These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on March 2, 2012 by Barer

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This week’s parsha deals exclusively with the intricacies involved in creating the garments to be worn by the priests, specifically the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest.  Most of the traditional commentators are nearly silent for much of the parsha, which is not extremely surprising, as many of them saw their aim as being elucidating the text, rather than trying to find larger messages in the very presence of a certain issue in the text.  Unlike those commentaries, however, the issue I am interested in when reading a parsha like this is: why would a text deemed to be the word of God, and venerated as sacred for thousands of years, have seen it as necessary to include so much detail about the clothes worn in religious ritual?  Granted, the same question could be asked of the previous parsha, dealing with the building materials of the mishkan (Tabernacle), as well as the last two in the Book of Shmot (Exodus), which repeats much of those instructions.  So consider this a question posed to much of the latter half of the book as a whole.  As compared to the Torah thus far (in the yearly cycle), the messages to be derived here are murky at best.  Bereishit (Genesis) and Shmot till the Ten Commandments consist of a narrative full of potential lessons to be learned, and the following parsha deals with important laws of interpersonal relationships, necessary for any emerging society.  What do we learn, however, from a text telling us how much silk should be in the priestly headband?  I would like to hesitantly suggest that such a focus on detail, taking up more space in the text than it ought to deserve, can teach us about communal meaning.  The details of the priestly garments represent the energies invested in the Priesthood by the early Israelites, documented by the fact that all of the materials were donated (even if there was a commandment to give, Shmot 25:2), and even more so by the inclusion of such detail (and repetition in Vayakhel and Pekudei) in the communities holy text.  Rather than focus on the specific content of this communal meaning, consider instead the form: the Israelites came together and dedicated themselves to one thing above all: service of God, which, in those times, centered around ceremonies officiated by priests.  While the world seems to be getting smaller and smaller, the number of ‘significant’ differences we all find amongst each other seems to grow in tandem.  Maybe these parshiyot can teach us to strive to see the common ground we all share, and to pursue communal projects accordingly.

All of us, right here

Have common goals, dreams, and hopes;

Forget difference