Parshat Tetzaveh

Torah Reading for Week of February 21 – February 27, 2010

“The Spiritual Dwells in the Mundane”

by Rabbi Elijah Schochet, PhD
AJRCA Professor of Talmud

The Torah portion for this Sabbath is replete with sartorial splendor.

Aaron, the high priest of Israel, is bidden to wear no less than eight intricately designed and crafted vestments. Biblical commentators proceed to attribute great mystical and spiritual meaning to seven of the eight garments.

The eighth, the meil, or robe, was also most impressive…blue in color with pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet adorning the hem along with an alternating array of 72 golden bells.

However, the Torah provides us with a rationale for the meil that seems decidedly uninspired. What is the function of the robe? To make noise! As the Torah phrases it, “And the sound thereof shall be heard when he goes in unto the holy place before the Lord and when he comes out.”

Strange, is it not? Does G-d need a “Please knock before entering” sign displayed on His sanctuary door? Apparently, yes, for it is a lesson in basic etiquette. A person (high priest included) should announce his/her entrance in advance, prior to entering a room.

A second related important lesson is adduced by Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky. He tells of a young woman who approached Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach desiring to perform an act of great spiritual meaning in memory of her departed husband. Said Rabbi Auerbach, “I understand your need to do something spiritual as a tikkun(uplifting of your husband’s soul)….however, this is my advice to you. Go out and buy some toys for your children, take them to the park and enjoy life with them. Forget the quest for the great spiritual tikkun and help your children rejoice in life. This will bring the greatest tikkun for your husband.”

What do these two occurrences have in common? What is the teaching that they seek to impart to us? Perhaps it is the lesson of a simple prosaic truth. The bells on the high priest’s hem are a reminder of the importance of simple courtesy even when engaged in spiritual activities. The advice to the widow declares that holiness is also inherent in rejoicing in the simple pleasures of life. In other words, in our search for the spiritual and mystical it is imperative never to neglect elemental deeds of kindness.

“G-d dwells in details” is a statement attributed to Goethe, to which we may add “the spiritual dwells in the mundane.”

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