Tetzaveh, Tetsaveh, T'tzaveh, or T'tzavveh (תצווה — Hebrew for "you command,” the second word and first distinctive word in the parshah) is the 20th weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the eighth in the Book of Exodus. It constitutes Exodus 27:20–30:10. Jews in the Diaspora read it the 20th Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in February or March.

Olives vertes



God instructed the Israelites to bring Moses clear olive oil, so that Aaron and his descendants as High Priest could kindle lamps regularly in the Tabernacle. (Ex. 27:20–21.)

Pomegranate03 edit

a pomegranate

God instructed Moses to make sacral vestments for Aaron: a breastpiece (the Hoshen), an ephod, a robe, a gold frontlet inscribed “Holy to the Lord,” a fringed tunic, a headdress, a sash, and linen breeches. (Ex. 28.) God instructed Moses to place Urim and Thummim inside the breastpiece of decision. (Ex. 28:30.) God instructed Moses to place pomegranates and gold bells around the robe’s hem, to make a sound when the High Priest entered and exited the sanctuary, so that he not die. (Ex. 33–35.)

Bull Oostvaardersplassen

a bull

God laid out an ordination ceremony for priests involving the sacrifice of a young bull, two rams, unleavened bread, unleavened cakes with oil mixed in, and unleavened wafers spread with oil. (Ex. 29.) God instructed Moses to lead the bull to the front of the Tabernacle, let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the bull’s head, slaughter the bull at the entrance of the Tent, and put some of the bull’s blood on the horns of the altar. (Ex. 29:10–12.) God instructed Moses to take one of the rams, let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the ram’s head, slaughter the ram, and put some of its blood and put on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear and on the ridges of his sons’ right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. (Ex. 29:19–20.)

God promised to meet and speak with Moses and the Israelites there, to abide among the Israelites, and be their God. (Ex. 29:42–45.)

God instructed Moses to make an incense altar of acacia wood overlaid with gold — sometimes called the Golden Altar. (Ex. 30.)

In early nonrabbinic interpretation


The High Priest wearing his breastplate

Exodus chapter 28

Josephus interpreted the linen vestment of Exodus 28:5 to signify the earth, as flax grows out of the earth. Josephus interpreted the ephod of the four colors gold, blue, purple, and scarlet (Exodus 28:6) to signify that God made the universe of four elements, with the gold interwoven to show the splendor by which all things are enlightened. Josephus saw the stones on the High Priest's shoulders in Exodus 28:9–12 to declare the sun and the moon. He interpreted the breastplate of Exodus 28:15–22 to resemble the earth, having the middle place of the world, and the girdle that encompassed the High Priest to signify the ocean, which went about the world. He interpreted the 12 stones of the ephod in Exodus 28:17–21 to represent the months or the signs of the Zodiac. He interpreted the golden bells and pomegranates that Exodus 28:33–35 says hung on the fringes of the High Priest’s garments to signify thunder and lightning, respectively. And Josephus saw the blue on the headdress of Exodus 28:37 to represent heaven, “for how otherwise could the name of God be inscribed upon it?” (Antiquities of the Jews 3:7:7.)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Menora Titus

Menorah from the Arch of Titus (illustration from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia)

Exodus chapter 27

The Mishnah posited that one could have inferred that meal-offerings would require the purest olive oil, for if the menorah, whose oil was not eaten, required pure olive oil, how much more so should meal-offerings, whose oil was eaten. But Exodus 27:20 states, “pure olive oil beaten for the light,” but not “pure olive oil beaten for meal-offerings,” to make clear that such purity was required only for the menorah and not for meal-offerings. (Mishnah Menachot 8:5; Babylonian Talmud Menachot 86a.)

