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Parshat Tetzaveh

By: Mrs Leora Bednarsh

This week’s parshah places great emphasis on externals, on the physical attributes not only of the kelim of the Mishkan, but on the appearance of the Kohanim who are to serve in the Mishkan.  Almost forty pesukim verses) speak exclusively of clothing.  Is it really that important what the Kohanim wear?  Why such emphasis on external detail – isn’t what really matters the internal qualities and motivations of those who approach Hashem?  What’s more, the bigdei kehunah are apparently so important that a Kohen who serves without them suffers the death penalty; since he is not considered a Kohen without his distinguishing garments, it is as if a stranger entered the Mishkan! Why such an emphasis on the apparently superficial?


Nechama Leibowitz quotes the German commentator Benno Jacob as saying that dress is one of the defining characteristics of humanity.  All other defining aspects of civilization and culture were devised by man himself: kindling fire, working the land, and building homes and cities. Dress, on the other hand, was not only invented by Hashem, but He literally dressed Adam and Chava, as it says in Bereshit 3:21, “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.”  Why did Hashem single this aspect out to perform personally?  I believe that this is to show that we are not simply bodies, like the animals; we have souls, which our bodies house.  By covering our bodies, Hashem teaches us that our physical bodies do not define us, that they are not our essence.  We cover our bodies to remind us that we are far more than flesh.


Benno Jacob uses this insight to explain the pasuk in the beginning of our parshah (28:2): “Thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendor and for beauty,” "Le-khavod u-li-tiferet.  Hashem dressed Adam and Chavah and thereby anointed them in their duty as the parents of human civilization.  A Kohen, who represents Am Yisrael when he approaches Hashem, must exemplify the highest level of humanity, and therefore dresses in the garments that Hashem has prepared for him in such detail in our parshah.


When we get dressed every morning, selecting what to put on, we should reflect on the fact that we are thereby expressing our very humanity.  Nudity and immodesty are animal behaviors.  We cover our bodies to show that they do not define us, but serve us.  The mere fact that we get dressed is the honor and glory of humanity.  We cover our bodies so that our souls will shine. 




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