Tzav–Between Purim and Pesach, Part 1


[Moses] put the tunic on [Aaron], fastened the sash around him, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him. He then put the decorated band of the ephod around him, tying the ephod to him with it.   (Lev. 8:7)

This year (as in most years), Parshat Tzav is read between the holidays of Purim and Passover.  As I read the account of the ordination of Aaron, I found myself seeing points of contact with both observances.

I don’t think for a moment that the solemn description of the ordination of Aaron and his sons shares the comic, carnival atmosphere  of Purim.   But there is a connection in the clothes, in the costumes.   For centuries, Jews have worn masks and costumes on Purim.   Some dress up as figures in the Esther story, or from the surrounding culture, be it Jewish or Gentile, secular or religious.  Men dress up as women and women dress up as men.  The costume is liberating; it takes you outside yourself.

Thinking about Purim led me to ask the question, “what is Aaron dressed up as?”  To say he’s dressed up as a priest is, in this case, a tautology, and begs a further question: what is it about this attire that is priestly?

On the one hand, Aaron is dressed as Israel.  He wears a breastpiece (Lev. 8:8) to which 12 gem stones are attached, each one bearing the names of one of the tribes.   On the other hand, he is dressed as—the sanctuary itself.  The vestments for Aaron and his sons are made of the same materials as the most sacred parts of the mishkan (see Ex. 28:5 and compare with Ex. 26:26).    Aaron is not of the heavenly realm, but the costume allows him to “pass” in this surcharged, sacred environment.    And he is there not for himself, but for the whole nation.

During the kedusha prayer, which invokes the worship of God by the angels, we stand on tiptoe as if to join them.  The priestly vestments are an attempt to translate this idea into wardrobe.

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