Parashat Tetzaveh – Erev Shabbat 26 February 2021
Week of 21-27 February 2021
Torah portion: Exodus 27 :20 – 30 :10 Haftarah: 1 Sam 15 :2-34
Theme: Eternal light and the priestly mission
In the Torah portion Tetzaveh (You shall command) God describes to Moses the lighting of the m’norah and the clothing and anointing of Aaron and his sons as priests. The parashah continues the theme of furnishing the tabernacle, a portable shrine to house the Ark and the Tablets of the Pact, and shows the Israelites’ efforts to build a sacred place to signify God’s presence in their midst.
The first command of God was to bring oil of beaten olives to light the lamps to be placed outside the Tent of Meeting by Aaron and his sons. The instruction was for the lamps to burn from evening to morning and this is to be done “for all times, throughout the ages.” Etz Hayim says this is the source of the Eternal Light that hangs above the Ark in the synagogue, the only commanded practice associated with the ancient tabernacle that is still practiced by Jews.
The vestments for Aaron were to be opulent, made beautifully. The ephod for example was to be made of gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine twisted linen. This gives us a rich dazzling image befitting the glory of God, resplendent among his people.
But beyond the beauty of the vestments are the rich symbolisms. In his first chrism mass in 2013, Pope Francis said that one symbol in the sacred robe of Aaron is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, with six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (Exod 28:8). (The ephod is the ancestor of present-day chasuble for Catholic priests). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (Exod 28:21). The Pope said that this means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart.
The anointing of Aaron, on the other hand, is said to be an image of a “being for” others. Psalm 133 says that the vision of a blessed community of brothers and sisters dwelling as one is like “fine oil on the head, running down upon the beard of Aaron … upon the collar of his robe.” (Psalm 133:2).
The rabbis may now simply use prayer shawls (tallit) and priests wear a simple chasuble, but their basic priestly roles remain the same: to show the light of God’s presence, help carry the burden of the believers, and also to work for the good of others in a community. These are huge tasks and new catechesis emphasizes what had partly been forgotten: that the faithful are to share in the priestly mission. Thus, as we try to deepen our faith, we are to help others see the light of God’s presence in our lives (despite the pandemic): help others in their temporal and spiritual needs.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How can you help a priest in your community or parish? 2. Do you agree lay people also share in the priestly mission? What can you do concretely during this pandemic?
Bibliography: ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); https://www.myjewishlearning.com/torah-portions/parashat-tetzaveh/; http://www.vatican.va
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna 2014