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Parashat Tetzaveh

February 26, 2021
14 Adar 5781
Parashat Tetzaveh
Exodus 27:20 - 30:10

Clothes make the man…or at least the office
Dress for success
Make a good first impression
Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak
Wear clothes that matter

Dear Friends,

 This week we are surrounded by powerful descriptive imagery, particularly the garments people wear. This imagery goes beyond the Torah portion Tetzaveh, where we have detailed descriptions of the type and color of fabric used to make the priestly garments. It is also found in Megillat Esther, where in particular Mordechai’s clothing throughout assigns different degrees of status on him. The imagery is laid out for us in the Torah portion and the Biblical story in a way that is not a common occurrence in the way our Biblical story is told. This week we are surrounded by color, opulence, and splendor. Our senses are being engaged in two contrasting settings: the garments and the accessories of the priests, high priest, and the court of Persia.

We come to these two texts after a year hidden behind masks and not paying much attention to our garments as we appear on screen. At the very least, what we are wearing does not have a full impact when seen by others.

Our faces have become all important, both hidden when we venture out and totally revealed as we appear on screen. Have the clothes we wear ceased to matter? My family working in the garment industry would certainly hope this is not the case.

There is so much going on in the story of Purim that it is sometimes hard to keep one's eyes and imagination on only one element. But if we look at Mordechai for just a moment, we read that he is sitting in the courtyard of the palace dressed in nondescript clothing, yet easily recognizable as a Jew by Haman, most likely by what he is wearing. We next see him sitting on the ground covered in ashes wearing sackcloth upon hearing of the king’s decree that the Jews throughout the land be killed. He looks so awful that Esther sends clothes from the palace, knowing that his very appearance will cause him trouble.

We next see him aloft on the king’s white horse arrayed in the king’s garments as he is led through the streets of Shushan being honored by the king. After Haman’s plot is discovered, we read that Mordechai leaves the presence of the king arrayed in robes of blue and white, with a magnificent crown of gold and a mantle of fine linen and purple wool. The Torah tells us that the mixture of wool and linen, except as in this week’s Torah portion, are used for the garments of the priests. In Mordechai’s case, he ends the story wearing clothes that do indeed matter and what he wears tells his story throughout as his status continually changes.

In many ways, Mordechai is the embodiment of the import of outward appearance -- the mask we wear when we present ourselves to the world. And we know when we read the description of the priests arrayed in their robes, they must have made for an impressive sight. Their purpose was to impress the people with a sense of the Divine power.

It is interesting to note that the current Pope has eschewed the traditional luxurious papal outfits, including the designer red shoes worn by his predecessor . He makes for an interesting counterpoint to his predecessors and emphasizes the importance of how what we wear can make a statement of who we are and what we value.

At its simplest level the ability to wear clothes we like makes us feel good about ourselves. But these examples in our texts and in the world around us give us an added benefit of understanding that the choice of what we wish to convey is ours. Our garments have the capacity to tell our story -- the story we wish to share with others and ourselves.

One final note: although we are told that Esther prepares herself to enter the king’s throne room after not being called for in a month, what stands out is not her physical preparations but her spiritual preparations. We are told simply that she put on royal apparel when she went to see the king. This story is a reminder that that too is a mask of sorts. We do not have the details that we have about Mordechai. Esther teaches us that clothes may get us in the door, but they do not have the final say as to who we are and what we have to give to others.

As we celebrate this holiday of Purim and welcome Shabbat, I invite you to think about the many masks we all wear as we go through the world, having just spent a year being more visible to ourselves and one another than ever before.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, April 13 2021 1 Iyyar 5781