Weekly Torah Commentary – Tetzaveh February 26, 2015

Exodus/Shemot 27:20 – 30:10

As noted last week, we are in the midst of a cycle of four Torah readings that all contain very precise instructions for the building of the Tabernacle. This week, our attention is directed to the Kohanim, the priests who will serve in the sanctuary.  God’s instructions for the creation of the special clothing to be worn by the priests, and in particular the High Priest are laid out in precise detail.  The garments described convey in a visible manner the inner spiritual preparation required for the priests to serve the Holy One of Israel within His holy place.

Certain of the Sages over the years have commented on the symbolic nature of the garments, attaching to each an insight with relation to a particular sin. This idea of clothing and its association with sin is not new in the Torah.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived without clothing. They felt no sense of shame for they were without sin. It was only after their disobedience to God that He Himself fashioned a covering for them. We get a further hint at the connection from the Hebrew word for clothing:  Beged (clothing) has at its root a connection with BaGaD – betrayal. The word for coat, Me’il comes from  M’eiLa, which means a ‘misappropriation’. The sin of the first man and woman in Eden, was both a betrayal and a misappropriation. Adam and Eve now literally and figuratively required a ‘cover-up’.

The Tabernacle and subsequently the Temple were intended by God to be places of healing, reconciliation and friendship with Him. There, man could approach God and seek forgiveness. It come as no surprise, then, that in the holiest area of the Tabernacle, a reminder of mankind before sin should be visible.  The cherubs, symbolic of Adam and Eve in their original state of innocence, faced each other and together looked down upon the Mercy Seat. They remind us a time before shame and guilt created a need for clothing. So it follows that in order to enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for himself and for the people, the High Priest had to be dressed in “holy clothing,” not merely to cover himself, but as a living testimony of the human condition in a sinful world.

But not only that. The same clothing that reminds us of Sin also inspires hope and speaks of redemption. On Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, the High Priest wore clothes of pure white, reminiscent of the original purity of Adam and Eve now reflected in the cherubs he will look upon. There were no gold trimmings for that would have recalled the sin of the Golden Calf. The white garments hold up a standard towards which we are to strive: a life of intimacy with God, of purity and of harmony – the very life which Adam and Eve enjoyed before their sin.

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This coming week Jews around the world will celebrate PURIM, the commemoration of Queen Esther’s courageous intervention to save her people from the murderous decree instigated by Haman, a descendant of Amalek.

The story of Esther has been told countless times and her heroism exalted and applauded for risking her own life by approaching the King without his summons; for the sake of Israel’s deliverance, Esther ‘broke protocol’ but only after she and her maids had fasted and prayed for three days along with Mordecai and the rest of the community.

This coming week, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will speak to the Congress of the United States concerning the threat Iran poses to Israel but also to the whole world.  He has been widely criticized for ‘breaking protocol’ since he accepted the invitation of Speaker of the House, John Boehner.  The White House has made no attempt to hide its displeasure.

Whether John Boehner realized it or not, his invitation to Netanyahu to address the Congress the very week of PURIM cannot be dismissed as a ‘random’ coincidence.  There is a precedence for ‘breaking protocol’ in the Book of Esther.  Is it just a fluke of scheduling that Netanyahu will address Congress the day before the Jewish people observe the fast of Esther which leads into the celebration of Esther’s triumph over the forces of death and destruction at the hands of Haman?

Rabbi Benjamin Blech writes: “the Purim story… is a miracle of coincidences so statistically improbable that they together speak to us of the hidden hand of the Divine in human events. For that reason the book of Esther is the only one in the entire Bible in which God’s name is not to be found even once. Here God hides His face – but is as much involved as when He split the sea before the Jews fleeing the Egyptians. For Jewish commentators it is the message of the famous – and ironically anonymous – adage that “Coincidence is merely God’s way of choosing to remain anonymous.”

I invite you to join with us in prayer this coming week that the Prime Minister’s speech will be guided by the Spirit of the Living God and achieve its intended end; for Netanyahu stated recently, that his intent is not just to deliver Israel from a nuclear holocaust, but the whole world as well.

Shabbat Shalom!

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