The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
Daf Shvui No. 172
Parashat Tezaveh 5757
The Atonement Inferred by the Golden Frontlet (Tzitz
Dr. Meir Gruzman
Department of Talmud
The Golden Frontlet (Tzitz Hazahav)
to win acceptance for them before the lord (Exodus 28,38) which
the High Priest always wore on his forehead is considered one of the eight
garments of his office. The tzitz "was a kind of golden plate
two fingers in width" (Shabbat 63b), on which the words "Qodesh
Lashem" (Holy to the Lord) were written. This "garment"
had a specific purpose: "It shall be on Aharon's forehead, that Aharon
shall carry the sin arising from the holy things which the Children of
Israel consecrate, from any of their holy gifts, and it shall be upon his
forehead , to win acceptance for them before the Lord" (28, 38).
Carrying the "iniquity of the holy things" is interpreted
by Rashi to mean: "Atoning for the blood and fat (of sacrifices) which
were offered when they were impure". However, Torat Kohanim
asks: "From here I can learn only about sins involving blood; from
where can I learn about the (other offerings, such as) handfuls of flour,
the frankincense, the incense, the priestly meal offering, the meal offering
of the anointed priest and the meal offering of the libations? The Torah
teaches: 'in all their Holy gifts'". The above statement indicates
that the golden plate atones not only for unclean animal sacrifices but
also for those which are vegetable in nature. According to the beraita
it atones for sacrifices which were defiled "Whether inadvertently
or deliberately, whether accidentally or intentionally, whether in a private
offering or a communal offering" (Menachot 25b).
The obvious question here is - how does the tzitz which is worn
on the forehead of the high priest, atone for the impurity of the holy
offerings? In other words: what is the connection between the golden plate
and the forehead and the sacrifice and impurity ?
Before taking up this question we will first examine another source, which is also related to the tzitz and atonement. Rabbi Anani bar Sasson catalogued the various sins for which the priestly garments provide atonement: the tunic atones for bloodshed; the breeches (trousers) atone for incest; the mitre for arrogance; the girdle for sinful thoughts of the heart; the breastplate atones for errors in legal judgment ; the ephod - for idolatry; the robe - slander and the tzitz procures atonement for impudence. The reason given for the latter: the tzitz is worn "on the forehead (metzach) of Aharon" and in Jeremiah 3,3 it is written: "and you had the forehead (metzach) of a harlot". From here we learned that the tzitz atones for sins of impudence (Zevachim 88b and the parallel sources in Arachin 16a and in Vayikra Rabbah 10,6).
Beyond this comparison, which is of a strictly technical - verbal nature,
the word "forehead" ("metzach") does in fact
have a broader meaning which relates to human behavior and character. An
examination of the Biblical idiom leads us to the conclusion that "metzach"
symbolizes hardness which carries with it opposition and refusal. The words
of the Lord to Ezekiel, when He sends him to the people of Israel as a
prophet, include the following passage: "But the House of Israel will
not want to listen to you for they do not want to listen to Me, for all
the House of Israel are defiant (Heb. - chizqei metzach; literally:
strong of forehead) and further on, "Behold, I have made your face
hard against their faces and your forehead strong against their foreheads,
fear them not" (Ezekiel 3,7-8). A parallel verse in Isaiah (48,4)
says: "for I know that you are obstinate, your neck is a sinew of
iron and your forehead is brass".
The same word also symbolizes insolence and impudence. In addition to
the example already discussed above from Jeremiah ("and you had the
forehead of a harlot - you refused to be ashamed"), this meaning of
the word also appears in the well-known story of King Uzziah who wishes
to usurp the prerogative of the priests and offer incense:
"When he was strong, he grew so arrogant that he acted corruptly:
he trespassed against the Lord his G-d by entering the temple of the Lord
to offer incense on the incense altar. The priest Azariah, with eighty
other brave priests of the lord, followed him in and, confronting King
Uzziah, said to him, 'It is not for you, Uzziah, to offer incense to the
Lord, but for Aaronite priests, who have been consecrated, to offer incense.
