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Parshah Halacha – Parshat Tetzaveh

Understanding the Ohr HaChaim


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Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen
The Torah portion of Tetzavah discusses the appointment of Aharon and his sons as Kohanim in the Mishkan (tabernacle in the desert). The first several verses in the portion includes the words “לכהנו לי – to serve Me” three times.[1]The Ba’al HaTurim writes that this three-time repetition alludes to the fact that the Kohanim served in the first two Batei Mikdash (Holy Temple) and will do so as well in the Third Bait HaMikdash (may it be built speedily in our days). Similarly, the Da’at Zekeinim writes that the expression “לי – Me” indicates something eternal just as it does in the following verses:
·        “כי לי כל בכור בבני ישראל – Because all the Jewish firstborn belong to Me.”[2])i.e., the firstborn always need redemption)
·         “כי לי בני ישראל עבדים – Because the Jewish people are My slaves.”[3] (i.e., we will always be G-d’s slaves.)
·        “כי לי הארץ  – Because the land is Mine.”[4] (This, of course, is always true.)
Thus, the use of the expression “לי – Me” in this verse means that the appointment of the kohanim is an eternal appointment.
The Talmud, too, says that when Moshiach comes, the Kohanim will serve in the Bait HaMikdash. This is clear from the discussion[5] as to whether a Kohen is allowed to drink wine nowadays despite the fact that Moshiach could arrive momentarily and the Kohen may be called upon to serve, which he cannot do while drunk.
The Firstborn as Kohanim Since Adam
Originally the sacrificial service was the province of the firstborn, as the Midrash[6] explains:
Adam, the first man, was considered a firstborn, and as such the garments provided to him by G-d Almighty[7] were considered to be priestly garments. With these garments he offered sacrifices to G-d.[8] He bequeathed the garments over to his son Seth[9] who bequeathed them to Metushelach, who bequeathed them to No’ach who offered sacrifices to G-d.[10] When No’ach died, he passed the kehunah on to his son Shem.[11] Although Shem was not a firstborn,[12] No’ach foresaw that the patriarchs would be his descendants and wanted this honor to reach them. Shem passed it on to the righteous Avraham, although Avraham was not a firstborn,[13] and Avraham offered sacrifices to G-d.[14] Avraham passed this honor on to Yitzchak. While Yaakov was the second son of Yitzchak, he wanted this honor as he knew his older brother Eisav was not deserving of it. This is why he convinced Eisav to sell the firstborn right to him. As a result of his purchase Yaakov became a Kohen, and he too brought sacrifices to G-d.[15]   
The Firstborn at Sinai
When the Jews offered sacrifices at Mount Sinai, the Torah says that Moshe sent “the young Jewish lads”[16] to offer these sacrifices. According to our sages, this is referring to the firstborn sons.[17] The Panim Yafot[18] explains that they are called “lads” because the firstborn sons who had worshipped idols in Egypt were ineligible to be kohanim and only the very young firstborn, who had turned 13 after the exodus, were eligible to serve as kohanim since they had never served idols (as adults). Some say[19] that Nadav and Avihu performed the sacrifice and that the firstborn Jews merely assisted them in a manner similar to how the Levites would later assist the Kohanim. (According to this opinion the verse should be understood as follows; “And he sent the youths of the children of Israel [referring to the firstborn who procured the animals for the offerings], and they [referring to Nadav and Avihu who are mentioned above in verse one] offered up burnt offerings, and they slaughtered peace offerings to the Lord, bulls.”
Losing It
When the Jews worshipped the golden calf, the sacrifices performed in front of it were done by the firstborn.[20] As a result, G-d decided to remove the privilege from them and give it to the tribe of Levi (and the Kohanim who are from that tribe). This is the meaning of the verse, “For they (the Levites) are completely given over to Me (G-d) from among the children of Israel; instead of those who open the womb – all the firstborn of Israel– I have taken them [the Levites] for Myself.”[21]
Some say[22] that knowing the firstborn would sin, G-d already gave the kehunah to Aharon and his sons at Sinai (after the sacrifice which was performed by the firstborn at Sinai, see above). Others say[23] that even after their sin, G-d didn’t remove the kehunah status of the firstborn until the Mishkan was consecrated.
