Rabbi Elkin's Shabbat Message - February 23, 2023

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Rabbi Elkin's Shabbat Message - February 23, 2023

This week in the secular, entertainment calendar, we find ourselves right in the middle of the most holy season: award season. And of course award season includes endless red carpets and the striking fashion that comes along with it. As celebrities make their way down the red carpet, some looks will become iconic, some fine but unmemorable, and some declared to be the worst. In the Torah portion this week, the High Priest and his fabulous ensemble are not to be outdone.

As the Torah portion last week described the design and construction of Mishkan, the Tabernacle for God to dwell among the Israelites, this week in Tetzaveh we hear about the people who will serve within it. God delivers instruction to Moses on how to consecrate Aaron as High Priest, and his sons as lower priests alongside him. As High Priest, Aaron takes on the most sacred and significant role, serving as the direct facilitator between God and the Jewish people. Though Moses is God’s prophet and delivers messages to the Israelites, the Israelites engage with God through the prayers and sacrifices carried out by Aaron and his sons.

In order to take on this role, Aaron undergoes a detailed ritual of washing, anointing, sacrifices, and special clothing. The description of the clothing in Exodus 28 goes on with great detail: robes, turbans, aprons, undergarments, and breastplate, each item made from particular cloth, color, metal, and precious stones. The final piece of the ensemble is a head plate that is strung across Aaron’s forehead that reads, “Holy to God,” referring to the Jewish people and our special relationship with God, and he is instructed to always wear it (Exodus 28: 36-38).

The rituals and garments of Aaron’s ordination are soaked in symbolism and religious power. The whole outfit dresses Aaron head to toe in sacred purpose, the unique path that he walks and the responsibilities that he holds. The forehead plate has a particular role for Aaron as he goes about his work. The rabbis in the Talmud discuss the significance of the instruction that the High Priest “always” wear the plate, and they explain that he wears it so that he should never be distracted as he serves God and the Jewish people (Yoma 7b). Given how high-stakes the High Priest’s job is, I would certainly hope that he never got distracted!

As over-the-top, even bordering on absurd, the priestly garments and accessories might sound to us, I think there is an important message for us today. With these clothes and the forehead plate that he always wears, Aaron would never become distracted from his path, his goals, his mission and purpose in life. As we go through our busy weeks and lives, we often become distracted and turn off course from our true purpose and mission. Whatever our personal goals are, we can easily lose sight of where we want to be headed. And so if we had a forehead plate, a sacred headband of sorts, with our mission printed that we wore at all times, we would be more likely to remember those important, sacred things.

If you had your own forehead plate, what would be printed on it? What is the motto that would keep you on course for your sacred purpose? Whatever that message is for each of us, we could all use a reminder from time to time to be the most focused, determined, best versions of ourselves. As we enter into this Shabbat, may we pause to reflect on what our most sacred purpose and path is, and find the resilience and focus to pursue it into the coming week.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Hannah Elkin