Weekly Torah Commentary – Tetzaveh February 23, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 27: 20 – 30:10

Haftorah reading: I Samuel 15:1-34

This week’s Torah reading includes the description of the garments prescribed for the High Priest and the rest of the Levites.


When we look at the garments we learn that there were seven basic pieces that the High Priest would wear. There were some garments that only he could wear, not the rest of the priests.

The High Priest would wear:

• The ephod—28:6-14

• The breastplate—28:15-30

• The robe of the ephod with a belt—28:31-35

• A mitre (turban) with a gold medallion—28:36-38

• The linen breeches—28:39-43

The ordinary priest would wear a similar uniform although not as ornate as that of the high priest (28:40-43).

• The linen breeches

• The embroidered coat

• The belt (girdle)

• The turban

Nothing was spared in the quality and work of these garments that the priests were directed to wear.  Materials included pure gold, precious jewels, fine linen, pure white wool and costly ointment.  Those who fashioned the garments had to be “wise-hearted and skilled.”

The pattern of worship for the Israelites at the Tabernacle in the desert, and later in the Temple, called for them to gather at regularly times to worship the LORD. There was a discipline, a reverence and a faithfulness mandated by the Torah.  Hmm – what about us today?

A brief aside….Is it enough to ‘show up’ for services and ignore the discipline, reverence and faithfulness of daily prayer in our own private space?  Not it’s not.

There are benefits and dangers to ritualized prayer and worship.  Among the benefits are 1) a sense of community, 2) a routine which reminds us to pray, 3) an opportunity to develop self-discipline and faithfulness, two virtues that can enhance everyone’s life.

The dangers are 1) we adopt a ‘minimal’ attitude; that is, ‘showing up’ becomes enough and we take no personal time to commune with God privately at home, 2) the repetition of ritual prayers dulls our senses, minimizing our ability to pray with concentration and heartfelt devotion, 3) we deceive ourselves into thinking that outward religious expression is all that God wants.  Hardly!

Listen to the prophet Isaiah:  ‘…this people honors Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me…Isaiah 29:13

Back to the priestly garments…We do not have time or space in this commentary to delve into all the different pieces of the priestly garments but we’ll look at one of them.

You shall make for them [white] linen trunks [or shorts] to cover their naked flesh, reaching from the waist to the thighs.  Ex. 28:42

Every time the priests came into the temple they were to wear these linen breeches for the sake of modesty and purity.  This piece of clothing hearkens back to the Garden of Eden.  What was the first thing that Adam and Eve did after they sinned?  They ‘sewed fig leaves together and make themselves loin coverings.’  Gen. 3:7

Their first action after sinning betrayed their shame and guilt.  They covered themselves up.  Being exposed was no longer acceptable.  When God came on the scene, it became clear that just covering their loins was not enough for ‘the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them.’  Gen. 3:21

A lack of modesty in worship is displeasing to the Lord. Therefore, though they would also wear tunics and robes, the priests were required to wear linen breeches underneath to assure that during the exercise of their duties, no unseemly exposure could occur.

But there’s another reason, too.  Remember that the people to whom the Torah was given had only recently left Egypt after being immersed in that pagan culture for years.  They were acquainted with the way the Egyptians worshiped their idols.

The Egyptian priest was clothed in a very short flimsy skirt. As he ascended the pagan altar all of those gathered around the altar would be provoked to sensual immoral behavior. This was activity was not limited to the Egyptians but was common among the majority of societies who gave themselves to the worship of idols. As the priest would ascend the altar more and more of his body would be exposed to the people and it would spur the people to sinful “worship” involving their lustful passions.  In prescribing these linen breeches for the Israelite priests, Moses would have immediately recognized  the Lord’s wisdom.  The worship of the children of Israel to their God was to be markedly different to that of the pagan Egyptians.

In Tune with Torah this week = modesty is not a highly esteemed virtue in our modern society. (That’s an understatement!) Yet in God’s eyes it is highly prized.  Modesty is not limited to how we dress.  Modest speech is just as highly valued.  How do you speak about yourself? Do you brag? Do you feign humility but in fact are actually ‘fishing’ for compliments? Are you modest, humble about your accomplishments? About your family? Do you talk about yourself too much?  All of these relate to ‘modesty’.

Modest speech, modest behavior, modest dress – they all affect our worship of the Holy One of Israel.  To some, modesty is old fashioned. To those who love God and seek to walk in His ways, modesty is a desirable and precious virtue.

Shabbat Shalom




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