Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

The Role and Symbol of the Tzitz

Parshat Tezaveh delineates the fashioning of various garments that the kohen gadol must wear in order to carry out his duties in the Beit ha-Mikdash. Perhaps the most intriguing component of his eight-piece wardrobe is the golden tzitz crown(Shemot 28:36-38; 29:6; 39:30-31), which is actually not even a garment, but merely an adornment (tachshit) (Sukah 5a). It is, after all, this tachshit that bears the powerful yet mysterious message of "kodesh la-Hashem". While some commentators (Rashbam 28:36) insist that this phrase refers also to the ephod and hoshen, and others argue that it applies to the entire bigdei kehunah (Meshekh Hakhmah 28:36), the fact that these words are not only written but engraved upon the tzitz, is surely significant. Moreover, only this element of bigdei kehunah contributes directly to the effectiveness of the korbonot (see Rashbam, op. cit). The tzitz neutralizes the disqualifying factor of tumah (defilement) at least with respect to those ingredients of the korban- the blood, kemitzah, and eimurim- that are offered directly on the mizbeach (see Pesachim77a, 81a, Menachot 25a). The midrash (Tanchumah on Bamidbar 31:6) simply identifies "kelei ha-kodesh" as the tzitz. It is striking that the Torah in parshat Pekudei (39:30-31) concludes its report of Kelal Yisrael's compliance with the mandate to develop the various implements of the mishkan and avodah by indicating that the tzitz had, indeed, been properly fashioned. The Netziv (Haamek Davar, 39:31) notes that the reference to the tzitz in this context appears out of order with respect to the other begadim relative to the original charge. He explains that the Torah begins and ends its inventory Kelal Yisrael's accomplishments with the two most important creations-contributions, the aron, and the tzitz! The tzitz clearly emerges as a crucial component in the avodah. What accounts for the symbolic and substantive import of this simple ornament?

Perhaps its significance lies precisely in its simplicity, and in the unambiguous, yet ambitious character of the message, kodesh la-Hashem, that it bears. Precisely because it seems self-evident that the entire purpose and structure of the avodat ha-korbonot is Divine sanctification, it is possible that the necessary focus of attention on the halachically complex issues of detail and implementation might obscure that basic truth, threatening to undermine the entire enterprise. Furthermore, as the Ramchal notes in his famous introduction to the Mesillat Yesharim, it is often the most basic truths that we ignore and abuse precisely because we presume their self"-evidence. Certainly with respect to the high stakes and special opportunity inherent in the avodah, the Torah demands that the self- evident is still insufficient. It is possible that this motif also demands an exclusive and purist motivation. Ulterior or additional motives are inconsistent with the purist, ideal world of the avodah. [The link between this issue and the need for "lishmah" requires further discussion.]

In any case, given these perspectives, it is unsurprising that the simple, yet powerful theme of "kodesh la-Hashem needs to be omnipresent. It is the visible crown(nezer) to the whole avodah enterprise that must be a constant (28:38)-"ve-hayah al mizho tamid le-razon lahem lifnei Hashem". An analysis of its very designation, "tzitz", confirms this theme. The midrash, and numerous commentators ranging from ancient to modern times (Torah Shelemah, Rashbam, Rav Hirsch), links this term with the verse "meitzitz min hacharakim" (Shir ha-Shirim 2:9) to convey that the visibility of this ornament and its engraved message is indispensable to its function both as bigdei kehunah and as a means of facilitating korbonot, even neutralizing potential obstacles to kapparah, such as tumah. Indeed, one perspective (Yuma 7b; Menachot 36b) demands constant awareness of the presence of the tzitz. The kohen gadol is obligated to exercise total concentration, excluding any minor distraction (hesech ha-daat).

The demanding themes that underpin the tzitz, also provide for flexibility in the bringing of sacrifices, as long as and because this ideal has not been fundamentally contravened. Thus, the simple yet powerful theme of "kodesh la-Hashem" facilitates the bringing of defiled korbonot. It is interesting that more subtle violations like pigul, notar and yotzei cannot be sanctioned or rectified by means of the tzitz (Menahot 25a). It is possible that this is due to the fact that these circumstances always reflect improper input or initiative, ulterior motivations, and a disrespect for the boundaries of "kodesh la-Hashem" (See R. Hirsch, 28:36). They contradict the very foundation upon which ritzui tzitz stands. Similarly, while their is a halachic consensus that ritzui tzitz is effective with respect to blood, kemitzah, and eimurim, all of which are totally consumed by the mizbeach, and thus unequivocally absolutely dedicated to Hashem, the impact of the tzitz on the meat of the korbon whose status is more complex as it is also consumed by the kohanim, is subject to debate. With the possible exception of tumat tehom, which can't be identified in advance, the tzitz does not sanction flaws connected with the improper status of the functioning kohen (See, also, Rav Hirsch's explanation of this phenomenon.).

