Dress For Success
Parasha Tetzaveh continues the story of the design of the tabernacle and the role of the priests who will serve in it. From the sweeping narrative that began the Torah, through the exciting stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt and the standing at Sinai, we have moved to the details of the design. Many find the concluding parashiot of the book of Exodus (only broken by the narrative surrounding the golden calf in next week’s Ki Tissa) dry in their detail, stimulating only for budding architects or fashion designers. This week’s parashah focuses mostly on the design of the garments that the priests will wear, concluding with instructions for their anointing and installation.
Few argue for a return to animal sacrifice should the Temple ever be rebuilt, but many still acknowledge that maintaining a priestly identity connects us to an ancient spirituality. In the times of the tabernacle and Temple, the priest would don special clothing and in so doing, assume a role, just as an actor does these days. He would then serve a function on behalf of the people serving as a conduit, a channel for God’s energy. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch has written: “without his prescribed garments the Cohen is merely an ordinary individual and his ritual act becomes a personal gesture.” Nechama Leibowitz notes that because the priests have specific roles and rituals the authority is not personal to them but rather to function and form. Maintaining a token of that function and form in our service today could help us move away from the cult of personality that so often devolves upon religious leaders.
Indeed, it seems one of the central themes of this week’s parashah is for us to avoid the cult of personality, the worship of a person instead of God whose emissaries we are. This week’s parashah is the only one from Exodus through to Deuteronomy that does not mention Moses. As well, it is always read in the first week of Adar, which coincides with the traditional date ascribed to Moses’ yahrzeit, the 7th of Adar. Some Rabbis see this as parallel to the minimizing of Moses’ presence in the Haggadah. It is far too easy for us to engage in hero worship and to forget that our teachers are there to empower us, not to do our work.
This week the teaching in the Torah is that there are important times that we remember no matter what our work, how much each of us makes God’s presence felt in our words and our deeds, ultimately each and every one of us is an equal creature of God. The priests’ autonomy and costume indicate that they have no special power in transmitting God’s blessing, which only channels through them, directly and equally to each of us.