Thursday, February 22, 2018

But I'll Roll Up My Shirt-Sleeves And Make My Best Shot (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Believe It Or Not")

About thirty miles south of where our daughter lives and works; a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida took place.  Seventeen students and faculty were murdered and over twenty were wounded. In the aftermath, numerous vigils and demonstrations took place in Florida and throughout the United States; the demonstrations, protests and vigils continue to take place.  During a local news broadcast in South Florida, a student was interviewed. She made a stunning statement. She explained  that when she goes to school, she goes to learn. She refuses to believe that she and thousands of school students need to change their “student” attire for the "war" attire.  She should not have to wear a bullet proof vest in order to feel safe at school. She shouldn’t have to “pack” her own weapon and prepare for “shootouts” in school. She concluded her statement by saying that students should be dressed to learn. This is not the Wild West,  nor are these students in the military at battle front in Afghanistan.
This particular Shabbat is also known as Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat that immediately preceeds the Holiday of Purim. To acknowledge this, we read the last several verses of Ki Teitzeh (Deut. 25:17-19). These three verses is the commandment to remember what the tribe of Amalek did to the generation that left Egypt. As Bnai Yisroel is about to into Eretz Canaan, they must remember the evil perpetrated upon their parents and grandparents  by Amalek; they must also  blot out the memory Amalek, the embodiment of evil.  However, this week’s Parsha is entitled Tetzaveh. It  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 when our children go to school in a warm safe environment.  Beauty and magnificence only serve to enhance this holy time and holy space. While it may seem odd to read a commandment to remember evil and blot evil out while also reading about the Holy Vestments of the High Priest; these High School students are doing just that.  High School students are telling all those who listen, that for them, their school, the opportunity to learn, is a sacred endeavor occurring in a sacred place.  An AR15, a symbol of evil,  only violates the sanctity of the time and space designated for beauty and sanctity of learning.
Rav Yitz

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