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Robes and responsibilities



This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, conveys that each person has a role in perfecting this world, and should be allowed to perform in the areas in which they shine. This way, we’re following Hashem’s plan as set out in the Torah.

Tetzaveh is the only portion from the beginning of the book of Exodus onwards where Moses’ name is never mentioned. Rather, it focuses on Aaron, the clothing he and his sons will wear, and his dedication to the priesthood. It’s as if Moses deliberately stepped back and let his brother have the glory. Later, the Midrash will comment on this. “Who are the brothers the Psalmist referred to when it said, ‘Here is what is good and what is pleasant, for brothers to dwell together’?” (Psalms 133:1).

Moses and Aaron honoured one another. Moses took the kingship, and Aaron the priesthood, and they didn’t hate one another. Rather, each was proud of the greatness of the other. In today’s times, we can learn from these brothers. Each of us has a small part to play in perfecting this world, just as we meet other people who have their own small parts. Often, these other people can do the parts we cannot do. Like Moses, each of us needs to step aside and allow the other to do their part. As we say in our daily prayers, together we will be able to perfect this world as a kingdom of G-d.

In Tetzaveh, we learn about G-d appointing Aaron and his sons as priests. There’s a detailed description of the priestly clothing and an explanation of how to properly sanctify the priests. Aaron is commanded to make incense offerings to G-d every morning on an altar. G-d explains that once a year, Aaron will make an offering on that altar to atone for all of the Israelites’ sins.

While the Israelites were in Sinai and built the sacred space, initiating the worship of the covenant, so too were individuals inducted for sacred worship. They had to wear specially made and consecrated garments. They were simple, but as time passed, we could see more decorations on them. The garment had the robe, tie, breastplate, and mitre complete with bells. Those are the bells that we see on our Torah scrolls during the our services and festivals.

Rabbi Robert Jacobs once pointed out an interesting observation to me. “Note that the tzitziot – the fringes that have become part of the traditional Jewish outfit – weren’t mentioned in the text.”

Different commentators explain that special clothes distinguish a priest from the people and serve as a constant reminder to them of his sacred duties and responsibilities. The beauty and distinction of the priest’s clothes also remind them of the significance of the job they do for G-d and the people, intimating that what a person wears matters. Aaron and his sons needed to be as holy as the clothes they wore in order to fulfil their responsibilities as priests. And while we may find it fun at times to dress differently than we normally do to project a certain image, we must always remember the core essence of who we are and how best to represent and fulfil the roles that we have accepted in life.

Having said that, I feel that while a certain uniform or costume identifies a person’s role, it’s who a person is underneath the clothing that’s the most important, don’t you?

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