Thoughts on Tetzaveh

One of the most poignant mitzvot in Torah is the command to remember. Aside from the number of times that Hashem says that He will remember, there are numerous times when Israel was told to remember, e.g. Exodus 13:3 “Remember this day, on which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage. …”; Numbers 15:39-40, It will be your own tzitzit—so whenever you look at them, you will remember all the mitzvot of ADONAI and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves. This way you will remember and obey all My mitzvot and you will be holy to your God.” 

The reason for this brief introduction about memory and remembrance is that this Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor or Sabbath (of) remembrance. Shabbat Zachor is the Shabbat before Purim. As the book of Esther comes to a close, these words are recorded…

The Jews established and took upon themselves, upon their descendants, and upon all who joined with them, that they would commemorate these two days in the way prescribed and at the appointed time every year. These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family and in every province and every city. These days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor their remembrance perish from their descendants.

Esther 9:27-28

Interestingly, though not specified in Esther, there is a tradition that says that Haman, the archenemy of the Jewish people, was in fact descended from Amalek. And the Amalek connection explains this week’s Haftarah, 1 Samuel 15:1-34, which begins

Thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot: “I remember what Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike down Amalek and put all he has under the ban of destruction.”

1 Samuel 15:2-3

Returning to Esther 3:1, it states that Haman was the son of Hammedatha the Agagite. Three times in 1 Samuel 15:8, :20, and :32), Agag was acknowledged as the king of the Amalekites. So, could Haman have been a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites? I do not believe it can be proven without a doubt one way or the other. It can be said that Haman fit the modus operandi of Amalek, and that in his generation, he was the enemy of all the Jews and had schemed to destroy them completely,” (Esther 9:24). One has to wonder if King Saul had been obedient to the word of the LORD through Samuel, if he had totally destroyed Amalek, would the history of the Jews and the world been altered? 

There is another point to remember this Shabbat Zachor. When Hashem reveals His will, we need to obey it, otherwise disobedience can at times have dire consequences. As noted in 1 Samuel 15:3, King Saul was to “go and strike down Amalek and put all he has under the ban of destruction—so have no pity on him; but kill both men and women, children and nursing infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.” However harsh that may seem to us today, that was Hashem’s command to King Saul. Sadly, King Saul disobeyed, resulting in Samuel proclaiming, “ADONAI has torn the kingship over Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you,” (1 Samuel 15:28). King Saul had tried to excuse his disobedience by saying,“for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to ADONAI your God—but the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

There were at least two problems with this statement, possibly three. First, King Saul brought back Agag instead of killing him. If he survived, quite possibly others did as well. Second, all the livestock were to be killed as well. Third and maybe the most damning for King Saul, was that he said the livestock, that had been slated for destruction, were to be sacrificed to Samuel’s God; he did not say “to be sacrificed to my God,” thus separating himself from Samuel’s and Israel’s God.

This week’s parasha Tetzaveh, (you shall command), Exodus 27:20 – 30:10, begins with the command concerning the pure olive oil that is to be set apart for the ner tamid, the lamp that was to burn continually, day and night before the veil blocking the Ark of the Covenant.

At the end of the parasha, there are the instructions concerning the altar of incense which ends with

You must not offer up unauthorized incense on it. Nor should any burnt offering or grain offering be there, nor should you pour any drink offering there.

Exodus 30:9

Later in Parashat Shemini, we will read about the outcome of being disobedient to this command.

Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own censer, put fire in it, laid incense over it, and offered unauthorized fire before ADONAI—which He had not commanded them. So fire came out from the presence of ADONAI and consumed them. So they died before ADONAI.

Leviticus 10:1-2

Nadab and Abihu were with their dad and uncle in preparing the Mishkan and the articles and rituals. They knew that they were not to “offer up unauthorized incense” or anything else on the altar – but for some reason they did and paid the ultimate price for their disobedience. Acts 5 records the account of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, lying to Hashem. The compiler of Proverbs wrote, “Lying lips are detestable to ADONAI…” (Proverbs 12:22).

Fortunately, more often than not, punishment and discipline are not immediately metered out as with King Saul, Nadab and Abihu, and Ananias and Sapphira. That is not because our disobedience is of a lesser measure, rather it is because Hashem is gracious and patient. We see this affirmed by Hashem after the incident of the Molten Calf, when He proclaimed to Moshe,

“ADONAI, ADONAI, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:6-7

Then through the prophet Ezekiel He told Israel,

“As I live”—it is a declaration of ADONAI— “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Return, return from your evil ways.”

Ezekiel 33:11

Just because punishment or discipline is not immediate does not mean that there will not be consequences for our disobedience. In any event, the ideal practice is to walk in obedience to the Word of God, and to trust in His grace when we stumble from the way. But, as Rav Shaul warned, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be,” (Romans 6:15)! Also, let us remember what King Saul seemed to have forgotten, “…to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay heed than the fat of rams,” (1 Samuel 15:22).

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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