Yom Rivii, 19 AdarI 5781
Wednesday, 3 March 2021
Parashat Tetzaveh 2013

Parashat Tetzaveh
Rabbi Charley Baginsky

21 February 2013

This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, sees God appoint Aaron and his sons as priests. Amongst other instructions for the priests they are given explicit instructions about the clothes they are to wear: “Make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for dignity and splendour.” (Exodus 28:2)

It is probably the earliest dictate to a uniform. The Talmud tells us that the clothes were the proper apparel for their service; when they were wearing them they were working and when they were not wearing, the opposite was true: “when their vestments are on them, their priesthood is upon them, when their vestments are not on them, so also is their priesthood not upon them."(Talmud Zevahim 17a).

We all know that the clothes that we wear can indeed help us get into character whether that be for work or for play. Even those of us that do not have a specific uniform for work nevertheless still don clothes when we go to work that we designate as ‘our work clothes’. As we approach Purim many of us will use clothes to get into a more fanciful character for Purim shpiels and parties. My children love the opportunity to pull on fancy dress and transport themselves into a world of fantasy and imagination and I am sure there are many adults who feel the same.

The word for garment in Hebrew is ‘beged’· and shares a root with the word ‘boged’ meaning traitor. The implication, perhaps, is that what we wear can disguise the real person within. This is certainly true on Purim when clothes are used as part of the rigmarole of turning everything on its head. However, is it not also true in our everyday lives. We know that the clothes of the priesthood could not save Nadav and Avihu, who we hear of for the first time in this parasha, from their fate at the hands of the strange fire. It was not inappropriate clothing which finished them, but inappropriate behaviour. We know that clothes tell us nothing very much about the person underneath.

Last week, on February 14th people in 205 countries across the world took to the streets to attempt to raise awareness that one out of three women on the planet will be beaten or raped in their life time, over a billion women experience gender based violence. Sadly as this activitism took place a young woman was killed in South Africa. As there has not been a trial I will make no comment on the manner of her death, rather on the media chosen depiction of her. Several newspapers chose to focus on her clothes, or lack of them, that aspects of her job demanded she wear. One had to search through many articles to actually find anything out about this woman beyond her appearance, many declined to tell us what she was like, where her family was from, that she had a law degree or that she campaigned against violence against women.

The festival of Purim has a sinister side behind the decadence and fun of wine and costume, it is a festival when the world in turned upside down, people walk around in disguise. This should remind us, just as we see in the Torah with Nadav and Avihu, that clothes do not make the (wo)man and we should not join those who assume that they do.