Tetzaveh: Hiding

maskThis week’s parasha is for those behind the scenes, those unseen, those who don’t appear in the story, but are at work in the background.

For Tetzaveh, that means Moses.  For Purim, that means God.   It’s the Shabbat before Purim, Shabbat Zachor.   For both, it’s a tale of what’s revealed and what’s hidden;  what’s needed for the now, and what’s needed for the later.

Tetzaveh is all about Aaron and establishing the priesthood.  We read about the bling, the clothes, the actual ordination of Aaron as High Priest, and his sons as the first priests, “And they shall have the priesthood as their right for all time.  You shall then ordain Aaron and his sons.” (Ex 29:9)  What follows is a description of the priestly investment.  The priests’  clothes are extraordinary, their ordination rituals are detailed and elaborate.  It’s a solemn celebration.

Tezaveh is also the rare parasha after Exodus in which Moses doesn’t appear at all.  The description of what goes on in building the priesthood goes beyond the travelling troupe in the wilderness – it’s for all time.  The priestly class is what will keep the people together as they enter the Land.  They are the ones that will keep everything Moses said available to the community.  They’re the link to Sinai, bringing the Divine Presence to daily life once Sinai recedes into the past.

Then there’s Pruim – anything but a solemn celebration, and nowhere is God mentioned in the story.  Many commentators have noticed that, and all sorts of interpretations abound. Purim is the story of masks and hiddenness. Even God is hidden, working behind the narrative, like one masked.

The story of Purim plays out in Persia, outside the Land.   From what we can tell,  there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in the population between Jews and non-Jews.  It seems that only when Esther and Mordecai  step forward and identify themselves as Jews, like when Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman,  does anyone around them know.  The assimilated life in the Diaspora.

So where’s God in Purim?  Where’s Moses in Tetzaveh?  How are they at work in the background?  I think they’re both teaching us how to live without them actually present in front of us.  Moses’ teachings will come through the priests, keeping the people together, focusing through the future on the laws and commandments Moses received.  God is hidden in Purim, only holding back so the people can establish for themselves their public identity as Jews.

These days, between Facebook and Instagram, we play out our lives in the public. We are constantly deciding what we want to reveal and what we want to keep hidden.  We have to decide how obvious we want the Divine Presence to be with us, with who we are, how we act, what our lives mean.

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