Monday, February 3, 2014

Clergymen In Uniform (Bob Dylan - "When I Paint My Masterpiece")

            This past Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday. Frankly I think our daughters were more excited for the halftime show with Bruno Mars as opposed to the game. After about ten minutes, our son grew bored (as did most of the rest of the viewing public) and he waited eagerly for the halftime show as well. Whenever my children sit with me and watch a sporting event, I am asked to identify each team by the color of their respective jersey. This game was somewhat different. Since they watched some of the pregame, they quickly learned about the teams and their corresponding jerseys. So instead of being asked which team was which; our daughters displayed some maturity. Each one picked a team to cheer.  No, they did not choose the team because they were familiar with players or coaches. Nor they did not pick a team because they knew that Denver had the best offense and Seattle had the best defense. Nor did they pick a team because they had some emotional attachment to Denver or Seattle. As mature as they may be, my daughters reminded me, that at the end of the day, they are two sweet girls who know very little about football and care even less about football. They only thing they knew and cared about were the colors and patterns of the teams’ uniforms. They knew if they liked the orange or green.

            This week’s parshah, Teztzaveh, is about the clothing, the external beauty and magnificence of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. This week’s Parsha is all about dress codes, and looking appropriate. God explains to Moshe that both Aaron and his sons must go through a seven-day consecration ceremony. This ceremony consists of the priests wearing Bigdei Kahuna (Priestly clothes), and offering a sheep sacrifice every morning and afternoon. Besides this, a meal offering (grains) and a libation offering (wine) must accompany the sheep sacrifices. Keep in mind that the slaughtering of animals and then burning of these sacrifices will definitely cause a stench. Since air freshener in aerosol cans did not yet exist, God reminds Moshe that another altar must be built. This altar is for incense, which is to be burned all day and every day during this seven- day period.

            It seems kind of odd. Imagine getting all dressed up in a beautiful Chanel, or Armani suit in order to do lawn work, slaughter animals, or build a fire? The clothing doesn’t seem to be appropriate for the activity. It would appear that the Kohen Gadol might be a bit overdressed. Imagine the cleaning bills? So, why does God tell Moshe V’Asitah Vigdei Kodesh L’Aharon Achichah l’Chavod U’letifaret- and you shall make vestments of sanctity for Aaron your brother for glory and splendor. (Ex 28:2). The Parsha spends a lot of time describing gowns, turbans breastplates, forehead plates and tunics. Clearly the Torah considers these garments as sacred. Only the Priest can wear these garments, and only at the time of making sacrifices. These were very expensive glorious looking clothes to be used for sacrificing animals, sprinkling blood, and burning the sacrifice. The Kohen worked in the Mishkan, the place where God would dwell. Everything associated with the Mishkan must reflect the fact that God dwells there. Like a king’s palace reflects royalty, those who serve in the king’s court would also dress appropriately no matter the type of person. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the magnificence and beauty also served to inspire awe in the hearts of all who came, and as a result, they were drawn closer to God. Anything that looked less than “beautiful” would be out of place. This explains why the Priest did not have a cleaning bill. Once the clothes became soiled they were replace by new garments.

            Is Parsha Tetzaveh really teaching us that clothes make the man?  We learn that all this magnificence and beauty is in the context of the Priest serving God. We learn that all this magnificence and beauty is in the context of the Priest performing sacrifices to God, on behalf of themselves and the community. A relationship with God, who dwells among us, is based upon the creation of Zman Kodesh (holy Time) and Makom Kodesh (holy space). The holy place was the Mishkan, the Tabernacle and later the Bet HaMikdash, The Holy Temple. Following the destruction of the Temple, the Bet Midrash, (House of Learning), and Shul, (Synagogue), and even our own homes have become Holy Places. The holy time is Shabbat, the three times a day when we pray,  when we study Torah, when we light candles, and when we celebrate Holidays, or even the private moments between husbands and wives. Beauty and magnificence only serve to enhance this holy time and holy space. Beauty for its own sake, like cheering on a team because of the colors and patterns, is a rather empty and fleeting experience. Rather, the more time and energy we invest, the more we learn and celebrate those moments and in that space, the more meaningful the sacred time and space becomes.

Rav Yitz

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