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

“And [the priestly garments] shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in the Tent of Meeting, or when they come near to the Altar to minister in the holy place, that they bear not iniquity and die.” (28:43)

I am not sure, but I think that this text says that if one wears the priestly garb, he/she is guilt-free. Gosh, I wish it was that simple! So, as long as a minister has a collar, a Rabbi has a tallit, a Moslem a thobe, or a Sikh a turban, etc. we are all good? I don’t think that is how it works. We know of so many abusive clergy throughout history. OF course, then there was the colleague convicted of having his wife killed. He wanted leniency at sentencing … because he was clergy.

As with all of Torah, I think that the text is a metaphor – an opening for allegory: especially given its proximity this week to the holiday of Purim.

Clothes are masks. They cover us and conceal our flaws. At the same time, they allow us a free and creative expression in ways that our birthday suits would not allow. For many of us, clothes need to be functional and practical to protect us and help us accomplish our daily tasks. For others, Clothing makes statements about our personalities (and each of us has many). We may wear jeans during the day, as we look to be more functional, and a tuxedo or gown at night for a host of other reasons. For some, any label is good, while for others only certain named labels qualify as appropriate wear. Sometimes our discriminating tastes root in the quality of the garment’s construction. Other times, we are tied in only to the status that the fashion label may help us achieve. Most often, though, our clothing choices tell people volumes about who we are and who we aspire to be.

Sometimes, though, the clothes are simply masks that change based on the roles we play at any given time of the day. I am most at home in jeans, but I own my share of suits. The text above speaks to the role we play fulfilling our cleric responsibilities. We are not always saints, but we do have an obligation when in the role of clergy. We must remember that a community trusts us to serve. No room exists for personal desires or ego at the expense of anyone’s need. One should not wear the priestly garb if one is relatively speaking, unwilling to be selfless in service. The text is more an admonition than a statement of reality – this “uniform of dignity” speaks to how we should behave.

The full truth gets even tougher. Torah tells us that we are a mamlekhet kohanim – a kingdom of priests. The text speaks not just to those in authority and power (who, of course, need to heed this admonition), but also to each of us. Each of us has the power to heal and destroy relationships. The admonition to wear our “uniform of dignity” should be a 24 hour a day call to care for the well-being of others. While the text says that we must wear them when serving God, I would maintain that we are always supposed to be aware of our service to God. Whatever masks we wear in any given setting, we must own this obligation all the time. Whether we are in a house of worship, restaurant, grocery store, mechanic’s workshop, athletic field, or in our homes, we stand before the source of truth in every setting. This commitment to integrity and compassion are the clothes that we wear. Whether or not we own this obligation is completely within our power to decide. My prayer is that we always choose the blessing. Shabbat Shalom.