Parashat Tetzaveh is the twentieth weekly portion in the Torah and the eighth in the Book of Exodus (27:20-30:10). It goes from a brief description of the oil for lighting the Menorah every evening (27:20-21) to a thorough description of the vestments for Aaron and his sons, the priests (Chapter 28). The weeklong initiation process is thoroughly described, both for the priests and the Outer Altar, made of bronze and for sacrifices (Chapter 29). The portion concludes by describing the Inner Altar, made of gold and for incense (30:1-10).
Clearly, Parashat Tetzaveh’s opening and closing stick out like sore thumbs. After all, the division between this portion and its predecessor, Parashat Teruma, seems obvious enough at first glance: Teruma describes the vessels and structure of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), while Tetzaveh describes the attire and installation of the priests who serve there. Why then do we need a brief paragraph talking about the oil for the Menorah, or a slightly longer paragraph describing the Golden Altar? Surely it belongs in Teruma with the other vessels of the Sanctuary!
However, a closer look reveals the deeper meaning of these portions. Moses and Aaron are mentioned in every single portion of the Book of Exodus, with one exception for each: Aaron is not mentioned by name in Teruma, and Moses is not mentioned by name in Tetzaveh. This is because each represents a different function of the Mishkan.
Moses’ aspect is bringing the Word of God to the people. For this purpose, the most important element is the Aron; God’s Voice emerges from the cherubim atop it. Aaron’s aspect, on the other hand, is to bring the remembrance of the people before God. He does this literally, by bearing stones with the names of the Tribes of Israel, six each on two stones on the shoulders of the Ephod, and one each on the twelve stones of the Breastplate. For this purpose, the most important element is the constant service, mainly upon the Outer Altar.
This explains why we start with the oil for the Menorah; the form of the Menorah is something Moses witnesses on Mount Sinai (a one-time occurrence) but the lighting is a mitzva for the people to fulfill every day, through the priests.
Similarly, the Incense Altar is needed to obscure part of the full force of God’s glory. Moses has no need for it; he speaks to God face-to-face. However, Aaron and his sons, the people’s representatives, need the cloud and the smoke to protect them from the overwhelming experience of God’s Presence.
Thus, the light of the Menorah and the smoke of the Incense Altar represent the duality of the Mishkan: to draw close to God, but with the proper awe, trepidation and reverence.
The portion from the Prophets is from Ezekiel (43:10-27). In it, amidst the corruption of the end of the First Temple, the prophet witnesses a vision of a purified and rededicated House of God, with righteous priests serving in it.