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Tetzaveh. Bet Shalom Zoom, February 27, 2021

02/27/2021 10:04:16 AM


Irene Stern Friedman

Tetzaveh describes the “sacred vestments” which the Priests wore for glory and for splendor, for adornment and dignity. The priestly role requires dignity. The special clothing with sashes, breastpiece, and a headdress shows that. The priests’ clothing is beautiful and colorful --blue, purple, and crimson with golden bells and embroidery. Solemnity does not mean darkness. The sacred is not forboding, it is colorful and magnificent.


The vestments were made to be seen. They were intended to impress the eye. The Priests’ and High Priest’s sacred vestments are called bigdei kodesh.


The Hebrew shoresh for “garment,” bet-gimmel-dalet also means “betrayal,” as in the confession we say —Ashamnu bagadnu, “We have been guilty, we have betrayed.” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said: “Throughout Genesis, whenever a garment is a key element in the story, it involves some deception or betrayal.”


Adam and Eve made fig leaves to cover themselves after eating the forbidden fruit. Jacob wore Esau’s clothes when he took his blessing by deceit. The brothers used Joseph’s bloodstained cloak to deceive their father into thinking he had been killed by a wild animal. 


Rabbi Menachem Feldman asks why garments are critical to the service. Aren’t beautiful garments superficial? Why doesn't G-d focus on the priests’ internal, emotional and spiritual state rather than on their clothing? Rabbi Feldman answers that the garments represent thought, speech, and action, the metaphorical garments of the soul. The Torah is teaching us that if we want to come close to G-d, we should wear beautiful garments. We should focus on positive garments, on positive action, even if those garments are a betrayal of our internal feelings. Because, ultimately, the beautiful garments, the positive action, will bring wholesomeness and completion to the internal soul.


Tetzaveh is also the first time we encounter the phrase “for glory and for splendor,” describing the effect and point of the garments. Until now kavod, “glory,” has been spoken of in relation to G-d alone. Now human beings are to share some of the same glory.


The beauty of their garments creates feelings of awe. Maimonides explained that to respect the Temple, those who ministered there received honor. It was commanded that the Priests should be clothed with beautiful and good garments, The Temple was to be held in great reverence by all. The special garments create an atmosphere of reverence to point to a beauty and splendor beyond themselves. 


The beautifully robed priest isn’t just your neighbor Shmuel Cohen who angered you last week, he’s the Kohen, the priest. The robes remind you and the Cohen of this.


With Tetzaveh something new enters Judaism: Torat Cohenim, — the idea and laws of a hereditary elite within the Jewish people. Before, kavod has been attributed only to G-d; now it applies to the Cohenim. But people so elevated must dress in a special way when on duty. We all dress better for Shabbat than for regular days. People dress nicely, at least from the waist up, for Zoom business meetings. Special clothing reminds the wearer how to behave. 


The covenant of the Cohanim is called "Brit Shalom.” Someone would be labeled a hippie if she used the English word "peace" as a greeting or farewell. Yet in Hebrew, the standard "hello" or "goodbye" is shalom. "Hillel says: 'Be a student of Aaron, ohev shalom and rodef shalom, lover of peace and pursuer of peace 


For Aaron, recitation of the Priestly Blessing was not enough. Aaron made peace within the community, reconciling married couples and angry friends. This was the true mission of the Cohanim and can be a task for every Jew. Dress nicely while doing the task.

Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782