Tetzaveh 5780 – Torah Gives Us Fashion – Right?

By: Michael Carr

As we know from last week’s D’var, G-d ultimately wants to dwell among the community of Israel so the Tabernacle continues it’s construction – it supposedly took about two years. Today’s parasha is about Kohein-clothing amongst a few other topics.

Clothing is very personal. We identify ourselves with it. Just ask my 2-1/2 year old ‘roommate’ who has experienced many a morning melt-down over the clothing choice of the day. The most recent experience was as a pre-school Purim princess costume which was supposed to have accompanying undergarment pants and shirt – nevertheless…..

From homeless to shul congregants, to work colleagues (be they public servants, teachers, physicians, or politicians), men, women and children, we all identify ourselves and or others in some-way by the clothing worn.

When people dress in specific ways to express and promote their ideological status or values or beliefs during a march/protest or an entertainment event like an awards ceremony many rush in to label the clothing, hair, head-dress, make-up and so on worn by others as fashion. So in preparing this D’var I asked myself “is this fashion thing a trend that started way back in the time of Parasha Tetzaveh?”

Sometimes garments from designers are referred to as prototypes. A prototype (Greek for “first impression”) is about how something can look, work, feel and how one can appreciate it. So if a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype might be worth a thousand pictures. In the fashion industry, prototyping is about what happens at the top of the clothing/designer ‘pyramid’. Fashion designers are specialized in sketching, observing and in handcrafting and materializing ideas. In the case of our Parsha – G-d is the designer and Moses assures skilled crafts people will create the garments to be worn by the Kohein, specifically Aaron and his sons.

There are very few places in Torah where garments or clothing are actually mentioned.  Examples include Adam & Eve who use the fig leaf for cover after eating from the forbidden tree, Joseph and his coat which his brothers use to deceive their father into believing that Joseph is dead and let us remember the timely Purim story where King Ahasuerus endorses Haman’s plan to parade Mordecai through the city square on a horse in a royal robe and the passage, “So Haman took the robe and the horse, arrayed Mordecai, and paraded him through the city square, crying out before him, “This is what is done for the man whom the king is delighted to honor!”

So what about specifics from G-d to Moses to assure his brother Aaron and the Koheins are dressed appropriately and they follow a process for their priestly duties? While Moses is absent in this Parsha, some have said because he declined G-ds initial request on several occasions to lead the Israelites to freedom, he is commanded to assure Aaron is ‘decked-out’ appropriately. So Moses, along with others in the Israelite community comply.

Studying the specifics described in this parsha there are notable descriptions and details of what goes where on the high priest and how one is to approach the Tent of Meeting/tabernacle, the colors and descriptive stones and colors with of course the meaning behind each of the materials left open to interpretation.

SPOILER ALERT -fashion is not at all the topic of today’s parsha. It’s not about shoes, shadels, robes, tunics, stones or breast plates. There is obviously something bigger going on here so let’s step back and take a look.

One answer may be elevating the spiritual significance of G-D and the tabernacle.

Obviously we should respect the Torah’s direction for the Kohein’s requirement to dress in a specific manner outlined in this parsha. Today we often emulate this by wearing clothing that demonstrates honor and respect for holidays and the ritual spiritual practice of Judaism.

The parsha is really about self-respect and the practice of Jewish tradition.  It’s about, as Bill mentioned last week in his d’var, about substance rather than image.  The clothes we wear when we pray should show our respect for the process and ceremony of prayer, G-d and Judiaism.  It’s our belief about and for which we pray.

Substance over image.  This theme continues to work throughout today’s parasha in distinguishing world cultures. The Israelite culture of the day was different, for example, from Greek, Egyptian and Mesopatamian cultures that valued the image and style in say architecture and art (sculptures/idols?). Perhaps this is another reason why G-d’s instruction to Moses about the construction of the Tabernacle and the clothing Aaron and his son’s wore was so specific. So distinct.

As noted last week, the detailed construction of the Tabernacle may have had much to do with setting the Israelite culture and architecture apart from other cultures that valued a belief in ‘false’ G-d’s & idols essentially eviscerating the holy and substantive from the topical and touchy feely of alternate evolving cultures that would ultimately disappear entirely. The building of the Tabernacle and practice of honoring G-d with the clothing of Aaron and his son’s would frame a new set of standards, beliefs, practices and in particular, traditions, that would evolve and be embraced for many Jewish generations to come.

While some believe that the building of the tabernacle and high priests clothing was a means of creating a separation of cultures, the clothing also bifurcated the Israelite community with distinct roles that were set apart from one another particularly when it came to spiritual practices. Different of course than the task of building or hunting or gathering. It was as if ‘G-d’s plan’ had the specific purpose to create how daily prayer was to be executed to honor one G-d.

It is said that the sacred priestly garments were regal and symbolic regarding the holiest of holies and the parsha goes into much detail about them. Yet the Torah does not paint the priests clothing as a veneer of beauty nor is beauty a value embraced by Torah at all. For example the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah), Queen Esther and others are described in various places throughout the Torah as physically beautiful yet beauty is not a personal value or commandment that we embrace. As aishes chayil points out, “physical beauty is false and a woman who fears G-d is to be lauded.”

What lessons can we take away from today’s parsha to embrace a life of substance?

Bud Harris in his 2015 book entitled Sacred Selfishness describes ideas for creating a life of substance such as:

  • Self-love and self-forgiveness
  • How we value love ourselves and live meaningful lives
  • Authenticity and how we give back to those around us
  • Loving others without losing ourselves
  • Resolving unhappy relationships, a stagnating career, overcoming financial issues or weight problems

Finally – this quote from Julia Cameron (Teacher, Author, Poet, Film Maker & Martin Scorsese’s former spouse)

“Love is the substance of all life. Everything is connected in love, absolutely everything.”

Good Shabbos.