Tetzaveh by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Parsha Tetzaveh - Dvar Torah

Tetzaveh (תצוה)
Torah Portion: Exodus 27:20 – 30:10
Haftarah: Shabbat Zachor / I Samuel 15:2 – 15:34

Call me Aaron ben Amram v’Yocheved. The Kohen Gadol? Yes, I am; I admit it; I am the High Priest. But, before that, I was the middle child, born following Miriam, my sister, the Bechorah, the First-Born, the Passed-Over One, the Dancer-and-Singer, the Poet-Prophetess. She has many talents, but all the men ignore her, while the women consider her their leader….

And then, there is my baby brother, Moses—he is the Climber, the Mounter-to-the-Skies, who alone ascended Sinai’s lofty peaks (though it’s not much of a tall mountain, really), and there, brought down the Stone Tablets written by God. Moses alone judges, prophesies, leads, punishes; his power is absolute. Do I envy him? I wonder….

While I, Aaron, the High Priest, the Holy Man of God, day after endless day, burn Offerings in the Holy Sanctuary: sheep, goats, cows; doves—by the Plagues of Egypt, it never ends!—and wait for the Holy Light to appear over the smoke and flames of the raw, dripping meat. I and my Levite Crew, my Sons Nadav and Avihu among them, slaughter, dress, and stretch out, bloody limb after bloody limb, on the brass-and-copper Altar we are commanded to serve. Endless rows of bloody meat, as sacrificial offerings, offerings, offerings….

Ah, God! When will it end? The ashes coat my robes and my throat; I cough endlessly.

To what Purpose? Why, the Highest: to convey the People’s prayers to God, and to cover up sins: adultery, theft, suspicion, anger, covetousness; jealousy, ritual uncleanliness, consuming unkosher foods… again, it never ends.

What else do I do, in my short leisure time? I am called “Aaron, Lover of Peace, Pursuer of Peace,” and chase quarreling Jews attempting to get them to forget their petty squabbles, clasp hands, and be friends once again—“Hail Fellow, Well Met! True friends, all around, and let’s retire to the Hard Drinks Tavern-Tent, and quaff a mug of barley beer, or something a mite harder, hey?”

I am, as I said, a Legendary Peacemaker. Yes. But if you come, Friend (whispering) to my tent, the tent of this legendary Peace-lover, Peace-pursuer, and you will find that all is not well in the home of High Priest Aaron.

Do you see? The thick coating of dust, over everything? The dirty clothes, lying everywhere? Just me and the boys here, now—no; don’t bother searching; she is gone.

My wife, that is. Gone, gone. Where have you gone, my own dear Elisheva? Only my sister, Miriam, knows.

There are hints and rumors, I understand—for I have my spies, there among the ladies, too—of a sort of “City of Refuge” for departed Israelite wives, who can no longer live at home comfortably, for having been—how shall I say it—neglected? By their—what was Miriam’s word?—workaholic husbands.

I am one, it seems. Miriam has told me so, and how she warned Elisheva, and how Elisheva departed our home, leaving me with our grown and almost-grown sons.

And soon, she will tell the same to my brother, Moses, about neglecting Tziporah, our sister-in-law, our Midianite sister, whom he pays no attention to, what with all the busy-ness in which he is involved, affairs crucial to both God and Man. I fear her words. For I am a High Priest, but I am not God’s Favorite. Miriam had ought to watch her step.

Why, you ask me? Well, it’s all well and good to keep a family squabble within the family—but when one goes outside the family, and makes private affairs into public information—especially when it concerns a Public Figure of Note, such as my Brother, Moses—well, Friend, things may go hard on Miriam.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, My Sister,” I said to her, softly, when last we spoke of this. I am a prophet, too: did I not tell you that? Ah, yes—I did. I recall. I do forget so much, these days: all that smoke and fire will do that to a man’s memory and mind.

But she just tossed her curly mane of hair, my She-Lioness of a sibling, exactly as she did when we were little, and Mother Yocheved put her in command of Baby Moses, and Toddler Me—

Miriam fears Nothing. And that, I fear, may be her Downfall….


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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