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Torah Sparks

March 11, 2006 - 11 Adar 5766

Annual: Ex. 27:20 - 30:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 503; Hertz p. 339)
Triennial: Ex. 28:31 - 29:18 (Etz Hayim p. 508; Hertz p. 342)
Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17 - 19 (Etz Hayim p. 1135; Hertz p. 856)
Haftarah: I Samuel 15:2 - 34 (Etz Hayim, p. 1280; Hertz p. 995)

Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director


This portion continues with the instructions for building the tabernacle, a place of worship, for the desert journey. It begins with the laws about the clothing that Aaron and his sons, the priests, should wear. These include a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, an embroidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle. The breastplate, which contains an array of twelve precious stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, is particularly noticeable.

The High Priest would also carry the urim and tumim, used to prophesize to the children of Israel. The robe the priest wears would be blue. It would be trimmed with pomegranates and little bells, so it would chime whenever the High Priest enters or leaves the Holy of Holies. These clothes must be worn whenever Aaron or his sons come into the holy place to minister to God, in order that they not die. It is to be a statute for all generations.

The second half of the portion deals with the formal dedication of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. A series of offerings is brought before God. The blood of the offering is placed on the right ear, the right thumb, and the right large toe. This symbolizes the fact that the priest must commit to serve God by what he hears, what he does, and where he goes. The dedication is to take seven days. At the end, the law that a burnt offering always must be kept on the altar is given.

It is worth noting that this portion is centered on Aaron and his role. It is the only portion from parashat Shemot through the end of the Torah in which Moses is not mentioned. It is as if Moses has stepped aside for a week to allow his brother to bask in the glory.

Issue #1 - Clothing

"And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother for glory and for beauty" (Exodus 28:2)


  1. Aaron and his sons were commanded to wear special clothing to fulfill their duties. Clothing in the Bible had a powerful symbolic value. Does it still today? How and why?
  2. Young people often wear certain styles of clothing and refuse to wear other perfectly practical, serviceable clothing. What reason could there be for such behavior? Is the choice of clothing really a statement of some sort? Style of dress says something about the person wearing the clothes. Why do youth gangs have a kind of standardized clothes and way of wearing those clothes? Why do we insist on uniforms for certain professions - military, police and sports teams? Do we expect doormen, delivery drivers and the people who work in stores to match? Does clothing create a level of camaraderie? How do clothes affect our attitudes about others? How do clothes affect our view of ourselves?
  3. Synagogue committees and members often argue about what constitutes appropriate clothing to wear in the building or for Sabbath services. Are such dress codes still relevant today? Does asking men to wear a jacket and tie, women to wear a dress or skirt and blouse, lend dignity to the service? How do we react to synagogue dress in Israel, where virtually no men wear ties or jackets? How do community and country affect choice of clothes?
  4. In many communities, public schools are joining with private and parochial schools in requiring that students wear uniform clothes if not uniforms. Is that trend a healthy one? Shouldn't students be allowed to express their individuality through their clothing choices? One argument for uniform posits that a school uniform serves as a kind of equalizer, allowing students from wealthier and poorer families to appear the same. Is that a virtue? According to the Talmud, on the fifteenth of Av (a day when couples were matched), women would trade dresses (so that no woman would be embarrassed lest her clothing reflect her poverty) and dance in the vineyard while the men watched (Taanit 31a). What can this teach us about those who wear expensive clothes to show off their wealth?

Issue #2 - Purim

"Therefore the Jews of the villages, who lived in the unwalled towns, make the 14th day of the month of Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a holiday, and of sending portions one to another" (Esther 9:19)


  1. In many years, including this one, Purim falls in the week following parshat Tetzaveh. This allows our discussion of clothing to include the question of the clothes we wear on that joyous holiday.
  2. On Purim it is customary to wear costumes, and in particular to wear masks. We do not show our real selves on Purim. Why? Do we need to hide part of ourselves to participate fully in the levity of Purim? Is there a deeper message? Must we hide part of ourselves to be free to behave differently?
  3. In general, Judaism forbids a man from dressing like a woman or a woman from dressing like a man (see Deuteronomy 22:5). Why? Does crossdressing undermine the distinction between the sexes? In our modern egalitarian society, where fashion is often unisex, is that prohibition still relevant? Yet on Purim this particular prohibition often is disregarded. Does the ability to crossdress once a year fulfill some deeper human need?
  4. The name Esther is based on the Hebrew root "to cover up" or "to hide." Esther hid her Jewish identity and in the end saved her people. Today we speak of wearing our Judaism proudly. Are there times when it is appropriate to hide our Jewishness?

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