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Torah Sparks

Parashat Tetzaveh - Shabbat Zakhor
February 28, 2015 – 9 Adar 5775

Annual (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10): Etz Hayim, p. 503; Hertz p. 339
Triennial (Exodus 28:31 – 29:18): Etz Hayim p. 508; Hertz p. 342
Maftir (Deuteronomy 25:17-19): Etz Hayim 1135; Hertz 856
Haftarah (I Samuel 15:2 – 34): Etz Hayim, p. 1282; Hertz p. 996

Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, SC

God commands that olive oil burn perpetually in the Mishkan.

The High Priest’s colorful and luxurious attire is introduced. His clothing is to include a long vest (an "ephod"); a breastplate with colored stones; a robe; a head covering; a tunic; and a sash. Other priests must wear turbans, sashes, tunics, and linen material covering the middle of the body.

Moses is instructed to coordinate a seven-day installation of the priests after the completion of the Tabernacle. The ceremony consists of dressing the priests and making several sacrificial offerings.

God commands that the people build an altar for the Mishkan for the burning of incense.

Theme #1: A Holy Belt

You shall make a frontlet of pure gold and engrave on it the seal inscription: "Holy to the Lord." (Exodus 28:36)

The priest’s clothing is filled with symbolism, so when words are added to the attire, it is worthy of notice.

One who is a tzaddik stands eternally poised between heaven and earth. He joins the world of darkness to the utterance and light of God. All the senses of the authentic tzaddik are devoted to making the Divine connection with all the worlds. His yearning, his desires, his inclinations, his meditations, his deeds, his conversations, his habits, his movements, his sorrows, his grief, his joys, all of them, without exception, are in accord with the holy music. For the vitality of God flows throughout all these worlds giving to people their voice, the voice of strength. Souls without end, living treasures with no limit, filled with all that exists, they only strengthen themselves to ascend from beneath their deep monotonous degradation to the heights of exaltation, the divine freedom, the source of joy and gladness. Each and every one of them urge all the deeds of the tzaddik, who continually performs the holy service. And his whole life is “Holy to Adonai.” -- Abraham Isaac Kook

The high priest is “holy to the Lord” while the following commandments will be “holy to your God.” There is a democratization of the Priestly symbols, an equal opportunity for all of the people of Israel to be holy. -- Israel Knohl, The Divine Symphony

No hollow ritual, these words [“Holy to Adonai”] required the Kohen’s concentration. … Thus, it wasn’t sufficient for the Kohen Gadol to concentrate on representing the people; he also had to represent God before Israel, summoning the Jewish People to renew the covenantal commitment to the values and practices of Torah, mitzvot, and loving deeds. -- Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, The Bedside Torah

Questions for Discussion:

Rav Kook speaks of the dichotomy of being poised between heaven and earth. By placing the belt on the mid-section, the priest separates what is above and what is below. How do we, likewise, keep our heads in the clouds while keeping our feet firmly on the ground? How can holiness be the factor that connects those two locations?

Israel Knohl notes that holiness is not limited to the Israelite priests; every Israelite has an opportunity to achieve a similar sense. How do modern religious authorities and leaders best transmit a sense of holiness to the people they serve? Are the special clothes of the priests meant to convey a sense of separation from the rest of the non-priests? Or is the message on the belt meant to create a sense of accessibility between priest and non-priest?

Rabbi Artson teaches that a Kohen must represent God to the rest of the people. Is it possible for the modern-day Kohen to do the same, even without the presence of a sacrificial system? Should we maintain special synagogue rituals for Kohanim (such as reserving the first aliyah of a Torah reading for them, or having them recite the Priestly Benediction during the repetition of the Musaf Amidah) to maintain that purpose?

Theme #2: "Pedestrian" Clothes?

Then bring [Aaron’s] sons forward; clothe them with tunics and wind turbans upon them. And gird both Aaron and his sons with sashes. And so they shall have priesthood as their right for all time. (Exodus 29:8-9)

The attire of Aaron’s sons is almost a postscript in the text, but it sends no small message.

Regarding the sash, the typical priest and the High Priest are on a par. The typical priest, too, is girded with the positive materials and colors of the High Priest (the sash -- unlike his other garments -- is not made only of white linen) … The high-priestly materials and colors bring to the attention of High Priest and ordinary priest alike that they must strive for the same lofty goal of moral perfection on a foundation of moral purity. At the same time, their goal is presented to them as requiring the consolidation of all their energies. -- Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

In this process, language plays a powerful if enigmatic role. Aaron, not Moses, is the speaker, the man of words; Aaron, not Moses, will be High Priest. On the face of it, the priestly function does not require much eloquence; it does, however, require the wearing of robes, of a priestly costume: “If one serves as a priest without the full priestly raiment, one’s service is disqualified. At the time their raiment is upon them their priesthood is upon them. If their raiment is not upon them, their priesthood is not upon them” (Zevahim 17b). The clothing makes the priest. Not to be attired in exactly the right clothes is sufficient the priest from the ritual. This uncompromising association of the priest with his raiment invites exploration. To be a priest is to be born to the function, and to wear the clothes of a priest. -- Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture

According to Jubilees, Levi is thus specially designated to officiate at at the altar at Bethel: he offers the sacrifices and receives his father’s vowed tithe. It will be noticed, however, that this brief passage actually presents two different accounts of how Levi came to be designated for this role. First, he has a dream in which he is appointed a priest, “he and his sons forever.” But then the text proceeds to relate how Jacob (apparently ignorant of this dream) decides that, so long as he is now finally fulfilling his old vow, he ought to tithe not only his material possessions but his own sons as well. Counting backward from the youngest, Jacob thus designates the tenth, Levi, as a kind of human tithe, “the portion of the Lord.” That this means that Levi will become a priest is made clear in the next sentence, “And his father put garments of the priesthood on him and filled his hands,” the latter phrase being a technical term for consecration to the priesthood. -- James L. Kugel, The Ladder of Jacob: Ancient Interpretations of the Biblical Story of Jacob and His Children

Questions for Discussion:

Rabbi Hirsch says that all priests have the same duty for holiness, yet the High Priest receives more privilege. Is this fair? Should it be fair? Is there an upside to having a hierarchy of priests? A downside?

Zornberg says that the priests’ clothing is an essential element in their job performance. What, then, should we make of the differences between Aaron’s and Moses’s clothes? Is Moses’s more "simple" garb befitting a leader of his magnitude and responsibility? Or is Aaron’s fancy clothing necessary to allow him to even approach Moses’s place in the community?

Kugel reveals a noteworthy theory of how Levi, of all of Jacob’s sons, is designated as the one whose descendants will be responsible for ancient Israelites ritual. Is his theory a sufficient explanation for Levi’s ascendancy to his spot? Given Levi’s personal life was not stellar, is the priesthood more of a compliment or a burden? Do you accept the notion of Jacob once again placing primacy in his youngest children?

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