Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah–T’tzaveh

What would happen if you were not here? This is an odd question, but … have you ever wondered what the world would be like if you were not here? Jimmy Stewart starred in a movie on this theme. “It’s A Wonderful Life” is, and always will be, one of my favorite movies. It gets dug out and dusted off every year for the winter holidays. Jimmy’s character was having a really tough time, and on the verge of doing something really drastic, met an angel in waiting (Clarence) who helped him see how intimately he shared blessings with so many people. The world would not have been kind, had this person not existed. I do love that movie.

I thought about it as I read this week’s Torah portion. Moses’ name does not appear … at all … in this week’s reading. I had to ask, ok, we know that Moses is there (even if not mentioned), but what is different about this portion? Big deal? I read the text over and over, thinking that it was really boring to read an entire portion dedicated to the adornment of the priesthood. A colleague even suggested that this was a really tough portion from which to pull a relevant and meaningful commentary.

It hit me that I was thinking too hard. The fact is that Moses is gone and we spend the entire portion making a fuss over the priest. With Moses, we get conversation about our behavior, our strengths and weaknesses, and a game plan for Godliness. Without Moses, we feed the ego of a single class of the population, giving them the finest of clothing and jewelry, and a desk layered in pure gold. Even most commentators write about the grandeur of Aaron and his children in their role as priest. It is opulent and excessive.

Elsewhere in the Torah we are told that we are all priests, we are a mamlekhet kohanim … a kingdom of priests. Aaron’s family may be serving us at the altar, but they are not grander than the rest of us … Torah says so. Oddly, this week’s portion is the only one in which there is no reference to Moses (except in Deuteronomy which is Moses’ final discourse… he is speaking). Without Moses, we became focused on the grandeur of a few, forgetting that each of us share in equal dignity. Moses’ role was to transmit the rules of engagement with God. In his absence, we launch into a discussion aggrandizing the separation, ego and adornment of a privileged class.

Our tradition calls Moses, “Moshe Rabbaenu – Moses our teacher.” Specifically, our tradition rejected the notion that there was a privileged priesthood, and the position of Rabbi is not, in any way, intended to reflect the role of the priest. Every adult in a congregation can do everything that a Rabbi does (except weddings which are governed by state law). Most commentators somehow overlook this reality, every time they write about how unique Aaron and his children are amongst us. In some parts of the text, they are set apart, in so many others …and in the evolved Rabbinic tradition, we are all equal.

How many of us have moments when we lose focus on this core value of equality and spend a lot of energy separating people by assessing relative values to one or the other? In truth, this is our normal way of doing things. This is the root of racism, imperialism, corruption of power, and … every societal ill of which we read about through history. I am, in no way, suggesting that Communism, Socialism, or a universal “Kumbaya” is the appropriate answer. I am saying that as we walk through our lives, we need to spend more energy on affirming each other than cowering from perceived power, abdicating our rights to empowerment, or abusing our perceived power at the expense of another. Where we pay attention (i.e. when symbolically Moses is present), we do a much better job of caring for ourselves, our communities and our world. When we live without guidance and without intention, we effectively go into exile from each other, and get lost in our own dogma and own designs. Torah tells us in every situation we face the choice between the blessing and the curse … the life of value, or the death rooted in dissolution. Torah demands, “U’v’kharta bakhayeem … therefore, choose life.”

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Marc A. Kline