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




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.


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!