The tzitz is a particularly apt crown for the kohen gadol whose very persona and function mirrors the ideal of a total dedication to Hashem that is unequivocal and on constant display. The Torah establishes that the kohen gadol continues to serve even as an onen- "u-min ha-mikdash lo yeitzei". Radvaz (hil. kilayim 10:32) explains that the kohen gadol's absolute dedication to avodat Hashem dictates that even personal grief be set aside in favor of his public spiritual duties. According to some interpretations, Rambam distinguishes between regular kohanim and the kohen gadol, permitting only the latter to don his vestments while he is not actually involved in the avodah (hil. keli ha-mikdash 8:12; hil. kilayim 10:32). The rationale that is sometimes advanced is that the kohen gadol is always perceived as involved in the avodah. Perhaps the continuing impact of the tzitz and the theme of the exclusive focus of the avodah that it projects contribute to this halachic condition, as well. [Of course, this issue is linked to the debate between R. Yehudah and R. Shimon- Yoma 7b.] The fact that the kohen gadol presides over the entire range of the avodah of Yom Kippur, the day of "kulo la-Hashem", encompassing both the daily tamid as well as the singular entrance into the kodesh ha-kodoshim, reinforces this theme. [Of course, the tzitz is not included in his bigdei lavan, but understandably it may be superfluous in that context.] Indeed, R. Abraham b. Harambam suggests that the expression "kodesh la-Hashem" itself refers also to the kohen gadol who bears the message!

While the actual tzitz adorns only the kohen gadol and its direct function and impact is limited to the avodah, the theme of kodesh la-Hashem and the broader ideal it conveys extends to all Jews. Chazal linked the tzitz to the tefillin that play such a crucial role in our daily life. The gemara (Zevachim 19a) establishes that the tefillin of the kohen gadol was to be placed between the tzitz and mitznefet. Moreover, the gemara (Menachot 36b) derives the need for constant vigilance and involvement with the tefillin and the exclusion of any kind of distraction (hesech ha-dat) based on the paradigm of the tzitz. [In fact, the Rambam only records this consideration in the context of hil. tefilin (4:14). The exact character of this relationship is complicated. See Tosafot Yoma 8a s.v. u-mah and Shaagat Aryeh, no. 38.] The Meshech Chochmah (28:36) tries to demonstrate that the tzitz constitutes the equivalent of Hashem's tefilin (based on Berakhot 6b).

In fact, the tzitz in symbol and substance embodies both in its themes of ambition and exclusivity the special reciprocal relationship between Hashem and Kelal Yisrael. It is no surely no coincidence that Chazal explicitly limit the actual sanctioning and appeasing (ritzui) impact of the tzitz to Kelal Yisrael (Zevachim 45a). At the same time, Chazal (Yevamot 60b) establish that the tzitz is linked to the punishment of those enemies, like the benot midyan, who try to corrupt Kelal Yisrael, by diluting that ideal commitment, thereby creating a rift between Hashem and his people. Or ha-Hayim (28:37) connects "kodesh la-Hashem" to the verses in Jeremiah (2:3)-"kodesh yisrael la-Hashem, reishit tevuatah". He explains that the ideal of the tzitz characterizes the unique bond between Am Yisrael and Hashem, differentiating us from all other nations.

The multiple associations of "kodesh la-Hashem" defining the simple, yet powerful foundation of the avodah, the kohen gadol, and the reciprocal relationship of Kelal Yisrael and Hashem continue to be a source of inspiration and ambition. It does, in fact, constitute an omnipresent crown- "nezer hakodesh (29:6; 39:30) "al mizho tamid"(28:38) that adorns our spiritual life. May we merit that our commitment to this theme continue to be received "lerazon lahem lifnei Hashem" (28:38).

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