“And you shall command the Children of Israel, that they bring unto you
pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In
the Tent of Meeting…Aharon and his sons shall set it in order, to burn
from evening to morning before God…”

Isaac Abravanel contends that it is curious for our section to start with a divine command regarding the
priests arranging the lights of the Tabernacle’s menorah. Yet, at present, such a commandment is out of
place. Better would have been to insert this mitzvah after we read about building the Tabernacle and
heard about the placement of the menorah (plus the other holy vessels). Granted, the menorah
directive relates to the priests, still and all, at this point in the Torah, they had not even been duly
designated (It occurs in the next verse.). If so, Abravanel wonders why verse two of our section already
tells Kohanim how to handle the menorah. In short, the instruction appears premature.

Abravanel poses another question, this time not about the content of the first verse, but rather about its
style. Phrasing seems off: “And you shall command” or ve’ata tetzaveh. The object of Moshe’s request
is the Jewish people. But, preferable would have been the imperative: “Command Aharon” or tzav et
or even “Command the Children of Israel” or tzav et bnei Yisrael. After all, and on this very
commandment, the imperative is used in Sefer Vayikra, where it reads: “Command the Children of

The Ramban, another classic Bible commentator, attempts to provide an answer to our first question.
He learns that the particular phrasing conveys that Moshe should not delegate this commandment to
others; it is incumbent upon him to do. For the Ramban’s approach to hold water, really, the Torah
should have written: “And you command” or veatah tzaveh, similar to an upcoming verse that does use
that grammatical construct: “And you bring forth” or ve’atah hakrev and not what we have above:
ve’ata tetzaveh.

Indeed, Biblical grammar matters. From our section’s lead verses, it does not appear that the Torah here
is issuing a divine imperative about the lighting oil. Nor do they represent a pressing message to light the

Here is Abravanel’s answer to both questions. Consider the big picture of this section, with the first two
verses setting the scene for what ensues: priestly garb. That is, the Torah intends to launch a broader
discussion into the subject of holy garments that priests must don when officiating in the Mishkan. Thus,
the Maker tells Moshe: “And you shall command…” When? Sometime in the future you shall command
your brethren to take pure olive oil. Moreover, in the Tent of Assembly, outside of the partition covering
the Testimony, Aharon and his sons shall arrange the lamp in the evening until the next morning, before
the Creator – an everlasting edict. Exclusively, only priests or Kohanim may attend to this service. It
devolves upon Moshe to summon Aharon his brother, as well as Aharon’s sons to officiate before the
One Above.

Notice how our section pivots from its preface (menorah) to the main thrust (priestly garb). It would be
patently gauche for Kohanim to perform sacred service while wearing ordinary clothing. Given this
solemn requirement to “dress the part”, it befits Moshe to occupy himself with proper, priestly attire, as
per the balance of this section.

Precisely because sacred garments are of paramount importance, the Torah, at present, is not coming to
request the lighting of the menorah. Rather, the chief thing here is to put together respectable garments
for the Kohanim. So, when they enter the sanctuary to attend to the menorah (and other Tabernacle
activities), they dress respectfully.

Now, since Aharon and his sons will be entering the Sanctuary night and day before the Almighty to light
the menorah, they shall not make spectacles of themselves by violating the holy compound’s dress
code. Hence, our section alludes to one of the priests’ Mishkan tasks. In effect, the Torah establishes a
timeline (sometime down the road…) through a grammatical nuance before beginning in earnest, “And
you shall command”, but not the more time critical tone of “Command the Children of Israel” – which
implies posthaste.