Dressing for Service
Parashat Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:20–30:10
by Michael Hillel, Netanya, Israel
This week is Shabbat Zachor, the week immediately preceding Purim. In honor of the special Shabbat, the maftir (additional reading) is taken from Deuteronomy 25:17–19, which describes the attack of Amalek. Before we consider the maftir’s connection to Purim, however, let’s turn to the parashah itself.
Tetzaveh continues the instructions for the use of the terumah offering collected in last week’s parashah, specifically the oil for the menorah whose light was to burn continually, and the vestments and garments of Aaron, his sons, and his descendants. After this, Aaron, his sons, and the altar of burnt offerings are consecrated, and the regulations concerning the altar of incense are given.
A good friend writes, “Clothing is a prominent theme throughout the Bible” (Keren Hannah Pryor, A Taste of the Torah [Marshfield, MO: FFOZ, 2016] 100). Clothing is significant throughout Scripture, from the clothes God designed for Adam and Chavah in the Garden (Gen 3:21), to the wedding gown of the bride for her marriage to the Lamb (Rev 19:8). At times it provides covering against the elements, and at other times it serves as a symbol of rank or status. Using the imagery of clothing, the Psalmist describes Hashem as the one who is “robed in majesty! Adonai has robed and armed Himself with strength” (Ps 93:1). Isaiah, in his vision, saw Hashem, “sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the Temple” (Isa 6:1). This week’s parashah spends a substantial amount of time, 39 verses in total, describing in intricate detail the garments and vestments of Aaron, his sons, and their descendants (28:4–42). The next verse tells us the reason for such detailed information:
They [the garments and vestments] are to be worn by Aaron and his sons when they go into the Tent of Meeting or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not become subject to guilt and die. It is to be a statute forever, to him and to his offspring after him. (Ex 28:43)
Practically, these garments set apart Aaron, his sons, and his descendants from the people of Israel. They were protection for them as they ministered on behalf of the people. This protective aspect of the priestly garments is reminiscent of the full armor of God that Rav Shaul encouraged the believers in Ephesus, as well as us today, to wear continually (Eph 6:10–18).
But being set apart and protected were not the only reasons for the special priestly clothing. As the parashah begins to wind down we read the words of Hashem,
“So I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar. I will also sanctify Aaron and his sons to minister to Me as kohanim. So I will dwell among Bnei-Yisrael and be their God. Then they will know that I am Adonai their God, who brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, so that I may live among them. I am Adonai their God.” (Ex 29:42–46)
These closing words bring us back to the beginning of last week’s parashah, “Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them” (Ex 25:8), as well as to the first words of the Decalogue, “I am Adonai your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20:2). The ultimate goal for the Exodus, for the Mishkan, and for the Covenant itself is restoration of Hashem’s fellowship and communion with his people, Israel.
That which was lost in the Garden is being restored, first in relationship to Israel and then through Israel to the entire world. We proclaim this goal each time we recite the Aleinu at the close of every service:
All the world’s inhabitants will realize and know that to You (Adonai) every knee must bow and every tongue swear loyalty. . . . And then it is said, Adonai will then be King over all the earth. In that day Adonai will be Echad and His Name Echad (Zech 14:9).
In that day, all the peoples of the earth will come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, Adonai-Tzva’ot. The fellowship and relationship of the Garden will be restored, and the culmination of creation will be recognized through the agency of Messiah Yeshua, as it is written, “at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue profess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord—to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10–11).
Beginning the eve of February 28 this year, we celebrate Purim as commanded by Mordecai the Jew by the permission of King Ahasuerus (Est 9:20–22). In the special maftir this Shabbat, we read how Israel was commanded to remember the evil perpetrated against them by Amalek as they came out of Egypt (Deut 25:17–19). King Saul was commanded to eradicate the Amalekites, but sadly, he did not do as he was told (1 Sam 15:2–3). His actions not only affected him, his family (he forfeited his dynasty), and his generation, but they also laid the groundwork for the episode recorded in the book of Esther. Haman, who sought to destroy the Jewish people is identified as “son of Hammedatha the Agagite—enemy of the Jews” (Est 3:10). Agag was the king of the Amalekites, whom King Saul spared.
Let us learn from this week’s parashah that just as Aaron and his sons had to be properly attired to minister before Hashem (Ex 28:1-2), we too need to be properly attired as encouraged by Rav Shaul, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you are able to stand” (Eph 6:11), not only against the schemes of the evil one, but more so that we too may minister before the LORD in whatever capacity He chooses for us.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.