Saturday, March 14, 2015

"Holy Work" - Commentary on Exodus 27:20-28:5 (Tetzaveh) honoring the conversion of a community member - February 28, 2015

“The Israelites shall take for themselves clear oil of beaten olives for lighting for kindling lamps always.”
The first verses in this parashah commanded the Israelites to bring oil for lighting.  What was the light they were asked to provide?  It was a symbol of God’s enduring presence.  The Eitz Chayim commentary points out that “we really don’t see the light itself, but we become aware of the light when other things can been seen. It is the same with God.  We become aware of God’s presence when we see the beauty of the world and when we experience the love and goodness of our fellow human beings. 
“You shall make sacral vestments for Aaron and his sons for dignity and adornment.”
The garments that would be made for the priests, described in the next few verses, were created for honor or dignity - and adornment or beauty.  That description is not supposed to fit only what we wear, but how we act.  Our deeds must reflect honor.  We can choose to add beauty to the community through our generosity of spirit and commiment. 
“You shall speak to all the wise of heart whom I have filled with a spirit of wisdom, that they shall make Aaron’s clothes, to sanctify him to serve me as a priest.” 
Artisans who had a special knowledge - perhaps a special awareness of the light of wisdom from God - were charged to make vestments that would adorn the priests and set them apart.  For us, the tallit is a remnant of all these vestments - we each get to choose the tallit we want to wear, even if we take it from the rack outside.  Every one is a remind of the work we need to do to fulfill God’s commandments and to be God’s hands to improve and repair the world.  Even when we are not wearing any special garment for prayer when we are out in our daily lives, we are called to remember the tradition that has guided us and continues to direct every step of our journey. 
CHOSHEN - The breastpiece of judgment - represents fairness and we could add menschlichkeit!  
V’EPHOD - a long five-colored vest with shoulder straps - such a garment was used to decorate idols in ancient times - in this case, it was intended to show how something holy could also be beautiful and stylish
The M’IL or jacket or robe was, according to the rabbis, intended to discourage gossip and to keep our speech gentle and positive.  
U-CH’TONET TASHBEITZ- The fringed tunic - K’tonet is the same word as that used for Joseph’s coat  - was meant as a symbol of human cooperation and choosing peace over violence. 
MITZNEFET - The headdress was a symbol of the status of the priests, but also of the mindfulness of God’s presence we should have every moment.  The rabbis explained that the headdress would protect the priests from arrogance and keep them humble, reminding them that they are always serving the people and God.  
V’AVNEIT - The sash was not just for ornamentation, but also a way to hold complete the garments of the priest, and to hold everything together, to help them find completeness on the outside and on the inside.  
“You shall make holy vestments.” 
These vestments were called holy - separate, special.   It wasn’t just the priests who were asked to be holy in the Torah.  Each of us is called to be holy as well, through what we do, with the pinnacle of that holiness in action being the teaching in Leviticus Chapter 19 - Love your neighbor as yourself.  

Joining a community is about love - and there is love in this sanctuary today - a love of tradition and heritage, a love of our partners on our common path, and a love of welcome to a new fellow traveler. 

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