5783 – Tetzaveh
It says of Purim, “Mi Shenichnas Adar Marbim Simcha”. Yet, Purim is a story where nothing is at it seems to be. It opens with women being demeaned, yet while we see Vashti being humiliated and deposed, by the end of the story Esther has the utmost of the King’s trust, “even half the kingdom” promised to her. We see the conflict of Haman and Mordecai, and in an extraordinary inversion where the gallows built by Haman for Mordecai is the very same on which he and his ten sons are impaled, whereas the reward for the King’s most valued person, designed by Haman to be for him, is instead given to Mordecai. The conflict between Mordecai and Haman on the personal level mirrors that between the Jews and their enemies; the pur determines the date for the destruction of the Jews and their property, yet that very date becomes the one in which the Jews arise to defend themselves and kill 75,000 if their enemy. And finally, the ultimate inversion – this fun and frivolous children’s festival has a deadly serious and genocidal element.
Thus, when the Shabbat before Purim coincides with parasha Tetzaveh, we gain a deeper lesson, as Tetzveh deals extensively with the priestly vestments, their outer clothing, and the Hebrew word for clothing, begadim is related to the word bogdim, which means betrayal. The clothing which covers up the surface may lead to some element of betrayal. Let us follow where this thread leads as we unravel the readings of this week’s combined parasha Tetzaveh/Zachor – Zachor telling of the age-old genocidal war between our people and Amalek.
What is the connection with clothing and betrayal? When we only look at the surface of a matter, we may come to some very wrong conclusions that betray our greatest values. We read the story of Esther superficially and turn it into child’s play. We take it for granted that we have a mitzvah to be at war with Amalek throughout the generations, forgetting that Amalek was the grandson of Esau, Saul a descendant of Jacob, the enmity being traceable to a conflict of twins in the womb. Yet we are taught that each human being is “created in the image of God”, whether Jacob or Esau. And it is a core lesson of Torah tradition that an individual – especially an innocent child – shall not be punished for the sin of another. To not unravel the threads of this week’s teachings leads us to betray our core values.
This week’s teaching of Tetzaveh reminds us of the importance of clothing – it may not just cover matters up, but can also be worn with intention and indication. The clothing of which we hear in this week’s parasha is Bigdei Kodesh – holy clothing, worn by the Cohanim, the priests of our people. The priests remind us of our call to be a “mamlechet kohanim and a goi kadosh”. A kingdom of priests and a holy nation must live as an exemplar – not taking any received traditions for granted when they lead us astray, not allowing the word of God to lead us to God awful behaviour.
Rabbi Jeffrey B. Kamins