If Vayachel is the “Home Depot” parasha, which comes in a couple of weeks, then Tetzaveh is the “Project Runway” parasha. It’s all about Aaron and his sons, how they begin to don the clothing of the Priesthood. A new class of people is being created in this parasha, the high priests, who will take on the tasks and responsibilities of the ritual life of the Israelites. This is a commandment for all time, and the details of the robes, hats, layers, accoutrements take up the entire parasha. No detail is too small, right down to the bells sewn into their robes, so all will know when they approach.
The priests are holy, separate, and they must prepare for their daily tasks with great care and attention to purity. Later in the Torah, we read a great deal about the use of water and its purification qualities. But water isn’t here, the rare gift of water in the wilderness is nowhere in the purifying process.
Instead, the priests are vested with blood and oil: “Slaughter the ram and take some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear and the ridges of his sons’ right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet….take some of the anointing oil and sprinkle upon Aaron and his vestments and also upon his sons and his sons’ vestments. Thus shall he and his vestments be holy, as well as his sons and his son’s vestments.” (Exodus 29:19-21)
Water is clear. Blood and oil are viscous, sticky. Water washes things away. Blood and oil seal and protect, like barriers. These liquids are indeed priestly protection from the sins of the people. This will be their job – to take on the mistakes of the people, and be in their stead before God. It’s a dangerous job. We read later just how dangerous it is, when two of Aaron’s sons are killed in the holiest place for their misdeeds. No one but Moses gets that close to God, and the priests’ place in the small Tabernacle, acting on the people’s behalf, is pretty risky.
What do we use to protect ourselves from dangers? Pick your metaphor – layers or walls –we figure out ways to keep pain out, but the obvious flip side is that those barriers keep joy from seeping in, too. When do we need water and when do we need oil? When do we want to wash pain away and start anew, and when do we need protection and sealants?