Three things to talk about here. First, let’s talk about clothes…what they communicate about who you are, what your life is about, and what you think of yourself and the world around you. And RuPaul. Then we’ll talk about a tent in the wilderness. And after that, Starbucks, sacred ritual, and how we’re basically living the same lives we were living thousands of years ago.
Let’s do this!
Holy Drag Queens
What a person wears says a lot about who they are, and what they represent. A cheap suit means an attempt to be upwardly mobile, in a tasteless way. A military uniform commands power from civilians, or shows rank among the troops. We can see a person’s lot in life from what they wear, and of course, how they wear it. The clothes don’t make the man, but in a way, they do.
Once upon a time we had these priests called the Kohanim, and yowzah, they had some drag man. The priestly vestments contain several “clues” as to the way in which a priest was to be understood in relation to the community: the mixing of linen and wool (shatnez) and the blend of crimson, purple and blue with gold interlaced.
First, the mixing of wool and linen must be addressed, because it’s really, really, really strange (then again, so is most of the Bible, so shocker, eh?) The commandment for the high priest to mix wool and linen comes before the prohibition of shatnez. This is arbitrary at first glance. Perhaps wool and linen represent two seasons that are not supposed to be mixed together, reflecting how the ancient Israelites thought of God as the maker of a world of opposites: light/dark, land/sky, sky/water, winter/summer, etc. Another possibility could come from a later prohibition on cross-dressing.
Parshah Tetzaveh is important to me because it’s the first Torah portion I ever drashed on for PunkTorah. And while I could say that the “fourth time is a charm”, I felt that this week it would be overkill to make an entire Torah Video Mashup, when instead, I could simply show you my favorite Tetzaveh, which I wrote and narrated for my friends Sarah Lefton and Matthue Roth at G-dCast.com
Four years is a long time to be shlepping Judaism on the internet, and if PunkTorah is as meaningful to you as it is to me, I hope you will give a generous donation.
aka Atlanta’s Best Dressed Jewish Punk (which is a lie)
So after all that work we heard about in last week’s haftorah building the Temple (with the throngs of 80,000 men, 3,300 managers, and tons of stone and lumber), we find Ezekiel describing his vision of the third Holy Temple and dedication.
Third!? Wait, what?
Solomon’s Temple (the First Temple, or Holy Temple, in ancient Jerusalem on the Temple Mount ) that we heard about last week, was purportedly sieged by the Babylonians around 587 BCE. Rabbinic literature suggests this temple stood just over 400 years, which would put it between 832-422 BCE (later than secular estimates). The exact history is murky between biblical accounts and archaeological inferences, not in any small part due to the lack of permitted archaeological excavations of the Temple Mount in modern times.
A Second Temple, about 516 BCE to 70 CE followed the return of the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem under a decree from Cyrus the [Read more…]
We’re dealing with the rules of the priestly clothing: an epic dress code that involves crimson and gold, linen and wool, a tunic, sash, and robe. What you have to remember is that there isn’t an H&M in the deserts of the Biblical Middle East, so making garments like this was a serious undertaking. It was worth it, because the priests served a pretty heavy function, creating a sacred space for the lay person to make sacrifices to G-d. Parshat Tetzaveh is interesting because it reflects the same idea as last week’s Torah portion, Parshat Terumah. Terumah instructs the Hebrews to build a Tabernacle that is just as labor intensive as Tetzaveh’s Priestly Makeover. It’s like G-d wants the priests to look like the Tabernacle! And by dressing like the place of worship, the priests become a part of it. Seems vain, but it’s an important part of human nature.
What we wear can actually change our personality.
The best example I can give is of a friend of mine*. When I first met her, she wore a headscarf (common among married Orthodox women) and some kind of funny Jewish tee shirt everywhere she went. She wasn’t Orthodox, but she liked the idea of modesty and being a physical example of Orthodox Jewish feminism. One day, I went over to her house and noticed she was wearing jeans, a plain shirt, and didn’t have her head covered. I assumed it was because she was in her own house and didn’t care. But later, she began acting really strange. She wasn’t her usual, upbeat self. In fact, she was miserable. I asked her several days later about it, and she said that she was going through a spiritual crisis and couldn’t bring herself to wear all that Jewish clothing. She felt fake in them. Several weeks later, she and her family came over to my house for Shabbat, and she was smiling, laughing, and being her usual self. She was also wearing her outfit again. In private she said, “I just needed to put the uniform back on. I needed to force myself. And when I did, I was able to get back into G-d.” Tetzaveh shows our weakness toward aesthetics: our need to “play dress up” and see those in power over us looking nicer than us. But the great thing about the Torah is that it focuses these human needs in the right direction. If you’re going to look up to someone for the way they dress, they better be serving a great function in the community. Hence, the priests and their garments. It’s a heck of a lot better to look up at someone who looks awesome and is awesome, than to look up to a well dressed jerk. Lord knows that, and that’s why we have Parshat Tetzaveh.
*This is a dramatization, to protect the innocent.