DEDICATION: To the memory of Pixie Smith, wife of Tommy Smith and sister of Paula Russel. Pixie died last year in this parsha after a prolonged illness.
May her memory be for a blessing.
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T'tzaveh, a command to command. The instructions on the mishkan itself is completed and Torah moves on to talk about the special things that Aharon must do to be a light to the generations. It is one of the places where Torah refers to "Aharon, your brother", which happens a total of 10 times. Four of these times occur in chapter 28, each of them dealing with one aspect or another of the garments worn as the Cohanim serve the people in their official capacity.
It is one thing to read these words today, when we no longer practice the Temple rituals. What was it like to read them when the Temple still stood? From the Dead Sea scrolls, we know that the texts were already fixed as we read them today -- and people could see the Temple activity. Of course, that required their being in Jerusalem - a much more hazardous trip in those days than today, even with all that is going on in our world.
Last week I was in Pocatello, Idaho for Shabbat - spent it with a wonderful little community there, one that had been part of Pocatello for decades. A lovely warm building with incredibly warm people. A mixture of people who had been raised there as well as people whose paths had started even in distant Russia. There were people who had not been far from Eastern Idaho their entire lives and people who flew to Israel and Washington routinely. And on Shabbat, they gather as community and share some time and exchange experiences and listened to the ancient words as I chanted them from a lovely scroll. We read about how to make the aron, the ark, the holy dwelling place, that sits in the very inside of the heart of the Temple and of ourselves. And we talked about how to create that space within each of us.
We asked each other what was the testimony, the evidence that we are instructed to place inside that holy place and what does it mean that this special place should be kept portable at all times, carried by gold covered wooden rods that are never to leave the cast pure gold carrying rings inside which these rods are to be placed. And within this talk of ancient and modern chambers of our hearts, we learned a little bit about each other and how the swirls of life brought us together for that Shabbat in the town of Pocatello.
I was struck by what it means to be Jewish in a place more distant than most from one of our hubs of Jewish life, and I wondered what it must have been like to be Jewish in a somewhat remote place in the time when Torah became committed to parchment. What did it feel like to hear words of Torah then, what would it have taken then for a community to own a collection of scrolls? How likely would they have been to have a complete set either of the 5 or the entire TaNaKh?
We know from the Qumran community that the books of Torah were individual scrolls even then, so communities would have had varying amounts of text and then varying amounts of skill in reading from those texts. Just like today, not everyone can chant Torah and not everyone can understand what they read or hear. And traveling to the distant Temple was difficult and took a lot of time. When word would come from far away, either written or spoken, there was a great deal of interest in 'getting the picture' of what the Temple was like and what happened there.
And so we ask for descriptions of what it is like, what people wear, details about this and that and what is going on, and what the vessels looked like and what they were made out of, and so on. And in our mind's eye we are transported to the scene and we are there. And the reds and purples and blue techelet of the robes move before our closed eyes and we know what it was like to stand in the courtyard of the Temple and be a part of all that happens there every day.
Such is the power of words that they allow us to create that image-filled realities. Yesterday I was talking with one of the local Imams and we were discussing the impact of language on the tradition and on the interactions between people. He mentioned an ambassador named Habib (beloved) and how that could impact a willingness to negotiate and we talked about the implications of Hamas meaning "violence" and "wrong-doing" in Hebrew. How do the words and names and images we get from far-off and near-by places impact our reality and belief systems even today?
1. Parsha details: Ex 27:20-30:10 [Haftorah I Samuel 15:2-34 (Seph add 15:1)]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: More Offerings -- we move to the Menorah, the lamp, the priestly garments (again in great detail) and offerings. Now the offerings include crafting and artistry as well as raw goods.
Garments and lights -- ah. And Oil, anointing oil. The abundance that flows down into our daily lives. And the light, ordered by the children of Aharon, that shine eternally into our Jewish lives.
So what was it about these garments which Aharon and his sons wore as they went about the holy space doing priestly things? They were gifts, offerings from the people, even the craftsmanship to fashion them into the very garments. And so Aharon is clothed in the intentions and essences of the people, of Yisrael. These robes and vestments are the forms to these intentions which Aharon is to wear as he attends to the raising in smoke of the offerings of the people. The red fabric mingles among the blue and the purple and the gold and the silver. And as they move with every motion that Aharon and his children make, the many qualities and facets of the people move about each other and flash in and out of view to the people watching. And as they move in and out of view, the garments become reminiscent of a crystal that sparkles as its many colors shine out at you.
And so, for those watching this is indeed a vision of splendor and beauty. Torah even says this -- he is to be adorned l'chavod ul'tifaret, for glory and beauty. The gold which is part of the garment work is also a key, in that it fits Aharon and the work he is to do, both by color and by the purity specified in Torah.
We are also told that these stones and garments carried, engraved within them, the names of all of Yisrael, "each according to birth", six on one shoulder and six on the other. What does it mean to be thusly named? How does our name, our membership in family and tribe and community define us? And the name of each tribe is engraved into one stone each of the breastplate Aharon wore. Torah tells us that the purpose of these stones is zikaron, remembering, they are stones of remembering. They are but a part of the attention/memory devices worn and used by Aharon all the time.