The Firstborn in the Messianic Era
The Ohr HaChaim[24] cites a Midrash[25] that, in the Messianic era, the firstborn will once again serve in the Bait HaMikdash. The Midrash which he quotes doesn’t explicitly say that the firstborn will serve in the Bait HaMikdash. Rather, it says that the holiness of the firstborn is eternal. This can be referring to the fact that all firstborn Jews are born with a degree of holiness, which is why their father must redeem them from a Kohen and that this holiness is eternal (see above). But the Ohr HaChaim, based on the principle that “in holy matters one must always go up and not down (ma’alin bakodesh ve’ein moridin),”[26] understands the Sifri to mean that the firstborn will once again become kohanim. He explains that since this honor was already given to the tribe of Levi, and that too is eternal, they will serve side-by-side.
The Kabbalah of the Matter
The Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1789 – 1866) explains[27]that the Kohanim, whose lineage is from their father, are associated with the masculine side which at the present time is dominant. Whereas the firstborn, whose holiness stems from their mothers (i.e., it is the firstborn to the mother rather than the father who is sanctified), are associated with the feminine side. When the world was created, the feminine side was equal to the masculine. But after the sin of the Tree of Knowledge and the minimizing of the moon, the feminine side became subjugated to the masculine side. The sin of the Tree of Knowledge was rectified by the giving of the Torah, which is why the firstborn brought sacrifices at Mount Sinai. But after the sin of the golden calf, this rectification was undone, and the kehunah was transferred from the firstborn and given to the kohanim from the tribe of Levi.
When Moshiach comes, however, the feminine side will be rectified and will become dominant, as the verse says, “The woman of valor is the crown of her husband.”[28] This is why the kehunah will once again revert to the firstborn whose holiness stems from the feminine side.
The Torah Doesn’t Change
The opinion of the Ohr HaChaim must be understood since, even after Moshiach arrives, the Torah will not change.[29] And since the Kohanim and Levites were chosen by G-d and, according to halacha, a non-Kohen or non-Levi may not perform their duties,[30] how will the firstborn be able to assist them in that era?
Two Eras
The Lubavitcher Rebbe suggests[31] that during the first time period of the Messianic era, the Kohanim and Levites will continue to serve exclusively in the Bait HaMikdash as per the Torah’s instructions.[32] At some point, however, (perhaps after the resurrection of the dead) there will be another era about which it is said that the Mitzvot will no longer be mandatory.[33] It is possible that at that time, the firstborn will assume their former status and begin to serve (in some capacity) in the Bait HaMikdash.
May we soon merit to the coming of Moshiach who will certainly instruct us as to when and how the firstborn will resume their service!
[1] Exodus 28:1, 3 and 4
[2] Numbers 8:17
[3] Levit. 25:55
[4] Ibid 23
[5] Ta’anit 17a
[6] Bamidbar Rabbah 4:8
[7] See Gen. 3:21
[8] See Tehillim 69:32
[9] Although Seth wasn’t the firstborn, Kayin who had killed Hevel, wasn’t worthy of this honor.
[10] Ibid 8:20
[11] See ibid, 14:18
[12] See ibid 10:21
[13] The verse (ibid, 11:27) lists Avraham as Terach’s first son. Despite this, the Midrash is of the opinion that Avraham was not born first. See Seder HaDorot (cited in Chidushei HaRashash) that Haran was 32 years older than Avraham.
[14] See Gen. 22:13
[15] See ibid 35:1
[16] Exodus 24:5
[17] Rashi on the verse. See Zevachim 115b.
[18] On the verse
[19] Rashi D.H. Lishnah Acharinah on Zevachim, ibid, in explanation of the opinion of Rav Assi
[20] See Exodus 32:6
[21] Numbers 8:16
[22] Rebbi (Yehudah HaNassi) in Zevachim ibid
[23] Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha in ibid
[24] On Gen. 49:28 and Numbers 3:45
[25] Sifri 92 on Parshat Beha’alotecha
[26] See Megillah 25b and Rashi there and in many places
[27] Sefer HaLikutim, entry “Bechor,” pages 304 – 306 and Ohr HaTorah, Bereishit vol. 2, parshat Miketz, page שדמ side a
[28] Mishlei 12:4
[29] This is the ninth of the 13 Principles of Faith as enumerated by the Rambam
[30] See Numbers 18:7. See also Rambam, Laws of Beit HaMikdash 3:11, that even a Levi may not perform a different form of “Levite work” than was assigned to his family.
[31] Torat Menachem 5751, vol 4 page 155 note 37
[32] But see Chidushei Mahariv by Rabbi Yehoshua Viderker of Premishla (printed in Bilgoray, 1936) on O.C. 470 who understood that, according to the Ohr HaChaim the firstborn will replace the Kohanim.
[33] Niddah 61b. See Torah Menachem, 5752, vol. 1 pages 178 – 187 at length. See also Likutei Sichot vol. 27, pages 191 and on
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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