Monday, March 4, 2013

You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile - Parashat Vayakhel- Pekudei

  

 The covenant between God and the people of Israel has often been compared to a wedding: "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (Isaiah 62:5) Whenever we finish reading a Book of the Torah, it is a perfect time to reflect on where we have been, and the journey that lies ahead. It is with that blessing, that I dedicate this d'var Torah to my friends Amy Weinstock and Randy Kitchin, on their upcoming marriage.



 It was just Oscar Week Frenzy, and the "Fashion Police" were out.  But this Camp loving Rabbi that prefers sweats over suits, still likes to think that the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart, and all, as they say, that glitters, is not gold.  It reminds me of the story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes”, in which a vain, arrogant emperor—who was quite an average fairy tale ruler that cared too much about his clothing.  One day he heard from 2 swindlers that they would make him the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth.  This cloth, they said, had a special quality that was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position.  They actually wove him an invisible suit, and when the emperor “saw” it, he pretended that he saw its beauty and took to town in the nude.  He allowed himself to be marched thru the streets, never admitting that he was unfit and stupid to see what he was (or wasn’t) wearing.  The Emperor’s obsession with appearance eventually lead to his downfall.
            This week’s Parashat, Vayakhel-Pekudei, recounts the momentous occasion of the completion of the Tabernacle, detailing the courtyard and the Tabernacle before God’s entry.  It also describes the colorful vestments and ornate breastplate the priest is commanded to wear as he presents himself to God.  God expects that Aaron will not fulfill his priestly responsibilities wearing rags, but instead wearing flashy designer apparel.  At first glance, the emphasis on the priestly fashion seems unfitting, for holy tasks ought to value inner beauty and intention over whatever one has on the outside. In fact, according to the Rambam, one of the leading scholars of the Middle Ages, Moses, unlike typical rulers, was uninterested in the self-aggandizement of amassing treasures that would be at his disposal.[1]  Based on the story’s lesson, it is not hard to find the Torah’s emphasis on the priest’s garb somewhat off putting.  Our sages, however, provide the necessary context. Exodus 39:43 tells us: “And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks as the Eternal had commanded, so they had done, Moses blessed them.”  According to 11th Century Commentator, Rashi, Moses blessed the Israelites so that God’s presence would rest on their work[2].  In that blessing Moses did not just confirm the worth of all the Israelites work in laying out the pieces of the Mishkan and crafting the priests’ ornate outer wear, but also affirmed what the purpose of doing it all had been: to serve God.  What mattered more was not the final outcome, but the meticulousness of the Israelites’ efforts to reach it.  The Israelites only received Moses’ blessing because, unlike their indulgence during the Golden Calf episode, here the Israelites used their abundant resources to bring God into their midst as God asked.  Ultimately God wasn’t as concerned with Aaron’s breastplate as with why the Israelites were going to great lengths to beautify it.  Likewise, God doesn’t care what brand name we wear, but rather the attitude with which we wear it, and how else we live our lives.

And we finish another book of the Torah. On to the Book of Leviticus.


[1] Scherman, Rabbi Nosson. “The Chumash: The Stone Edition”.  Mesorah Publications. 2001.
[2] Ibid.

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