During this week of Parshat Tzav, we also celebrate Purim and read Megillat Esther. How can we bring together these disparate Biblical texts? In Tzav, we conclude our laws and regulations for the inauguration of priests and for our sacrificial offerings. Within the narrative, we are told that special purification rituals need to be adhered to before sacrifices can be made. The priests clothing is discussed along with how the sacrificial meals are consumed, describing rituals associated with dressing and eating, fundamental aspects of our lives.
Within the Purim narrative, we encounter many descriptions of both dressing and eating as fundamental aspects of the story. In the Purim story, there are reversals of fortune demonstrated by reversals in who gets to wear what clothing. When Haman dresses up and parades around town, Haman commands Mordecai to bow down to him. When Mordecai refuses to do so, Haman plots not only to kill him but also his people, the Jews. As a reward for saving the king’s life, Mordecai as well as his horse are dressed in the royal raiment, as Haman is forced to parade them through town. Queen Vashti is asked to dance before the king’s guests with only a crown on her head. When she refuses to do so, she is presumed to be banished or killed. When Queen Esther is primped and dressed for a beauty pageant, she is rewarded by receiving that very crown. Reversals of fortune accompany reversals in clothing.
Yet in our parsha, the priest is told to wear specific clothing. No reversals are evident. Ritual is initiated and upheld — even to this day. When we see the clothing of the Pope, it is exactly as described in the Torah for the high priest’s garb. Clothing represents the sacred and stands for the maintenance of order.
At the beginning of the Megillah, the king’s courtiers are indulging in an endless feast where they are drinking and carousing. Throughout the story, eating becomes symbolic. The feasting represents the loss of control at the beginning. However, when Esther begins her plot to save the Jews, she purifies herself by fasting. Then, she stages two feasts and traps Haman and exposes him to the King as trying to murder Mordecai and Esther, who as members of the Jewish people the King has ordered to be slaughtered. At the beginning of the story feasting undoes the order of the kingdom, and at the end it restores that order.
In our parsha, the sacrifices are the mechanisms for restoring order as well. They represent the ritualized process of seeking forgiveness for transgressions or sins or for offering praise and gratitude or for seeking peace. As their Hebrew name Korbonot suggests, their function is to bring one closer to God. Eating the sacrifices represents the sacred and stands for the maintenance of order.
When we celebrate Purim, we bring into focus the use of both clothes and food as ritual manifestations of the sacred by showing how they represent the establishment of sacred order. Our customs encourage us to drink so much that we cannot tell the difference between Mordecai and Haman, between heroes and villains. Our customs encourage us to dress up in costumes to distinguish us from our everyday selves, to give us the opportunity to go outside our normal roles. At Purim, we are allowed to go outside the established order. Through the process, we understand what the sacred order is and at other times, we strive to adhere to it, to help us become closer to God, to the divine order that holds us as a people through time and space through the understanding of ritual observance and its meaning in our lives.