23 February 2024 (5785)

Shushan Purim Katan

Week of 18-24 February 2024

Torah portion: Exodus:27:20-30:10   Haftarah: Ezek. 43 :10-27

Parashat Tetzaveh (“you shall instruct”) concludes the two parashot (portions) that describe the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) complex, the  furnishings and the sacred ritual involved. Tetzavah begins with the daily lighting of the menorah by the kohanim and concludes with their offering of the daily sacrifice and burning of the incense. From the beginning of the Book of Exodus and the conclusion of the Torah, this will be the only parashah in which the name of Moses does not occur, focusing exclusively upon the role of Aaron, his brother, and Aaron’s descendants, the kohanim. Although Aaron appears frequently in Exodus this the first palace that his name is used together with the word “priest”(Exodus 28:3).

       Who were the Kohanim? Jacob had twelve sons, the tribe of Levi, Jacob’s third son, was eventually divided into two groups: the kohanim, who were responsible for the service of the Tabernacle, and the Levites who assisted them in their duties. Tetzaveh describes the sacral garments that Aaron and his sons should wear “for priestly service to Me.”(Exodus 28:4). A phrase which suggests that the kohanim are to be concerned with the glory of Adonai. From birth, the Kohanim were different from the other tribes, they were trained for holiness. They did not own land; they were allowed to eat specially ordained foods. To this day the kohanim are limited in whom they are permitted to marry and are not allowed to come into contact with dead bodies. Aaron and the priests are selected “to go to the very core of Adonai’s holiness on behalf of the people” (Plaut). The Talmud states that they were both God’s spiritual messengers to the Jewish people and the Jewish people’s spiritual messengers to God (Yoma 19a).

       Almost 40 verses (Ex.28:2-43) half of the whole parashah, describe the special clothes that the priests were obligated to wear while working in the Tabernacle. Vestments are holy because they are used for sacred duty; they also give beauty and dignity to the priest The focus here is on Aaron’s garments: only three verses provide instructions for Aaron’s sons (28:40-43).The ephod had a shoulder strap upon which two onyx stones were set. The writing of the names of the sons of Israel, six on one stone, six on the other, indicates that the kohanim  represent the whole of Israel while offering sacrifices. The best craftspeople were put to the task of creating the sacred vestments. A breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a brocaded tunic, a headdress, breeches, and a sash. Notice the absence of footwear, implying the priests wore no shoes on holy ground (see 3:5). A kohen performing holy service in the Tabernacle without any piece of his clothes was subject to the death penalty (Ben David p 150) because of the great sanctity of the shrine, proper attire would be essential. Why are the special garments so important? The Talmud (Zevachim 88b) cites one effect of wearing the priestly clothes is that each particular garment possessed special atoning qualities that influenced the behaviour of its wearer. For example, the special pants worn by the priests atoned for sexual promiscuity and the tiny ringing bells at the bottom of the coat reminded the wearer not to gossip. The overall impression conveyed by the description of the vestments is one of striking beauty and colour.

    The vestments described “are the direct antecedents of those now in use in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches… In the synagogue, it is the Torah scroll that its embellished: It is generally dressed in an embroidered mantle and sash and crowned by pomegranates and bells.” (Plaut p.561)

 For Reflection and Discussion: 1 What do you think are the positive and negative messages of clothes today?2. Do you appreciate that the transcendent holy is mediated in and though the experiences of our daily lives?

Bibliography: African Bible (Paulines, Kenya) Fox E The Five Books of Moses (New York,1995); Ben David A  Around the Shabbat Table Aronson Inc ,new jersey 2000). Plaut G. The Torah, A Modern Commentary (New York 1981). Eskenazi and Weiss The Torah, A Women’s Commentary  (URJ press New York 2008)

This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by

Marie Andre Mitchell, SNDdeN, M.Th, Johannesburg South Africa. Bat Kol alum. 

2001- ’02,’04,’06,’08,’09,’10,’14,’18

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