Parshat Tetzaveh: You are What You Wear?

Parshat Teztaveh describes at length the clothing worn by the kohanim. Their garments are called “bigdei kodesh,” holy clothing, worn for “kavod” (honor) and “tifaret” (glory). Why so much emphasis on clothing – a seemingly materialistic thing – worn by the holiest person in Israel? 

The midrash explains that the eight different articles of the high priest’s clothing atoned for the sins of Israel, like the korbanot (sacrifices). The elaborate dress was meant to remind the kohanim of their role as representing all of Israel and help enhance their service of God. Perhaps related to this, Rambam states that one should wear clothing which is neat and presentable during prayer. Conversely, nakedness in Torah represents a spiritual lacking. In Bereshit, Rashi understands Adam and Eve’s realization of their nakedness (after their sin) as meaning they had no mitzvot to be covered with. Nakedness represents vulnerability and a deficiency of mitzvot/goodness. 

Clothing also plays a key role in Megillat Esther. After Haman’s decree, Mordechai goes through the city with kriya, torn clothes. The external tear is representative of his internal grief and suffering. Moreover, Before Esther approaches King Achashverosh in hope of saving the Jewish people, the megilla states: “And it came to pass on the third day Esther wore (malchut) queenliness.” The Talmud asks why the megillah states that she wore “queenliness” and not queenly robes? To teach that she actually wore ruach hakodesh, the holy spirit. Here too, clothing reflects something deeper and more spiritual, as Esther stepped into her destiny and identity as queen and savior.  

These sources highlight the deep connection between outer clothing and one’s inner spiritual state. On Purim too, costumes are meant to enhance the feeling of joy associated with the holiday. After a week filled with too much grief in Israel, may this Purim help us move from darkness to light, from sorrow to joy, inside and out. Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach! – Karen Miller Jackson

Mikdash Habits

“Meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference…” -James Clear

There is one word which stands out at the beginning and end of parshat Tetzaveh: “tamid” (continual). The parsha begins with the command to keep the ner tamid burning continually. After describing the priestly garments, it concludes with the mitzvah of continual daily sacrifice – the korban tamid. The mention of the korban tamid is especially curious here, since the Torah lists all of the different types of korbanot in the book of Bamidbar. What is the significance of framing parshat Tetzaveh with the 2 mitzvot which are considered “tamid”?

Rashi interprets both appearances of the word “tamid” as being daily rituals. Rashi defines “tamid” of the ner tamid as lighting “each and every night.” Regarding the korban tamid, Rashi comments – מיום אל יום – from day to day, without missing a day of sacrifice in between. There is great value placed here on daily practices. The midrash further develops this when it compares the continual lighting of the lamp to daily Torah study, which guides people toward mitzvot, acts of lovingkindness and a life of meaning and shields them from stumbling in the dark, leading to transgressions. 

These interpretations all emphasize that it is the small yet daily practices and rituals – uninterrupted and with continual commitment – which have a big effect on building positive behaviors and spiritual growth. This is also the point made by several modern authors on the advantages of establishing daily habits.

Perhaps, this is the theme which frames parshat Tetzaveh, which precedes the sin of the golden calf. Whether it comes to pre-empt or as the antidote to this great stumbling of the Jewish people, this placement suggests that it is the small yet meaningful daily habits and mitzvot which have the greatest effect on how we live our lives. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson