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February 7, 2014

Parashat T’tzaveh

Angela W. Buchdahl

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They say that clothing makes the man. Parashat T’tzaveh seems to agree, in a way. The entirety of chapter 28 – 43 verses – are dedicated to painstaking detail on Aaron’s clothing, his tunics, and elaborate breastplates to be used in his service of God as a priest.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, an eighteenth-century Chasidic master, interprets from chapter 28, the second verse, “Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory” to read “Make sacred garments of your brother Aaron.” Meaning that Moses consecrated his brother Aaron to be a garment for the Holy One. The Bigdei Kodesh, the sacred garments for Aaron, didn’t refer to outer garments Aaron would wear, but rather the sacred garment of Aaron – the capacity of his soul to be a garment for God.

What does it mean for us to be a garment of God? How do you cloak a being that one cannot see, that has no form? My mind turned to an image, probably from a Harry Potter movie, of someone with an invisibility spell, whom we could not see, except when a cloak is thrown over them, and then we can trace their movement through the visible garment. If God is invisible, God needs Aaron, and each of us, to be the garment that allows us to see the presence of God in our midst. It’s as if this garment, or clothing, allows for the definition of an invisible thing to be made manifest and visible in our world.

This parashah is always in close proximity to the holiday of Purim, which begins next Wednesday night. And I am struck by the parallel themes in this holiday of costumes and cloaks, of what is hidden and revealed. The entire holiday plays on what we can see and what is hidden and how clothing and garments allow this interplay. Esther’s very name in Hebrew means “hidden.” And we know her identity is hidden at first-that she conceals her true identity as a Jew and is afraid. But when she wears this crown, and dresses the part of queen, she becomes empowered to reveal herself.

We know that sometimes when we hide behind a mask, it gives us a different freedom to reveal parts of ourselves we aren’t comfortable sharing otherwise. I went to a crazy Macbeth adaptation called Sleep No More in the city where everyone in the “audience” had to wear a mask and walk around. I noticed how differentl I felt and acted when I felt no one knew who I was – how freeing it was. Wearing a costume sometimes allows for greater visibility of our essence.

On Purim, we watch our children dress as a queen, or perhaps as Haman, we always get a handful of princesses and Supermans as well. We see the way that sometimes the costume, rather than concealing our children’s spirit, allows for their inner beauty, their inner devil, their inner superhero to truly emerge, and it empowers them.

We don’t want our children or any of us to feel we have to hide behind a mask, to conceal ourselves in a costume. But this parashah is saying that an outer garment can actually serve to magnify the divine spark within us.

In the verse I quoted earlier, it says “make sacred garments of Aaron kavod ultiferet - for honor and glory.” The garment’s purpose is to bring honor and glory to God’s presence on earth. Ironically, in the Scroll of Esther, read on Purim, those very same words, kavod ultiferet – honor and glory – are also used to describe King Ahashverosh’s kingdom. But for the king, honor and glory describes a shallow kavod ultiferet, a surface-level richness that is materialistic and showy.

Clothing can be a shallow way to judge someone, and we can parade behind fancy clothing to try to be more than we are. But what if the clothing helps us realize that we actually are more than we think we are? Don’t forget – you are a garment of God!

I remember my son on the first Halloween that he could pick out his own costume-when I didn’t just dress him as a pumpkin – and he chose to be Batman. He had on his cape and bat-eye mask, and running across our front lawn in Scarsdale, he said, “Look mom, I can fly.” And I thought, Yes, son, you can. And I wanted him to know that even when he took that costume off, he could be a hero, that he could be courageous, that he could fly.

Aaron put on special clothes so that he could serve God. But what he might not have fully known was that his very soul was the garment for God’s presence in the world. And lest you think this is just for Aaron-don’t forget we are all a kingdom of priests. You too enrobe the divine presence and that sacred garment described in T’tzaveh – we’re already wearing it.