So who needed to do all of the remembering? Not the Holy One. These devices serve as a reminder for Aharon of how he impacts the people as he goes about doing his "priestly thing" day in and day out. It would be easy to lose sight of how his every action would be seen and taken in by those who saw him and even those who heard about his actions through reports and stories told much later and far away. Through this ripple effect, Aharon's actions are so important that not even one casual movement or word can be allowed to "miss the mark" in the eyes of the people. What a heavy burden this honor truly was. The Hebrew for honor is kavod, which does mean weighty. For Aharon, this connection of meaning must have been synonymous.
"And you, speak to all who are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they will make Aharon's garments to consecrate him, that he may officiate for me." (28:3) When Torah speaks thus about wisdom, the reference is traditionally understood to mean a high spiritual essence. People who may or may not have known exactly what to do, but who would trust in the ability to allow the inner core to guide their hands in the making of these garments. So that every movement and action Aharon might make or do, would remind him of this responsibility and of his acute exposure to the eyes and ears of the people.
Our tradition tells us that Aharon was known for his heart and his sensitivity to everyone and everything. And one of the primary responsibilities he had was the humane slaughtering of animals for the people. And he served as a doctor, banishing people from community when necessary and rejoining them to community when possible. He and his children would talk to people with troubled marriages and all other manner of 'stuff' in their lives and help them "atone" and accept Divine forgiveness for these things.
And the people needed to know, without any doubt, that he was fully present for them.
With properly fashioned garments and utensils, Aharon would be mindful of this responsibility and be able to carry it out. With every movement, every flutter of the garments with all of its color and fabric and stones and chains, the people would see every move that Aharon made. And they would know that he carried on his chest and on his shoulders, their names, each according to birth, that they be remembered, just for having been born, having been given a neshama, a soul and a name.
3. Some Observations
All of these things in this Parsha are lovingly described in great detail. Now why would Torah spend SO MUCH time on these details? The obvious answer is because it was important. Why are these things so important?
So many layer and pieces and details. Descriptions of what the engraving was like "like a signet", what colors were the stones, what colors were the bells and pomegranates that hung from the hems. If you closed your eyes and listened to this description a few times, you would "see" this image clearly, as if you had stood no more than a cubit or two away from Aharon. And Aharon's actions would not just be for those who lived close to the Temple, it would be for you and even if you never actually were there to physically see it, you were there, the memory and image etched, engraved into your soul.
And so these words served to bind all of Yisrael, no matter how far we wander. When we listen to these words of Torah, we hear our own name as it is carried before the One.
Last week we carried the Aron, the ark, the holy space, on gold-covered rods placed forever inside pure gold rings. This week our essences and our names are carried in the rainbow of colors with gold fasteners and braided gold chains into that holy space. And we, the everyday people, are the ones who fashion both parts of this image, creating the person, the priest and the place, l'chavod ul'tifaret, for glory and beauty.
4. Balancing Intimacy
One of the things that I do for this particular part of the d'var is that I do the bulk of the work before I look up Rabbi David Wolf Blank's (z'l) guidelines for a specific Parsha. It is amazing to me that when I look them up, I usually say, of course, that makes sense. This week it was even stronger than that. As I read the words of the parsha I kept thinking, "wow, this sounds like Yesod" or "this must be Tiferet". The brickish red of Yesod or Balancing is probably very close to the red of tola'at shani, the red dyed cloth we read about. And the soft green of Tiferet or Intimacy comes from the blending of the purple and the blue (Torah color wheels are different from either pigment or light color wheels). It is not hard to envision Aharon as the Foundation of Beauty.
5. Rav Sholom (z'l) used to say.....
We can see here, the bride is preparing the garments for her wedding. Aharon is the attendant l'chavod ul'tifaret, for the bride and the groom. It is appropriate that it is the embodiment of splendor and magnificence, which is the focal point of this activity. The bride is to reach up into the higher light of wisdom and draw from there into each of the children, being ever mindful of the unique and special gifts of each child.
As Aharon moves about through the realms of holy space, there is a hint of light that twinkles and shines. We are reminded that it is through his efforts that the abundance is drawn down through the realms into our world. He is responsible for blessing the bride and attending to her needs, teaching her and guiding her as she prepares for the groom.
The wedding feast is also to be prepared and the betrothal is reconfirmed as the groom announces his intentions for his beloved, that he be sanctified in her. This is a wonderful and heady time and all of the details appear to be falling into place.
1. See the Robes and the colors: Sit in a quiet place become as absolutely quiet as you can. Close your eyes and chase all of the rest of life out of your conscious thought. Allow Aharon to enter that space quietly and without a word. Watch the robes as they move with each of his movements. Watch him light the lights and move about in sacred space. become aware of the sound of the bells and the shake of the pomegranates attached to the hems of his robes. Hear the gentle swish of the fabric as each layer moves in its own way amid the colors of the other layers.
2. Fire and smoke: Consider a candle. Focus on the flame and see the fire as it connects and meets the Fire. Feel the fire within you and through you. See the smoke as it surrounds you and encompasses you. Expand the Fire within your heart and notice the gentleness of the fire. Expand the Fire within your Being and feel the Smoke as it permeates your very inner core. Accept the sense of Presence that surrounds and permeates you.
3. Name: See the names engraved, like a signet, in the dark black onyx. Feel each letter of each engraved name and feel the weight of the stones, one stone on each shoulder. See the twelve stones of the breastplate, each with an engraved name. Feel the letters in each stone and the weight of the breastplate with the stones. Feel the breath under the breastplate and it rises and falls with each breath, with each name. How much does a soul weigh?
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
You can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2003 Candy Lobb All rights reserved