The Face Of Holiness
‘Inscribed on the Tzitz HaZahav’
Among the eight garments of the kohen gadol was the tzitz hazahav, a golden plate that he wore across his forehead. It stretched from ear to ear and was fastened in place by three strings of techeles which were tied behind the head. Our Gemara teaches that the words “Kodesh L’Hashem – Sanctified to Hashem” were inscribed on the tzitz, with the word “Hashem” above and the words “Kodesh L’ ” below. The Rishonim offer several interpretations of where precisely the words were inscribed.
According to Rashi, the words were inscribed one above the other. This opinion is supported by the Yerushalmi, which states that Hashem’s name sat upon the words “Kodesh L’” like a king sits upon his throne. According to this opinion, the words were not inscribed in the manner in which they are meant to be read (since the word “Hashem” comes first as opposed to second). Nonetheless, we inscribe the words in this order due to divine decree (see Ritva on Shabbos 63b).
Other opinions interpret the Gemara in such a manner that the words are, in fact, inscribed in the proper order. Rabbeinu Tam (Shabbos ibid, s.v. “V’kasav”) and other Rishonim maintain that “Kodesh L’” was inscribed at the beginning of the second line and “Hashem” at the end of the first line. Thus, the words can still be read from right to left in their proper order (while still keeping Hashem’s name “on top” [Maharsha on our sugya]).
The Rashba (Shabbos, ibid.) suggests that “Kodesh L’” was inscribed at the end of the first line and “Hashem” at the beginning of the second. What about our Gemara that states clearly that “Hashem” is supposed to be “above” and “Kodesh L’” is supposed to be “below”? The Rashba interprets “above” to mean “on top” – i.e., at the top of the second line, meaning, the beginning of the line – and “below” to mean “at the bottom” – i.e., at the bottom of the first line, meaning, at the end of the line.
The Rashba and Ritva suggest that theirs is the optimum interpretation of the Gemara since in their understanding, the words “Kodesh L’ Hashem” can be read correctly from right to left and from top to bottom (as we normally read Hebrew), with the honor of Hashem’s name still preserved since nothing is inscribed above it.
The Testimony of R’ Eliezer Bar R’ Yossi
Our Gemara cites the testimony of R’ Eliezer bar R’ Yossi who once visited Rome on an important mission on behalf of the Jewish people. While he was there, he visited the royal palace and was shown the kohen gadol’s tzitz, with the words “Kodesh L’Hashem” inscribed on one line. Why, then, did the Chachamim insist that the words were inscribed on two lines. Didn’t they believe R’ Eliezer bar R’ Yossi?
The Meiri explains that the tradition of the Oral Law was so well guarded (and transmitted from one generation to the next) that the Sages relied on it even when it contradicted empirical evidence since evidence can sometimes be misleading. In this case, perhaps R’ Eliezer saw a counterfeit, or an improperly designed, tzitz.
At Times It Was Inscribed…
Based on the Rambam (Hilchos Klei Mikdash 9:1), we can offer a different explanation. The Rambam asserts that even the Chachamim agree that a tzitz with “Kodesh L’Hashem” inscibed on one line is kosher. They simply state that it is better, l’chatchila, to inscribe the words on two lines. The Rambam even writes, “At times they were inscribed on one line.” Thus, the fact that R’ Eliezer bar R’ Yossi saw a tzitz with all the words on one line is not surprising.
Some Acharonim contend that according to the Rambam there is no disagreement between the Chachamim and R’ Eliezer. The Chachamim maintain that the words should be inscribed on two lines, and R’ Eliezer adds that, b’dieved, if they were inscribed on one line the tzitz is still kosher (Rishon L’Tzion, Sefas Emes, et. al; the Kesef Mishnah, however, does not agree with this interpretation of the Rambam).
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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