A midrash expounded on Exodus 27:20 to explain why Israel was, in the words of Jeremiah 11:16, like “a leafy olive tree.” The midrash taught that just as the olive is beaten, ground, tied up with ropes, and then at last it yields its oil, so the nations have come and beaten, imprisoned, bound, and surrounded Israel, and when at last Israel repents of its sins, God answers it. The midrash offered a second explanation: Just as all liquids commingle one with the other, but oil refuses to do so, so Israel keeps itself distinct, as it is commanded in Deuteronomy 7:3. The midrash offered a third explanation: Just as oil floats to the top even after it has been mixed with every kind of liquid, so Israel, as long as it performs the will of God, will be set on high by God, as it says in Deuteronomy 28:1. The midrash offered a fourth explanation: Just as oil gives forth light, so did the Temple in Jerusalem give light to the whole world, as it says in Isaiah 60:3. (Exodus Rabbah 36:1)

LEV 8- High priest in robes and breastplate

High Priest in Robes and Breastplate (the chain censer is anachronistic)

Exodus chapter 28

The Mishnah summarized the priestly garments described in Exodus 28, saying that “the High Priest performs the service in eight garments, and the common priest in four: in tunic, drawers, miter, and girdle. The High Priest adds to those the breastplate, the apron, the robe, and the frontlet. And the High Priest wore these eight garments when he inquired of the Urim and Thummim. (Mishnah Yoma 7:5; Babylonian Talmud Yoma 71b.)

Rabbi Hama bar Hanina interpreted the words “the plaited (שְּׂרָד, serad) garments for ministering in the holy place” in Exodus 35:19 to teach that but for the priestly garments described in Exodus 28 (and the atonement achieved by the garments or the priests who wore them), no remnant (שָׂרִיד, sarid) of the Jews would have survived. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 72a–b.) Similarly, citing Mishnah Yoma 7:5, Rabbi Simon taught that even as the sacrifices had an atoning power, so too did the priestly garments. Rabbi Simon explained that the priests’ tunic atoned for those who wore a mixture of wool and linen (שַׁעַטְנֵז, shaatnez, prohibited by Deuteronomy 22:11), as Genesis 37:3 says, “And he made him a coat (tunic) of many colors” (and the Jerusalem Talmud explained that Joseph’s coat was similar to one made of the forbidden mixture). The breeches atoned for unchastity, as Exodus 28:42 says, “And you shall make them linen breeches to cover the flesh of their nakedness.” The miter atoned for arrogance, as Exodus 29:6 says, “And you shall set the miter on his head.” Some said that the girdle atoned for the crooked in heart, and others said for thieves. Rabbi Levi said that the girdle was 32 cubits long (about 48 feet), and that the priest wound it towards the front and towards the back, and this was the ground for saying that it was to atone for the crooked in heart (as the numerical value of the Hebrew word for heart is 32). The one who said that the girdle atoned for thieves argued that since the girdle was hollow, it resembled thieves, who do their work in secret, hiding their stolen goods in hollows and caves. The breastplate atoned for those who pervert justice, as Exodus 28:30 says, “And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment.” The ephod atoned for idol-worshippers, as Hosea 3:4 says, “and without Ephod or teraphim.” Rabbi Simon taught in the name of Rabbi Nathan that the robe atoned for two sins, unintentional manslaughter (for which the Torah provided cities of refuge) and evil speech. The robe atoned for evil speech by the bells on its fringe, as Exodus 28:34–35 says, “A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the skirts of the robe round about. And it shall be upon Aaron to minister, and the sound thereof shall be heard.” Exodus 28:34–35 thus implies that this sound made atonement for the sound of evil speech. There is not strictly atonement for one who unintentionally slays a human being, but the Torah provides a means of atonement by the death of the High Priest, as Numbers 35:28 says, “after the death of the High Priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession.”
Michelangelo Caravaggio 071

David with the Head of Goliath (painting by Caravaggio)

Some said that the forehead-plate atoned for the shameless, while others said for blasphemers. Those who said that it atoned for the shameless deduced it from the similar use of the word “forehead” in Exodus 28:38, which says of the forehead-plate, “And it shall be upon Aaron's forehead,” and Jeremiah 3:3, which says, “You had a harlot's forehead, you refused to be ashamed.” Those who said that the forehead-plate atoned for blasphemers deduced it from the similar use of the word “forehead” in Exodus 28:38 and 1Samuel 17:48, which says of Goliath, “And the stone sank into his forehead.” (Leviticus Rabbah 10:6.)

The breastplate of the High Priest

A Baraita interpreted the term “his fitted linen garment” (מִדּוֹ) in Leviticus 6:3 to teach that the each priestly garment in Exodus 28 had to be fitted to the particular priest, and had to be neither too short nor too long. (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 35a.)

