My parsha, Parshat Tzav, is about the various rituals that Aaron and his sons went through to become Kohanim, also known as priests. It gives many specifics on what sacrifices were to be offered, when, and how. It tells the blessings that were said before the altar while the sacrifices were offered, and it goes with meticulous detail into what the Kohanim were to wear while helping people bring their sacrifices.
So I ask, why these particular clothes? I think of these sacrifices as special meals for G*d. When I go to a restaurant, I tell the waiter how I want my food. If I am ordering steak, I tell them specifically that I would like it medium rare with extra salt. I also would not appreciate it if the waiter was not being polite. So I understand why G*d would want His offerings prepared a special way and why He would want the Kohanim to say specific things. But I could not care less if my waiter was wearing a tux or a t-shirt under an apron. So why does G*d care so much about what the Kohanim are wearing?!
So let’s see what these special clothes are. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Priest_(Judaism)#His_vestments):
The Kohen Gadol wore eight holy garments (bigdei kodesh). Of these, four were of the same type worn by all Kohanim, and four were unique to the Kohen Gadol.Those vestments which were common to all Kohanim, were:
Priestly undergarments (like breeches): linen pants reaching from the waist to the knees
a Priestly tunic: made of pure linen, covering the entire body from the neck to the feet, with sleeves reaching to the wrists. The one the Kohen Gadol wore was embroidered, but the tunics the regular Kohanim wore were plain.
a Priestly sash: the one the Kohen Gadol wore was made of fine linen with embroidery in blue and purple and red; the sashes the other Kohanim wore were made of white, twined linen rope.
a Priestly turban: the Kohen Gadol’s was much larger than the turbans that the priests wore and wound so that it formed a broad, flat-topped turban; that for regular Kohanim was wound so that it formed a cone-shaped turban, called a migbahat.
The vestments that were unique to the Kohen Gadol were:
a Priestly robe: a sleeveless, blue robe, the lower hem of which was fringed with small golden bells alternating with pomegranate-shaped tassels in blue, purple, and red
the Ephod: a richly embroidered vest or apron with two onyx engraved gemstones on the shoulders, on which were engraved the names of the tribes of Israel
and the Priestly breastplate: with twelve gems, each engraved with the name of one of the tribes; a pouch in which he probably carried the Urim and Thummim. It was fastened to the EphodOn the front of the turban was a golden plate inscribed with the words: "Holiness unto G*d" was attached to the mitznefet.
Even after reading about the clothes that the Kohanim wore, nothing spoke to me. So I employed a technique I learned from my second grade teacher. I closed my eyes, and I didn’t just imagine the temple, I WENT to the temple. I carried my sacrifice up temple rock. All around me, men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor, of all different tribes, united as one as they, no as we, all came to Jerusalem to give our sacrifices to G*d at the temple. Some were driving cattle, while others carried no more than a small bag of flour, but we were still together in this. When we got to the top, there were the Kohanim, servants of the Lord, lead by the Kohen Gadol. The way they stood, humbly and majestically all at the same time, it moved me. The sun flashed over the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate, with a stone for each tribe, and I understood. When I left my daydream, I realised. The Kohanim, the temple, they were not waiters at a restaurant. The were Israel. Although we were all from different tribes, we went to the same temple, were served by the same Kohanim. The Kohanim unified us. They helped us to connect to G*d. Just as we were unified at the temple, so were the Kohanim. Outside the temple, without their clothes, they were just like us, part of the People of Israel. But when they donned their matching robes, they were so much more.
Nowadays we are so much more diverse than the 12 tribes. We are literally spread across the globe, and we don’t have the Kohanim any more to unify us. But in a way we still have the Temple. The Temple was never just a building, just as the Kohanim were never just men. The Temple was a feeling, a movement. It was less the stones than the people and the rituals that were carried out within it. When I went to the Western Wall in Israel a few years ago, I had that feeling. The crowd of people were the movement, and became the ritual. Although our people were still as many and as diverse as the grains in the sand, I had a lingering sensation. A feeling that our people once were, and someday will be again, connected. United in Israel, all bringing sacrifices to the same temple, with help from the same, identically dressed Kohanim. That’s not to say that I want to go back to giving animal sacrifices. Things change, and I don’t believe that our society would ever want to go back to the old tradition of sacrificing our poor innocent animals. When we were first created, G*d gave us the garden of eden, where we lived in harmony with the other creatures of the earth, and we were all vegetarians. Today, instead of sacrifices, we sing prayers up to G*d. When the temple is rebuilt, I believe that all sacrifices will be either of the soil, or of our tongues. What matters isn’t WHAT we sacrifice, but how we sacrifice it.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Torah Connection - Tzav
I will cheat a bit. For Parshat Tzav, I will shamelessly post my daughter's Dvar from her Bat-Mitzvah 2 weeks ago (leaving out any identifying details, of course). I'm just that proud of her!