew word for kova – hat.]”


Some say (Ra’avad on the Rambam ibid) that the hats of the regular Kohanim were not made of a sash that was twirled around like that of the Kohen Gadol. Rather they were conical hats similar to the hats we wear today.

Why the Difference?

There are two reasons given for the difference in the shape of these hats:
  • To Make Room for the Tzitz
Some point out (Tosfot Sukkah 5a D.H. Ve’el) that the Kohen Gadol had to wear both the tzitz and the head Tefillin on his head, above his forehead and below his hat. In addition, in the back of his head the Kohen Gadol had strands of blue wool that were tied together to hold up the tzitz. The hat was not allowed to be on top of these items and could only cover the middle of his head. As such it had to be flatter since if it were cone shaped and was perched in the middle of his head, it would fall off. The other Kohanim, however, only wore their head Tefillin in front of their heads and did not have a tzitz. They also had nothing in the back of their heads. As such, the hats were cone-shaped, and the heads of the kohanim fit into their hats.


This also explains the different names of the hats. The hat of the regular Kohanaim was called migba’at because its shape was similar to a gavi’a – a cup. The hat of the Kohen Gadol was called a mitznefet as it was simply placed on the head (tznifa means the placement of a hat, see Levit. 16:4). (Pane’ach Raza, cited in Torah Shleima)

A Majestic Hat

Some say (Tosfot Yeshanim quoted in ibid) that the style of the turban of the Kohen Gadol was the one worn by kings, whereas the hats of the regular Kohanim were more of an ordinary style.
Here is a short collection from our sages about the importance of humility and the harm caused by arrogance:

A Source of Many Good Traits

The Peleh Yoetz writes (entry anavah), “Humility is the most important trait, and it is the ‘father’ of Torah and good traits. Humility brings the following ‘friends’ along with it: Love, brotherhood, peace and friendliness with all men, having no anger whatsoever, forgiving others, being broken-hearted, never being upset or bothered by others (equanimity), running from honor, not seeking high positions, not coveting fame, and not believing one deserves everything that he has. There are many other good and proper traits that come from true humility.”

Even When Giving a Good Speech

A person who gives a good speech should not allow it to go to his head. He should remember that all of his wisdom and oratory skills are gifts of G-d. He should pray to G-d that it not make him proud (Peleh Yoetz ibid).

Rava and Rav Zutra

The Talmud (Yoma 86b and 87a) tells the following two anecdotes to illustrate this matter: When Rava would see a line of people following him out of respect for him, he would recite the following verse [Job 20:6–7] (to remind himself to remain humble), “Though his excellency ascends to the heavens, and his head reaches the clouds, yet he shall perish forever like his own dung; they who have seen him will say: ‘Where is he?’” Similarly, when they would carry Rav Zutra on their shoulders during the Shabbat of the Festival when he would teach the masses, he would recite the following verse [Proverbs 27:24] (to avoid becoming arrogant): “For power is not forever, and does the crown endure for all generations?”


Rashi explains that because Rav Zutra was old, his students would carry him so as not to bother everyone to stand up when he would (otherwise) walk through.

Tzara’at is a Punishment for Arrogance

The Talmud (Erkin ibid) says that one who is arrogant can be punished by getting tzara’at (a skin disease similar to leprosy). This is derived from the story of King Uzziahu who was a righteous and successful king. Unfortunately, he let the success go to his head as the verse says (Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) 26:16-19), “But when he was strong, his heart became arrogant until he acted corruptly. He trespassed against the L-rd, his G-d; and he went into the temple of the L-rd to burn incense upon the altar of incense (even though he was not a Kohen)… Then Uzziah was angry (with the kohanim who rebuked him); and he had a firepan in his hand to burn incense; and while he was angry with the priests, the leprosy broke forth on his forehead.”

Three Types of Arrogance

Rabbi Chayim Vital writes (Even HaShoham, Hilchot Teshuvah 5:12) that there are three types of arrogance:


The first type of arrogant person keeps his arrogance in his heart while to others he appears humble. About such a person the verse says (regarding tzara’at), “If a man will have an uplifted blemish in his skin (Levit. 13:2).” This is referring to the blemish of arrogance (uplifting) that it is only in his own skin (private).


The second type is one who is arrogant towards his peers but not towards someone who is wiser or older than he is. This is alluded to by the tzara’at called sapachat (Levit 13:2), which means connection (see Shmuel I 2:36), i..e., he is arrogant towards those he is connected with.


The third and worse type is one who acts arrogantly even towards those older, wealthier, and wiser than himself. Such  a person is alluded to in the Mishna (Nega’im 1:1) which talks about tzara’at as being azzah which means impudent (see Avot 5:20).
All of these groups deserve punishment, as it makes no difference if he conceals his arrogance or displays it openly.

The Brit Milah Counters Arrogance

Our sages say that one may perform a brit milah on a baby (or any person) even if that will involve cutting off a tzara’at mark that is on the foreskin. (See Rambam, Hilchot Milah 1:9.) This despite the fact that it is usually forbidden to cut off a mark of tzara’at (See Deut. 24:8). Reb Shlomo Efrayim Luneshitz (author of the Kli Yakar) explained (Olelot Efryaim, Chelek 3, Amud 13, 424 BeMilah) the reason for this halacha: Normally one may not cut off a mark of tzara’at as one must learn the lesson from the affliction and do teshuva in order to heal it rather than getting around it and cutting it off. Such a person will not learn to change his negative traits. However, the tzara’at may be cut as part of a brit milah ceremony as the ceremony itself helps a person correct his bad  traits. For example, tzara’at can be a punishment for arrogance (as mentioned above). The brit milah helps one curb his physical lusts which contribute to his arogance. It also helps a person achieve a humble heart since removing the foreskin of the flesh assists one to remove the foreskin (arrogance) of his heart.
The Torah mentiones arrogance that is expressed in three parts of a person’s body:
  • In the eyes (the way a person looks at others), as it says (Proverbs 6:17) “Haughty eyes.”
  • In the heart (the atttude one feels about others), as it says (ibid 16:5), “Everyone of haughty heart is an abomination of the L-rd.”
  • And in their feet (the way one treats others), as it says (Tehillim 36:12), “Let the foot of haughtiness not come with me.”
The arrogance expressed in these three limbs is rectified by the following three mitzvot:
  • The head Tefillin (between the eyes)
  • The arm Tefillin (opposite the heart)
  • and the brit milah (in the area of the feet).
By devoting these limbs to Hashem and observing these mitzvot, one can temper the otherwise natural feelings of arrogance he may have.
Since the Brit Milah is an antidote to arrogance (as explained), one may cut off the tzarat’at when doing a brit as this will help him overcome his arrogance.
May we all merit to achieve humility which will bring us closer to G-dliness (see Sotah 5b)!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevoach and a Happy Purim!

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