Parshat Tetzaveh: Losing The Self

10 02 2011

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Tetzavah: Losing the Self

In Parshat Tetzaveh, Hashem tells Moshe to command the Jewish people, “Ve’yikchu eilecha shemen zayit zach, They shall bring for you pure olive oil.” This is in contrast to Hashem’s previous command in Parshat Teruma, where He says, “Ve’yikchu li teruma.” They shall bring an offering for me.” Why is there a distinction between the general command for donations to the Mishkan, for me, and the specific request for oil, which was brought for you?

The Shem Mishmuel explains based on a mishna in Avot. The mishna says there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. The fourth crown, a good name, overweighs them all. Why does the mishna note that there are three crowns when there are really four? Furthermore, if a good name means good deeds as the Bartenura explains, shouldn’t it be included in the crown of Torah? The midrash says that the crown of kingship corresponds to the Shulchan, which represents wealth, stability, and power. The Aron, which contained the luchot, signifies the crown of Torah. The Mizbeiach Hazahav corresponds to the crown of priesthood, and the Menora corresponds to the crown of good deeds. If the Menora was above all, why did it not have a crown-like ridge as part of its construction, as the other vessels did?

A crown symbolizes rulership and power. The Torah doesn’t encourage exercising control over others. Most people are slaves to their own passions. The Torah ideal is to be a king over your own spirit and desires. The crown of Torah, its laws and wisdom, give us the ability to rule over ourselves. The crown of priesthood, sublimates the kohen’s personal ambitions to serve Hashem.  The crown of kingship is given to the one who subdues his own personal interests for the good of his people. Indeed, the Jewish king is called the heart of the nation because his heart is not his own. It belongs instead to his nation.

The Shem MiShmuel discusses the idea of yesh and ayin. The three crowns of self-control use the yesh, the self, to attain goodness. The shem tov is ayin, losing oneself in Hashem’s vastness. Valued above the good performed for a person’s own goodness, the good performed solely for Hashem’s sake. This is the good beyond good.

Our sages say that olives are a bitter fruit and make one forget Torah. However, after they are pressed to a pulp and lose their identity, they transform into olive oil, highly prized for its outstanding qualities. This represents bitul hayesh, self nullification with the goal of producing something transcendental beyond the self.

We can now understand why Hashem first says “ve’yikchu li.” Hashem is saying, I will approve your actions in the yesh state. Hashem tells the Jews to use their powers of self to build the Mishkan. However, He then says, “Ve’yikchu eleicha.”  Eilecha refers to Moshe, who was the paragon of self- nullification. This is the shem tov, the shemen zayit, which is above the three crowns.

At some point, we must ascend to a higher level of bitul hayesh, of coming to the realization that we exist only as an extension of Hashem’s infinite all-encompassing being.




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