While the bulk of Parshat Tetzaveh lists the commandments of the consecration of the Cohanim and their complicated attire, the Haftarah is connected textually to a handful of verses that describe the consecration of the Altar itself.
וְעָשִׂיתָ לְאַהֲרֹן וּלְבָנָיו כָּכָה כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אֹתָכָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תְּמַלֵּא יָדָם. וּפַר חַטָּאת תַּעֲשֶׂה לַיּוֹם עַל הַכִּפֻּרִים וְחִטֵּאתָ עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ בְּכַפֶּרְךָ עָלָיו וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֹתוֹ לְקַדְּשׁוֹ. שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תְּכַפֵּר עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ אֹתוֹ וְהָיָה הַמִּזְבֵּחַ קֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים כָּל הַנֹּגֵעַ בַּמִּזְבֵּחַ יִקְדָּשׁ.
You shall do for Aharon and his sons thus, according to all that I have commanded you; seven days you shall consecrate them. A bullock of purification offer each day as atonement, and purify the Altar in atoning for it, and anoint it to make it holy. Seven days atone for the Altar, and make it holy, so that the Altar will become holy of holies; all that touches the Altar becomes holy. (Shemot 29:35-37)
The Haftorah, whose topic is the rebuilding and rededication of the Altar in the final Beit HaMikdash, contains the following:
וְנָתַתָּה אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם אֲשֶׁר הֵם מִזֶּרַע צָדוֹק הַקְּרֹבִים אֵלַי נְאֻם אֲ-דֹנָי ה’ לְשָׁרְתֵנִי פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר לְחַטָּאת. וְלָקַחְתָּ מִדָּמוֹ וְנָתַתָּה עַל אַרְבַּע קַרְנֹתָיו וְאֶל אַרְבַּע פִּנּוֹת הָעֲזָרָה וְאֶל הַגְּבוּל סָבִיב וְחִטֵּאתָ אוֹתוֹ וְכִפַּרְתָּהוּ….
שִׁבְעַת יָמִים יְכַפְּרוּ אֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְטִהֲרוּ אֹתוֹ וּמִלְאוּ יָדָיו.
You shall give to the Cohanim of Levi, who are the descendants of Tzadok, who are close to Me, says Hashem Elokim, to serve Me, a bullock as a purification offering. You shall take of its blood, and place it on the four horns, and on four corners of the ledge, and on the ledge around it, and you will purify it and atone for it….
Seven days atone for the Altar, and cleanse it, and consecrate it.
(Yechezkel 43:19-20, 26)
What can we learn about the Altar, if we focus on the terms that are repeated in both texts?
In both the Parsha and the Haftorah, we are told to bring a “bullock of purification” for the Altar. This implies that there was a sin that needed to be cleansed. What sin would that have been? Additionally, while the stated function of the Altar is to effect atonement to those who bring sacrifices, here it says “seven days atone for the Altar”, implying that the Altar itself needs atonement. For what?
Rashi suggests that the “bullock of purification” comes to atone for a sin related to another member of the cow family, the Golden Calf. Even though the Parshiot that describe the Mishkan, Terumah and Tetzaveh, are written in the Torah before the story of the Golden Calf, there is a lot of symbolism in the Mishkan that appears to be directly related to it. According to Rashi, this bullock is an example of this symbolism. The purification of the Altar through the bullock atones for the sin of idolatry on the part of the Jewish People — in particular, for the Sin of the Golden Calf.
The Haftorah supports this theory when it says, in its first verses, that the Jewish People will only be given the instructions for the new Beit HaMikdash when they are ashamed of the actions that caused the previous Beit HaMikdash to be destroyed, namely, idol-worship. The “bullock of purification” brought on the new Altar would remove any association it might have had with pagan rites and practices, atoning for the misuse of altars in idolatry.
The Midrash, however, traces the connection between the Altar and its potential for Atonement to Creation itself. Explaining why Adam was created specifically from “Adamah”, earth, the Midrash says:
מן האדמה, רבי ברכיה ורבי חלבו בשם רבי שמואל בר נחמן אמרו ממקום כפרתו נברא, היך מה דאת אמר (שמות כ) מזבח אדמה תעשה לי, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא הרי אני בורא אותו ממקום כפרתו והלואי יעמוד.
“From the earth”: R’ Berechiah and R’ Chelbo in the name of R’ Shmuel bar Nachman said: He was created from the place of his atonement, as it says, “Make Me an Altar of earth” (Shemot 20). God said, Let Me make him from the place of his atonement, and hopefully, it will work out. (Midrash Bereishit Rabba 14)
The Midrash tells us that Adam was made of Adamah because the Altar would one day be made of Adamah, which would allow it to atone for him.
The concept that mankind would need atonement was built into the fabric of Creation. Adam was given freedom of choice. Yet, he was created from Adamah as a part of the finite, material world. Because of his limitations as a mortal, it would be inevitable that some of the choices he made would be wrong ones, and in creating the world, God prepared a way for him to cleanse himself of at least some of their consequences.
The Recanati, a 13th century kabbalistic commentator, quotes the Zohar and Midrashic sources that equate the seven days of Creation with the seven days of consecrating the Altar. After describing the kabbalistic model of the world where ideal “forms” are expressed in the physical world, he explains the purpose of the seven days of consecration:
יש לך לדעת כי מחטא אדם הראשון שהטיל הנחש פגם בצורה עליונה לא נשלמה הצורה עד ז’ ימי המילואים מלואים ממש.
You should know this: from the sin of Adam, when the snake caused a flaw in the “ideal form”, that “form” was not completed until the seven days of consecration, literally, “days of completion.” (Recanati on Shemot 29:1)
According to the Recanati, the seven days of consecration are atoning for Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. That is why the purpose for the atonement of the Altar is not spelled out specifically, neither in the Torah nor in the Haftorah. The sin which the Altar cleanses is not something specific to their generation, but rather one that is common to all of humanity. Adam’s sin was arrogance, of wanting to be something other than what God created, something other than a being made of “Adamah.”
Idolatry has its roots in the same attitude as Adam’s sin: wanting to “know good and bad”, the desire to decide what is good and what is bad based on your own judgment, the urge to make your own gods in your own image. The alternative that Adam was given was to subjugate his judgment to that of God, and he proved himself unwilling to do so.
The purpose of the Torah is to bring the world back to the state that Adam was in before he sinned, and to undo the mistake that he made. Chazal tell us that when the Jewish People agreed to accept the Torah at Sinai, they reached a level where Adam’s sin no longer had a hold on them. Unfortunately, the Jewish People were unable to sustain this level, and the Sin of the Golden Calf caused them to crash back down.
According to the Recanati, the building of the Altar and the seven days of its consecration allowed the Jewish People to reach toward that level again. The word “consecration”, or literally, “completion”, refers to the wholeness that the world achieved when the Altar of the Mishkan, built to atone for Adam’s mistakes, became functional.
The Beit HaMikdash also had an Altar which was also consecrated for seven days, and it also had the potential to reverse Adam’s sin.. When it was destroyed, that possibility was lost with it — but only temporarily. The Haftorah tells us that there will be another opportunity, another Altar, another set of seven days of consecration, and the world will be purified and made complete once again.
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל