Parshat Tetzaveh: The power of the tzitz

Dr. Joseph Frager explains how the High Priest's head plate transforms the Jewish People's most prominent negative trait.

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Dr. Joseph Frager‏,

Dr. Joseph Frager‏
Dr. Joseph Frager‏
צילום: מירי צחי

Parshat Tetzaveh discusses the eight garments of the High Priest. The eighth "garment" which is actually an accouterment, is the tzitz (head plate).

In Judaism, the number eight always carries special importance and significance. It always stands out. It is always above the norm and above the natural. The tzitz no doubt has a special role to play and possesses special power. "You shall make a tzitz of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it, like the engraving of a signet, "HOLY TO HASHEM (G-d)." (Exodus 28:36)

"It shall be on Aaron's forehead, and Aaron shall bear the sin of that which is holy, that the Children of Israel consecrate for any gifts of their holy offerings; and it shall be on his forehead always, for appeasement for them before Hashem." (Exodus 28:38) Rashi brings Gemara (Talmud) Zevachim 19a to say that the tefillin was worn between the tzitz and the mitznefet (turban).

The tzitz would therefore lie on the forehead. It was held in place by strings of techelet (sky blue). Rashi says the middle strings would sit on top of the mitznefet so that the tzitz would not fall down off of the forehead. The Septuagint translates the word "tzitz" as "petalos" (petals or blossoms). It is interesting that the root of the word for tzizit (a fringed, four-cornered garment, the fringes of which could also be construed as "petals") is tzitz. It is also curious that the string(s) of techelet are associated with both. The connection is overwhelming but I could not find sources for this. Both possess special power and confer holiness.

The Septuagint translation seems to relate more to the "strings" of the tzitz than the actual gold plate that makes up the tzitz. I will try to analyze the importance and significance of the tzitz.

The Chatam Sofer says the stones of the efod (vest) represent the collective character of the Jewish People. There were two stones on the efod and each had the name of six Tribes of Israel. The Meshech Chochma says that the efod and the choshen (breastplate) are referred to through the tzitz to be "holy to Hashem." According to Rabbi Joshua Hoffman, if one combines the Chatam Sofer and the Meshech Chochma, the tzitz is in effect telling everyone that the collective character of the Jewish People is holiness. It is the "garment" that ties all the others together. It is the "finishing touch" of the eight garments of the High Priest.

The Chatam Sofer goes on further to say based upon the Gemara Zevachim 88b that the tzitz was worn on the forehead of the High Priest to atone for the sins of arrogance, insolence and impudence. The forehead represents these potential aspects of a human being. The Chatam Sofer says that when G-d spoke of the Jewish People as a "stiff-necked People" (Exodus 32:9), he was referring to these traits in both a positive and a negative way. The Chatam Sofer says that the Jewish People's insolence can be used in a positive direction if used for holy purposes.

The Jewish People can reach its highest spiritual level if it uses its innate chutzpah for holiness. This is what the tzitz is all about and that is why it sits on the forehead close to the tefillin proclaiming the words "holy to Hashem" for all to see as clear as day. It is transformative. It takes a potential negative trait and turns it into a positive one. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi says that the tzitz was worn specifically on the forehead because this is the part of the skull surrounding the brain, above the face where emotions are registered representing the will (ratzon). The will precedes and is higher than the person's intellectual and emotional faculties.

From a medical standpoint the frontal lobes which sit directly behind the forehead act as a coordinating and modulating structure for the cortex (thought) and limbic system (emotions). A person who has a lobotomy loses this ability. Rabbi Schneur Zalman understood this long before the medical community. The tzitz therefore sits on the brain's "air traffic control" center in the forehead. Someone with a "hard forehead" or as commonly called a "thick skull" is one who does not subordinate his will to a higher authority. The tzitz is to act as an "appeasement" as the posuk (verse) (Exodus 28:38) says for our arrogance, our insolence and our brazenness before G-d Almighty.

This ties in well with the Chatam Sofer's understanding of the Gemara Zevachim 88b, which says that the tzitz atones for the sins of arrogance, insolence and impudence. The words "holy to Hashem" highlight the need to use the Jewish People's natural brazenness for holy purposes. The Gemara Beitzah 25b says the Jewish People are the most brazen of all peoples. The Chatam Sofer says this trait can lead if used correctly to the highest spiritual level.

This trait separates us from assimilation, and cultural impurity. It keeps us separate and distinct. If used for non-holy purposes it can lead to Karl Marx and communism, the Oslo Peace Process and lately Bernie Sanders. The tzitz keeps us strong. The Yalkut Shimoni (Numbers 785) says it was the tzitz that brought down the evil Bilaam. Bilaam attempted to escape by using his power to fly. Pinchas responded by displaying the tzitz, causing Bilaam to fall to the ground, where he was captured and killed.

The Jewish People should continue to utilize their natural stubbornness and brazenness for holy purposes. The tzitz should be forever emblazoned (symbolically) on our foreheads, to help overcome our enemies and their devilish plans to destroy us.

Dedicated in memory to Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum Z'L (Rav Gershon ben Harav Moshe Yaakov Z'L) who passed away on the First of Adar. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach (happy Purim).