Tetzaveh by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Parsha Tetzaveh - Dvar Torah

Tetzaveh: Do Clothes Make the Man?


Scene: The Israelite Camp, in the Tent of Preparation, adjacent to the OhelMo’ed (Tent of Meeting-Sanctuary, the shrine of the Israelite tribes during their wilderness sojourn).

Aaron, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) stands among his four sons—Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar—as they clothe him in his priestly garments.


Avihu: This turban is so hard to wrap, but I think that I’ve gotten it properly on your head, My Father the High Priest. With your permission, may I speak?

Aaron: Of course, my dear son—which one are you, again?

Avihu: I am Avihu, your second son, Milord.

Aaron: Oh, yes, Avihu—please forgive me. I am an old man, and, since the four of you have all grown up—where was I, all of those years?—I cannot recognize you, behind those manly, full beards you have grown.

Avihu: It’s all right, Poppa—I mean, Milord. Begging your permission, Milord, I have a question.

Aaron: Ask anything, my son. Except—

Nadav: Except what, Father? I mean, Milord.

Aaron: Except what prophecy I have received from the Most High about the future. That, I cannot disclose. Careful with that avnet, my sash, Elazar! Don’t make it so tight. You are Elazar, are you not?

Elazar: Yes, Poppa—sorry, Poppa—I mean—

Avihu: Is it a fast or feast day, today? Why are we dressing you in your sacral robes?

Aaron: Ah! My sons, this is a simple question. No, no, no holy day, today. This is merely a rehearsal for the Chanukaht Ha-Bayit, the Dedication of the Mishkan Shrine, next week. And you will all assist—well, the elder two, anyway. How does that strike you, Nadav? Avihu?

Nadav: As the eldest, I should be honored. Still—

Aaron: Why this hesitation, my First-Born? I should think that you would be eager to assist, champing at the bit. You will one day be officiating before the LORD GOD and all Israel! That is no small thing.

Avihu: I humbly thank you for this honor, Milord, but still—

Aaron (growing angry): What’s this, you two? Why do you hesitate?

Nadav: Well, prior to the Lord God’s selecting you as High Priest and Uncle Moses as Chief Prophet, I—that is, Avihu and I—had thought we might be able to choose our own professions, rather than enter the family business. I had wanted to become—become—

Aaron: Spit it out!

Nadav: A scribe. I wanted to write stories of the tales of Israel, and our triumphs over Pharaoh. And poetry, as well, in praise of the Most High. I’ve been working at it, and my friend Avichayil bat Shimon, of the tribe of Zebulun, thinks that its good.

Aaron: A girl of Zebulun? However can you, a Levite and priest, marry a Zebulunite? That is not acceptable to me, or to our laws. You will have to leave this—this—commoner, and find yourself a nice girl from our own tribe.

Nadav: Really? Oh, my Lord—however will I tell her? We have promised one another to marry.

Avihu: And I wanted to be—to be—

Aaron: What? What? I must say, you boys are disappointing me. There is no greater honor than to butcher sacrifices as priest before all Israel.

Avihu: Poppa, please don’t yell. I hate it, when you yell at me.  I wanted to be a—a—shepherd. What’s wrong with that? Uncle Moses was a shepherd, of both cattle and people. Remember the Exodus—?

Aaron: Please don’t remind me; I was there. The plagues were insufferable, even if they were happening to the Egyptians and not to us. You boys (pointing) are angering me, but worse: you are disappointing the Lord God, and I cannot say what He may decide. (Turning to Elazar and Itamar) Well. What of you other two—I’m sorry, I forget your names. My younger sons. What is your life’s wish, to serve God, or yourselves?

Elazar: Never fear, Poppa—I mean, Milord—we have discussed it, Itamar and I, and priesting is the way we intend to go.

Aaron: Priesting? What audacity—

Itamar: Sorry, Poppa: serving as kohanim, priests.

Aaron (sighing heavily): Well, I see that I’m all dressed in my robes as Kohen Gadol. Would you boys care to leave me, for a bit?

The Sons, together: Of course, Poppa. We’ll be right outside, if you need us (Leaving the tent).

Aaron: Am I alone? Good. O Lord God! You know that I have tried to be a good and faithful servant. True, I may not have been there all the time when my boys were growing up—my dear wife, Elisheva bat Amminadav, had to raise them virtually alone, while I was off freeing our people and serving You. But now, what has happened? I never wished for this high eminence, this priesthood—but it is Your decision, and I must abide by it. Truly, I wished only to become a mediator, to seek out those who were quarrelling, or had a lawsuit, and adjudicate between the parties. And I believe that I would have done a good job. But now, Lord, I have spoken with my sons, and I fear what may happen to our family priesthood. Will there be a time in the future when different priestly dynasties fight over this honor? I have seen cloudy portents of this in prophecy, but the results are unclear. Dear Lord, teach my sons that we must do all for Israel’s sake, and not for our own interests—for that way lies—who knows? And Thy will be done. Amen!

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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