Torah Reading for Week of February 2 – 8, 2014
Outer and Inner Glory
Tamar Frankiel, Ph.D.
This week’s parsha continues the account of making items for the service in the Mishkan, with the focus now on the garments of the priests. The jeweled apron and breastplate, the layers of clothing, the special head coverings – all these point to the exaltation of the priestly role. The priests are the culmination of the Mishkan.
The whole scene is like the excited preparation for a wedding or special banquet, when we lavish our attention on each piece of clothing, its color and fabric, the harmonious appearance of all the wedding party, the coordinated table settings, the choice of elegant décor. The guests as well as the honored family will anticipate the day for weeks, months in advance, and will celebrate with great joy.
Similarly with the preparation and installation of the priests, which will culminate several weeks from now in our Torah readings. The priests, like a wedding couple, will be filled with anticipation and excitement themselves, while at the same time remembering in humility the service to which they are committed, spending time in devotion and prayer. When they at last step into their garments, the union of humility and glory will be complete.
However, when “the honeymoon is over” and a community moves on to other concerns, the priests’ role may become mundane and the garments feel empty – a process neither uncommon, nor limited to religion.
The “high priests” in a society are not always the religious chiefs; they may be the scientists, the captains of industry, the media moguls, or the sports champions – whomever a society decides are the expression of its success, its cosmic mastery. When they are at the top of their game, they are only slightly lower than heaven. The Academy Awards and the Super Bowl are the celebrations of glory. But then comes the off-season.
As a priesthood declines, some people look for new priests, while others attach themselves to leaders who appear to be outside the standard categories — a wild prophet, a hermit in the forest, a poor, simple workman – “one of us,” or even more radically outside than most of us. This, however, is just changing one image for another.
Our parsha teaches us that these are all humanly created images. In speaking to Moses, whose personal name does not appear in the whole parsha, G-d repeatedly uses the phrase V’atta, “And you. . .” You command, you bring near, you make, you speak, you place it. The unidentified “You” suggests this is a human being, perhaps the generic you, meaning all of us: You create the aesthetic image, you invest it with glory, you bring to yourself the people who will be identified as leaders.
But none of this is sanctified yet. G-d promises that He will sanctify the Mishkan, the altar, the priests, but only after purification through sacrifices. Even that, however, is superseded by a further and, as I read it, overarching promise: “I will dwell among the children of Israel, and be their G-d. They will know that I am the Lord their G-d that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt to dwell among them. I am the Lord their G-d.” (Exod 29:45-46).
We should not be deceived either by the spectacular or the novel, by the elegant or the counter-cultural. Remember that beged, the Hebrew word for garment, also means deception. Outer appearances are no substitute for the Divine indwellling. The “V’atta” comes to identify our great responsibility: And you, seek only to make that sanctuary in which G-d can dwell.