Parashat T’tzaveh

Friday, February 26, 2021/14 Adar, 5781
Parashat T’tzaveh Exodus 27:20–30:10

Dear Friends,

This week, as we are celebrating Purim, leading into Shabbat, and then celebrating Shabbat Tetzaveh, I cannot help but think about costumes. Costumes and dressing up is an important part of the festival of Purim, as we mask ourselves, dressing up, often, as characters from the story, which teaches us that only when we are willing to lower our masks and present who we truly are and our vulnerability, can we ultimately create change with others. This is an important lesson in today’s world, where, too often, we find ourselves thinking we are protecting ourselves behind our masks, when really, we are isolating ourselves, not allowing others to know us. So what does this have to do with Tetzaveh?

Parashat Tetzaveh guides us through more of the construction of the Tabernacle. It begins with bringing light into the space, as we bring the oil for the eternal lamp or menorah, then talks about the priestly garments, priestly ordination, and finally, the altar of incense, allowing our sense of smell, which represents the neshama, or the spirit of God which dwells within us. So many parallels and symbols of our interpersonal relationship with the divine, but in honor of Purim, I want to focus on the priestly vestments for a moment.

Why is this “costume” so important and where did it go, when the priestly tradition was lost? Through the garments of the priest, we learn the importance of dressing appropriately for the task at hand. Celebrating our connectivity to God, not only through our prayers and actions, but through the visibility of what it is we are doing. The priestly garments are not a mask, but rather representation, with great mystical powers. In fact, our mystics teach that the stones on the breastplate worn by the high priest had mystical powers, depending upon how they were placed. If they were in a certain order, they would bring healing, in another, strength, etc. So, what happened to these vestments? One need not look too far to find the representation of the priests in our own modern midst. Simply look at our Torah scrolls and how we dress them. The miter or crown upon the rosh, the breastplates, and even the chagurah or belt and the gown. All of these vestments mirror the ancient priestly vestments.

As we celebrate Purim and Shabbat, may we lower our masks, but dress for our tasks. May we know that the ancient traditions still live within our walls, and celebrate their representations, as we look at our Torah scrolls, our own menorah, symbolized by our Zebulon Ship in the sanctuary, and even the incense, which we use as a spice box at the end of Shabbat during Havdalah. We are an ancient people, tied to the strength of our traditions and history, yet always bringing modern meaning to them, as OUR Torah continues to live and thrive.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach,
Cantor Ilan Davidson