Tetzaveh 5783 – Shuvah
What do your clothes say about you? Clothing and fashion have been a language and a representation of culture for hundreds of years. The type of dress we choose to wear looks very different in communities all over, and varies depending on your gender identity and expression as well. But can clothes be holy? They can definitely be holey, (thanks to my dad for always inspiring me to make the dad joke!) but we don’t usually think of our clothing as being particularly sacred.
In this week’s parsha, Tetzaveh, God tells Moses to make special clothing for his brother Aaron, the priest:
וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי־קֹדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת׃
Make holy clothing for your brother Aaron, for honor and splendor. (Ex. 28:2)
The priests need special clothes to wear! Why? God says it is for honor and splendor. The Sefat Emet (1847-1905 Poland) notices that this instruction comes right after the instruction for the priests to light the ner tamid, the eternal flame. The oil to light the lamps hints at knowledge and the brain, which should always be pure and clear, and the priestly clothing hints at the body, the container for the soul, which should provide a housing for the soul that is filled with honor and splendor. And these two must go hand in hand! The thoughts in our head and the outward garments should be in line with each other.
We have paragraphs and paragraphs in the Torah about the garb that the priests should be wearing, but for me, one verse from our weekly Torah service supersedes everything else:
כֹּהֲנֶיךָ יִלְבְּשׁוּ־צֶדֶק וַחֲסִידֶיךָ יְרַנֵּנוּ׃
Your priests are clothed in justice, and those who love You sing for joy. (Psalms 132:9)
These words sit buried at the end of the Torah service, right before the most famous lines that we sing every time we return the torah to the ark: Etz chayim hi lamachazikim bah, the Torah is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it. But we skip over these powerful lines that come before it! How do we make the Torah into a tree of life? By heeding this verse – when priests are robed in justice, then those who love You will rejoice.
It turns out that the robes and breastplates and uniforms that the priests are supposed to wear, covered in jewels and gold? Those don’t matter. What matters is for our priests to be robed in justice. What does it mean to wear justice? What would it look like if people could look at our leaders, look at us, and see justice on us? What could the world be like if we could look around and see justice on people’s bodies just as clearly as a pair of pants or a hat? How can each one of us take steps to make it clear that this is what we stand for? That is our aspiration and the hope of this song, Shuvah.
This week, as is sadly so often the case these days, we need this message so much. It’s not about the tzitzit hanging from our clothing. It’s not about the American flag pin on our suits. It’s about our actions and the way we walk in the world. We learn from the prophet Micah,
הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה־טּוֹב וּמָה־יְהֹוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ כִּי אִם־עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶיךָ׃
Gpd has told you, human, what is good, And what is asked of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Kein yehi ratzon, may this be our intention.