Rabbi Eleazar deduced from the words “that the breastplate not be loosed from the ephod” in Exodus 28:28 that one who removed the breast-plate from the apron received the punishment of lashes. Rav Aha bar Jacob objected that perhaps Exodus 28:28 meant merely to instruct the Israelites to fasten the breast-plate securely so that it would “not be loosed.” But the Gemara noted that Exodus 28:28 does not say merely, “so that it not be loosed.” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 72a.)

The Mishnah taught that the High Priest inquired of the Urim and Thummim noted in Exodus 28:30 only for the king, for the court, or for one whom the community needed. (Mishnah Yoma 7:5; Babylonian Talmud Yoma 71b.)

A Baraita explained why the Urim and Thummim noted in Exodus 28:30 were called by those names: The term “Urim” is like the Hebrew word for “lights,” and thus it was called “Urim” because it enlightened. The term “Thummim” is like the Hebrew word tam meaning “to be complete,” and thus it was called “Thummim” because its predictions were fulfilled. The Gemara discussed how they used the Urim and Thummim: Rabbi Johanan said that the letters of the stones in the breastplate stood out to spell out the answer. Resh Lakish said that the letters joined each other to spell words. But the Gemara noted that the Hebrew letter Tsade was missing from the list of the 12 tribes of Israel. Rabbi Samuel bar Isaac said that the stones of the breastplate also contained the names of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the Gemara noted that the Hebrew letter Teth was also missing. Rav Aha bar Jacob said that they also contained the words: “The tribes of Jeshurun.” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 73b.)


blue tekhelet thread on a set of tzitzit

Rabbi Hanina ben Gamaliel interpreted the words “completely blue (תְּכֵלֶת, tekhelet)” in Exodus 28:31 to teach that blue dye used to test the dye is unfit for further use to dye the blue, tekhelet strand of a tzitzit, interpreting the word “completely” to mean “full strength.” But Rabbi Johanan ben Dahabai taught that even the second dyeing using the same dye is valid, reading the words “and scarlet” (וּשְׁנִי תוֹלַעַת, ushni tolalat) in Leviticus 14:4 to mean “a second [dying] of red wool.” (Babylonian Talmud Menachot 42b.)

The Gemara reported that some interpreted the words “woven work” in Exodus 28:32 to teach that all priestly garments were made entirely by weaving, without needlework. But Abaye interpreted a saying of Resh Lakish and a Baraita to teach that the sleeves of the priestly garments were woven separately and then attached to the garment using needlework, and the sleeves reached down to the priest’s wrist. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 72b.)

Rehaba said in the name of Rav Judah that one who tore a priestly garment was liable to punishment with lashes, for Exodus 28:32 says “that it be not rent.” Rav Aha bar Jacob objected that perhaps Exodus 28:32 meant to instruct that the Israelites make a hem so that the garment would not tear. But the Gemara noted that Exodus 28:32 does not say merely, “lest it be torn.” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 72a.)

Exodus chapter 29

A Baraita taught that a priest who performed sacrifices without the proper priestly garments was liable to death at the hands of Heaven. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 83a.) Rabbi Abbahu said in the name of Rabbi Johanan's (or some say Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Simeon) that the Baraita’s teaching was derived from Exodus 29:9, which says: “And you shall gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and bind turbans on them; and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute.” Thus, the Gemara reasoned, when wearing their proper priestly garments, priests were invested with their priesthood; but when they were not wearing their proper priestly garments, they lacked their priesthood and were considered like non-priests, who were liable to death if they performed the priestly service. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 83b.)

The Mishnah explained how the priests carried out the rites of the wave-offering described in Exodus 29:27: On the east side of the altar, the priest placed the two loaves on the two lambs and put his two hands beneath them and waved them forward and backward and upward and downward. (Mishnah Menachot 5:6; Babylonian Talmud Menachot 61a.)

Exodus chapter 30

The Mishnah taught that the incense offering of Exodus 30:7 was not subject to the penalty associated with eating invalidated offerings. (Mishnah Zevachim 4:3; Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 42b.)

Ner tamid

a ner tamid (נֵר תָּמִיד), or sanctuary lamp, hanging over the ark in a synagogue, in remembrance of the command in Exodus 27:20–21


According to Maimonides and Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are 4 positive and 3 negative commandments in the parshah:

(See, e.g., Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 1:34–35, 37, 42–43, 101–02; 2:81, 85–86. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4. Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 1:377–95. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-179-9.)


