Shabbat Tetzaveh February 15, 2019

This week’s Torah portion describes the elaborate vestments worn by Aaron and the priests when they ministered in the Tabernacle. I don’t suppose it’s all that surprising then that the reading of Parashat Tetzaveh coincides this year with Men’s Fashion Week in Milan.

Aaron’s vestments were a glorious thing to behold, an outer indication of the important role he played in ancient Israelite worship. The breastplate - set with twelve precious stones, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel – though was a sartorial reminder that Aaron acted on behalf of the entire community.

As high priest, Aaron also wore what the Bible calls a holy diadem, a piece of gold on which were engraved the words kadosh l’adonai, holy to the Lord. Surely this adornment was meant to remind the people that Aaron was fulfilling a sacred vocation.

Attached by a blue cord to the headdress, the holy diadem was worn on the forehead, most probably centered between the eyes. Why there?

Positioning the diadem on the forehead would make it highly visible to others, but I have a suspicion that the diadem was deliberately placed where Aaron would not be able to see it.

Power, authority, position – these are necessary but seductively dangerous tools when exercised by human beings. They stand always on the edge of being misused. Power – be it religious, political, economic, organizational or familial – should always be wielded with a healthy measure of humility. I suspect that the personally unobservable placement of the diadem was an admonition to Aaron: Don’t let all this finery and position go to your head.

Power corrupts, especially when and if those in power seek only to stay in power, forgetting and subverting even the holy causes that moved them to seek position in the first place.

Power wielded with arrogance is a deadly cocktail because human beings can and do so often get it wrong. Life can be understood in part, then, as a continual test of how we handle the power and authority we exercise over others. If done with sensitivity, compassion, and a healthy dose of humanity, our actions too may be recognized and understood as “holy to the Lord.”

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Whiman