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Parashat T’tzaveh (Exodus 27:30-30:10)

“I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and I will
consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests.” (Exodus 29:44)

Parashat T’tzaveh concludes the instructions for building the mishkan (Tabernacle) and then describes in equal detail the bigdei kodesh, or sacred garments, Aaron will wear as kohen gadol, or High Priest: breastplate, ephod (apron), robe, tunic, turban, and sash (Ex. 28:4), pants and head-plate (Ex. 28: 42, 36). They are quite sumptuous, decorated with gemstones, bells, and fringes. This finery is not intended for Aaron’s glory; it reflects the sanctity of his work. Hidden within the fashion design is an important statement about leadership and community.

The ephod includes two shoulder straps, each one topped with a gemstone in a gold frame. The names of the twelve tribes are engraved on the two stones, six tribes to a stone (Ex. 28:9-10). The choshen mishpat, or breastplate of judgement, includes four rows of three gemstones. This time, each tribe gets its own stone (Ex. 28:17-21).

Since the kohen gadol offers sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people, the gemstones on the ephod’s straps give tangible expression to the communal burden Aaron bears: he literally carries the community on his shoulders. Rabbi Chaim Tirar of Tchernovitz (1760-1817; disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch and a Chassidic rebbe) describes it like, “…a father carrying a young child on his shoulders.” The twelve stones on the choshen sit over Aaron’s heart and amplify this touching image. They remind Aaron to search his heart (as well as the Torah) when making religious rulings (Midrash Tanchuma Exodus 27). They also remind him to never forget the community is made up of individuals. You cannot lead the one without serving the other.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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