Tetzaveh: the weight of honor

RunwayIf last week’s parasha Terumah was the IKEA/DIY section of the Torah, this week’s parasha Tetzaveh is all about Tim Gunn and Project Runway.  (I had to look that up, I never watch it, but I know there’s something about fashion and competition…)  Here we are told in Torah-detail about the clothes Aaron is going to wear when he becomes the High Priest.

It is not an understated event!  His is a colorful outfit– gold, purple, blue and crimson. It’s ornate -there are shoulder pieces, ephods (like a fancy tunic) and a breastplate adorned with jewels, one for each tribe of the Israelites.   There’s a really tall, cool hat, and jingling little bells and pomegranates along the hem of his robe. And it’s very public. Aaron is to wear this entire outfit when he “comes before Adonai”, i.e. when he goes into the Holiest spot, inside the Tabernacle.  The stakes are fairly high – even higher than incurring the disdain of Mr. Gunn.  “Aaron shall wear it when he is officiating, …so that he may not die.” (Exodus 28:35)

Can you imagine how heavy, literally heavy, this outfit is?  Robes and breastplates, hats and bells – layers and layers, and lots of bling.  The High Priest was now and forever in a place of very high status within the community.  He was going to offer up to God on behalf of the people – for their thanksgiving and their misdeeds.  He would represent the people to God, in the place where God was deemed to be dwelling , as we learned last week (Va’asuli mikdash v’shocanti b’tocham…Make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.)   This was an awe-some responsibility.

The Hebrew word for heavy or weight is kaved.  The Hebrew word for honor or respect is kavod.  Yes, they’re related. They share the same root letters, and in Hebrew, that means they’re definitely related.

Weight and honor.  Gravity and respect. Shakespeare said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”.   Judges say when they put on their robes, they feel the weight of their decisions, as do rabbis when they are officially vested, when they become members of the clergy.   It’s more than just “clothes making the man” here with Aaron.  Rather, as he dressed for work – and his work was far more laden (literally) with responsibility than many of ours – he would have felt the accumulated weight of his honored role in society as each part of his garment was put on.

The people had to be “vested” in this also, which was why it was done in public.  When the priestly garb was finished, Moses dressed his brother Aaron, along with Aaron’s sons, in public, so that all could see they were being prepared in a unique way to carry out their duties.  No one else dressed like them, and no one else did what they did or could go where they could go….as long as they were wearing the Priest-clothes.  The pageantry lent authority and gravity to the proceedings.  When they wore those clothes, they got to do very special things.  When they were done, they took them off.

Sometimes it may be that we dress carefully for a task ahead – appearing in court, attending a wedding to bear witness to a beginning, or attending  a funeral to bear witness to an ending; the Jewish tradition of preparing for burial with the simplest of clothing stands in contrast to the description of Aaron here.  More on that when we get to the description of Aaron’s death, in fact.  (In parasha Chukkat….stay tuned!)

For now, I think of the connection between heaviness and respect, the weightiness of leadership and responsibility.    We talk about “wearing” or “bearing” ones responsibility.  For Aaron and the other Priests, their clothes reminded them of this every day.  How do the clothes you wear affect your behavior?  How do they reflect you?

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