Get out of the Sanctuary, for you have trespassed; there will be no glory
in it for you from the Lord G-d'. Uzziah, holding the censer and ready
to burn incense, got angry; but as he got angry with the priests, leprosy
broke out on his forehead in front of the priests in the House of the Lord
beside the incense altar. When the chief priest Azariah and all the other
priests looked at him, his forehead was leprous, so they rushed him out
of there; he too made haste to get out, for the Lord had struck him with
a plague" 2nd Chronicles 26,16-20).
It is unreasonable to assume that the choice of the forehead as the
only place where the leprosy broke out was simply in order to make it more
visible - to make the punishment of this impudent more obvious. Most probably
the forehead was chosen for yet another reason: for being a symbol of insolence
and impudence; in other words, the forehead was singled out to be struck
with leprosy so that part of the body which committed the sin of impudence
- would be the part which bears the punishment.
Another famous story makes the same point - the battle of David against
Goliath. Here again we can say that it is no co-incidence that the stone
David chose from the stream struck Goliath precisely on the forehead and
nowhere else. Let us not forget, the Philistine "taunted the armies
of the Living G-d" (2nd Samuel 17, 21 and 45) insulted them and shamed
them. Could there be greater impudence than this? The stone striking his
forehead symbolized a blow to the center of his insolence, the focal point
For better or for worse "body language" is expressed more
by the forehead than by any other exposed part of the body. Therefore ,
when the high priest wears the tzitz on his forehead it is to atone
for those sins which the forehead represents - impudence which originates
in stubbornness, contrariness and rebelliousness.
We will now return to the impurity of the sacrifices for which, perhaps
more than anything else, the tzitz atones.
Impurity or ritual uncleanliness, as we know, is considered a phenomenon
despised in the eyes of G-d. The care taken in the Tabernacle (Mishkan)
and later in the Temple to prevent it, make up a large part of the texts
in the Torah which deal with the commandments of purity and impurity.
For example: "every leper, everyone that has an issue and whoever
is defiled by the dead" must be sent out of the camp "so that
they do not defile their camps in which I dwell among them" (Numbers
5,3). Of one who enters the Temple in a state of impurity we are told that
that person shall be cut off from Israel" (19,13). So too, anyone
who eats meat which has been consecrated while being unclean (Lev. 7,20).
Sacrificial meat which has become impure may not be eaten - it must be
burned (ibid., 10). The service of the High Priest in the Temple on Yom
Kippur is essentially meant to "purge the Shrine of the impurity and
transgression of the Children of Israel" (Lev. 16, 16). Presented
as a general principle it is as follows: "Thus shall you put the Children
of Israel on guard against their impurity, lest they die in their impurity,
when they defile my Tabernacle which is among them" (Lev. 15, 31).
Moreover, when the prophets come to describe the People of Israel as
sinners, betraying and abandoning G-d, they use various terms related to
impurity (see: Ezek. 22,3). Even the gentiles - when they want to put G-d'
s Temple and its Holy objects to shame - they defile it. A psalm of Asaf
laments, "O G-d, heathens have come into Your domain, they have defiled
Your Holy Temple, they have laid Jerusalem to ruins" (Psalms 79,1).
In contrast, when the People of Israel desire to express loyalty to the
Lord and rejection of the abominations of the gentile nations - they express
it in defiling and desecrating their pagan altars. Thus it was told of
King Josiah: "The king also defiled the high places facing Jerusalem
to the south of the Mount of the Destroyer which Solomon, King of Israel
had built for Ashtoret the abomination of the Sidonians for Kemosh the
abomination of Moab, and for Milkom the disgust of the Ammonites (2nd Kings
23,13). Accordingly, when one enters the Temple and offers an impure sacrifice
- this is not only impurity of the Temple in the narrow sense of an act
of transgression. In the light of the above discussion, this is an expression
of rebelliousness, of belittling the Holiness of the Temple and an insult
of Heaven. Such an act, if done intentionally, or even inadvertently out
of carelessness - is a kind of insolence, a challenge towards G-d, rebelliousness.
To be precise: bringing a despised, unacceptable offering into the holiest
of places - is impudence.
When the tzitz atones for the impurity of the sacrifice it, in
fact, atones for impudence - these are not two separate subjects. The impurity
of the sacrifice is a result of impudence and impudence is expressed in
sacrificial impurity - the two are really one.
Translated by: Phil Lerman
The weekly Torah portion is distributed with the assistance of the President's Fund for Torah and Science.