All in the Tzitz – Tetzaveh 5781

D'var Torah | Exodus

Among the special garments worn by the High Priest was one the Torah calls “tzitz.” This word has been translated into English as “frontlet,” meaning, a kind of emblem. And on it the words “Holy to God” were engraved. The “tzitz” itself was suspended on a blue cord on the front of the High Priest’s headdress, which, in turn, was to be positioned on the forehead of the High Priest while he officiated in the Tabernacle (Exodus 28:36–38).


To Rabbi Samuel ben Meir, grandson of RaShI and noted medieval commentator in his own right, the requirement for wearing the “tzitz” on the forehead was obvious: there, it would be in full public view as a symbol of the authority of the High Priest. The Midrash, however, offers a different perspective.


According to one view (Leviticus Rabbah 10:6), the “tzitz” on the High Priest’s forehead should remind every Israelite observer of the fatal stone launched from David’s sling that crashed into Goliath’s forehead striking him down (1 Samuel 17:49). The forehead was a fitting spot to end the life of an enemy of Israel who cursed God. Accordingly, the “tzitz” on the forehead of the High Priest was a warning against blasphemy. According to a second view, there is another explanation. The forehead serves as a metaphor for human behavior. Jeremiah, for instance, accuses the people Israel of having the forehead of a prostitute (Jeremiah 3:3), intending to condemn their shamelessness. Thus, the “tzitz” was calculated to caution the High Priest against conduct unbecoming a representative of God. Even Israel’s most visible authority must adhere to a code of holiness that brooks no deviation.


There is one additional message to both the High Priest and the people he served. Just because the High Priest is born with special status, he has no license to treat others with callous indifference or debasement. He achieved his position by an accident of birth, not by merit. Hence, the “tzitz” on his forehead was a reminder that with elevated status comes heightened responsibility.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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