Ezekiel (painting by Michelangelo)


The haftarah for the parshah is Ezekiel 43:10–27.

Both the parshah and the haftarah in Ezekiel describe God’s holy sacrificial altar and its consecration, the parshah in the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex. 27:1–8; 29:36–37), and the haftarah in Ezekiel’s conception of a future Temple. (Ez. 43:13–17.) Both the parshah and the haftarah describe plans conveyed by a mighty prophet, Moses in the parshah and Ezekiel in the haftarah.

File:Gustave dore morte Agag.jpg

On Shabbat Zachor

When Parshah Tetzaveh coincides with Shabbat Zachor (the special Sabbath immediately preceding Purim — as it does in 2006, 2007, and 2009), the haftarah is:

On Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath just before Purim, Jews read Deuteronomy 25:17–19, which instructs Jews: “Remember (zachor) what Amalek did” in attacking the Israelites. (Deut. 25:17.) The haftarah for Shabbat Zachor, 1Samuel 15:2–34 or 1–34, describes Saul’s encounter with Amalek and Saul’s and Samuel’s tretament of the Amalekite king Agag. Purim, in turn, commemorates the story of Esther and the Jewish people’s victory over Haman’s plan to kill the Jews, told in the Book of Esther. (Esther 1:1–10:3.) Esther 3:1 identifies Haman as an Agagite, and thus a descendant of Amalek. Numbers 24:7 identifies the Agagites with the Amalekites. Alternatively, a Midrash tells the story that between King Agag’s capture by Saul and his killing by Samuel, Agag fathered a child, from whom Haman in turn descended. (Seder Eliyahu Rabbah ch. 20; Targum Sheni to Esther 4:13.)

In the liturgy

The tamid sacrifice that Exodus 29:38–39 called for the priests to offer at twilight presaged the afternoon prayer service, called “Mincha” or “offering” in Hebrew. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 26b; Reuven Hammer, Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, 1. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2003. ISBN 0916219208.)

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:




Early nonrabbinic



Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Yoma 7:5; Zevachim 4:3; Menachot 5:6, 8:5; Keritot 1:1; Tamid 7:1; Kinnim 3:6. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 705, 743, 750, 871, 889. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Sotah 7:17; Menachot 6:11, 7:6, 9:16. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner, vol. 1: 865; vol. 2: 1430–31, 1435, 1448. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Challah 20a; Sukkah 29b. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 11, 22. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2008.
First page of the first tractate of the Talmud (Daf Beis of Maseches Brachos)


  • Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat 12a, 21a, 31a, 63b; Eruvin 4a; Pesachim 16b, 24a, 59a–b, 72b, 77a, 92a; Yoma 5a–b, 7a–b, 14a–b, 15a, 31b, 33a–b, 45b, 52b, 57b, 58b, 61a, 68b, 71b–72b; Sukkah 5a, 37b, 49b; Taanit 11b; Megillah 12a–b, 29b; Chagigah 26b; Yevamot 40a, 60b, 68b, 87a, 90a; Nedarim 10b; Nazir 47b; Sotah 9b, 36a, 38a, 48a–b; Gittin 20a–b; Bava Batra 8b, 106b; Sanhedrin 12b, 34b, 61b, 83a–b, 106a; Makkot 13a, 17a, 18a–b; Shevuot 8b, 9b–10b, 14a; Avodah Zarah 10b, 23b, 39a; Zevachim 12b, 17b, 19a, 22b–23a, 24b, 26a, 28b, 44b, 45b, 59b, 83b, 87a, 88a–b, 95a, 97b, 112b, 115b, 119b; Menachot 6a, 11a, 12b, 14b, 25a, 29a, 36b, 42b, 49a, 50a–51a, 61a, 73a, 83a, 86a–b, 89a, 98b; Chullin 7a, 138a; Arakhin 3b–4a, 16a; Keritot 5a; Meilah 11b, 17b; Niddah 13b. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.


  • Exodus Rabbah 36:1–38:9. 10th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Exodus. Translated by S. M. Lehrman, 3:436–57. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
Rashi woodcut


Thomas Hobbes (portrait)



Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


External links

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