One Book We Judge By Its Cover
“Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest.” (Exodus 28:3)
In Exodus, we read forty verses that offer intricate details regarding the clothes that Aaron and his sons must wear to serve as priests.
And these clothes are not just for show. We find out that Aaron’s headdress will allow him to take away any sin from the Israelite people and that the breastplate over his heart holds the ‘mishpat Bnei Yisrael’ – the instrument that Rashi says decides for the Israelites what to do or what not to do.
The priests’ dress purposefully set them apart from the community. It was their job to give sacrifices and be the connection between the people and God.
But what of Moses – the community builder and teacher of Torah, who is there for all the Israelites’ celebrations and anxieties? What did he wear? We do not know. Nor do we know what the rest of the Israelite people wore. Perhaps, we can assume that Moses wore the same clothes as the community.
If Moses were to have worn the same garish clothing of the priests, he might not have been able to have had the ‘on the ground’ impact with the Israelites that he needed to.
In an age without the Temple, it is not priests but rabbis, cantors and lay leaders who lead our communities, and like Moses, they do not wear the priestly clothes detailed in these chapters of Exodus.
Instead, with the absence of the Temple and sacrifice, our Torah becomes the central connection to God and ritual practice. Therefore, it is the Torah that wears the clothes of the priest. It has been a long time since we’ve been able to be together, take the Torah from the ark and parade it around the community but thanks to technology, we got a glimpse of the text during our High Holy Day services.
Over these months of separation, we have also learned that it’s the words of the text and the community who live them and come together to bring them to life that gives us that connection to God, spirituality and ritual practice.
Rabbi Anna Posner