Tetzaveh -- Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

Fashion designer Kenneth Cole once remarked, "You can change an outfit, you can outfit change, or both." How fitting that clothes are what truly outfit spiritual change in this week’s reading!

To outfit spiritual change, all priests or kohanim wear: (1) a full- length linen tunic [ketonet]; (2) linen breeches [michnasayim]; (3) a linen headdress, or turban [mitznefet]; and (4) a long, waist sash [avnet]. To manifest his spiritual shift, the High Priest also wears: (5) an apron of blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, with linen and gold thread [efod]; (6) a breastplate composed of 12 precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes [hoshen]; (7) a cloak of blue wool, adorned with gold bells and pomegranates on its hem [me’il]; and (8) a golden plate upon the forehead with the inscription, “Holy to God” [tzitz].

Initiation into the priesthood takes seven days for Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, Eleazar, and Itamar. Mirroring the seven day cycle of creation, here Torah is teaching us that every creative choice we make, even the most mundane, outfits us with the possibility of spiritual transformation.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the Holy of Holies as an abstract, contained force. In Parashat Tetzaveh, we learn the Israelite priests must be purified and specially adorned in order to safely approach the Holy of Holies. Comparing Aaron’s "holysuit" to a space suit, religious scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky (z”l) wrote, "we must have G-d’s holy presence to survive, but we must approach it only when it is contained in the precise manner G-d prescribes, and we come into the realm of holiness only in the holysuit G-d gives us. In the modern world, we have energy that can serve as a metaphor to model this divine power. Carefully contained, nuclear power can fuel our cities, but if the plant has cracks, it will escape and destroy, and if an individual approaches without a radiation suit, that person is dead." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Tetzaveh -- Exodus 27:20–30:10

Facebook_CoverDesign_TetzavehKenneth Cole, celebrated fashion designer and former congregant of mine in New York, once remarked: "Look good, for good."

To outfit spiritual change, all priests or kohanim wear: (1) a full- length linen tunic [ketonet]; (2) linen breeches [michnasayim]; (3) a linen headdress, or turban [mitznefet]; and (4) a long, waist sash [avnet]. To manifest his spiritual shift, the High Priest also wears: (5) an apron of blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, with linen and gold thread [efod]; (6) a breastplate composed of 12 precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes [hoshen]; (7) a cloak of blue wool, adorned with gold bells and pomegranates on its hem [me’il]; and (8) a golden plate upon the forehead with the inscription, “Holy to God” [tzitz].

Initiation into the priesthood takes seven days for Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, Eleazar, and Itamar. Mirroring the seven day cycle of creation, here Torah is teaching us that every creative choice we make, even the most mundane, outfits us with the possibility of spiritual transformation.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the mysterious Urim and Thummim. "You shall place the Urim and the Thummim into the hoshen of judgment so that they will be over Aaron's heart when he comes before the Lord." (Exodus 28:30) Scholars and rabbis have never agreed on what these special objects of judgment or divination are. Were they made of wood, bone, or stone, and how exactly did they work? Were they physical objects at all? Some rabbis suggest they were instead words inscribed on the hoshen or rays of light which radiated from the breastplate when the High Priest was asked a question. Here, they are two stones marked with the letters alef, for Urim, and tav, for Thummin. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Emor -- Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23

CoverDesign_EmorIn a candid moment, the renowned American scholar of the Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels (b. 1943), once remarked that her research of these early religious texts taught her something interesting:

These ancient stories in religion speak to our desire. But they move us toward hope.

Where might one experience this correlation between desire and hope that really speaks to us about Judaism as a religion? Is it through interpersonal ethics? Familiar customs? Or, on the other hand, through rituals that deepen the human-divine relationship? Holiness calls out to us, but how and when do we hear the call?

The second section of Emor, literally “speaks out” and addresses us in describing the annual callings to holiness: a weekly sabbatical retreat; an annual paschal offering on the 14th of Nisan as well as the seven day cycle of Pesach (Passover) beginning on the 15th of Nisan; the gathering and elevating of the Omer offering from the first barley harvest on the second day of Passover to its culmination in Shavuot; the primal cry of the shofar on the 1st of Tishrei for Rosh Hashanah; followed by a fast day on the 10th of Tishrei; culminating with a seven-day festival for dwelling in booths while dancing with the four species on the 15th of Tishrei and then the after-party of the Eighth day of Assembly marking the pilgrimage route home with Shemini Atzeret.

By contrast, the first section of Emor speaks to laws pertaining to Temple service of the high priest.

All in all, there is something about sacred time that speaks to each of us differently, yet the sacred somehow finds a way to take place in our lives through the Jewish calendar and the synagogue.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by the many harsh directives that appear in Parashat Emor, directives that exclude many Israelites (e.g., the deformed, disabled, or sick) from full belonging and that command our ancestors to stone to death various offenders. From Leviticus 24:13-14: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and all who heard shall lean their hands on his head. And the entire community shall stone him." Holiness may call out to us, but in the stratified and severe worldview of our ancestors, it has the voice of a potentate. So, again, with the wrestling! Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Acharei Mot -- Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30

CoverDesign_AchareiMot"After the ecstasy, the laundry!"

This insight by renowned author and teacher of meditation, Jack Kornfield, co-founder of Spirit Rock in Woodacre, California, encapsulates the challenge of daily spiritual practice. In his bestselling book of the same title, Kornfield offers a uniquely intimate understanding of how the modern spiritual journey unfolds — and most importantly, how we can prepare our hearts for awakening. Kornfield argues that the enlightened heart navigates the real world of family relationships, emotional pain, earning a living, sickness, loss, and death.

Commentators have long been puzzled by the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. Were these two brothers and young Turk priests focused on ecstatic religious experience to a fault? The ecstatic enigma first seen in Shemini (Leviticus 9:1–11:47) here returns to the sobering lesson behind this episode. Perhaps Nadav and Avihu offered a "strange fire" at an unscheduled time and were punished for transgressing the law of the sancta. Or perhaps their spiritual merits exceed even those of Moses and Aaron? This latter possibility is embraced by later Hasidic commentators, who locate in Nadav and Avihu echoes of their own intense pursuits of ecstasy within religious practice. As Kornfield sagely warns, however, sometimes such ecstasy comes at a price.

And the question remains: once the peak experience of ecstasy has been tasted, how does one remain living in the real world -- the one with our laundry? No matter how high the peak experience, we Jews are tasked with living in the world, even if not of it. The expectation of the Tzaddik in Judaism (just like that of the Bodhisattva in Buddhism) is to return from a state of enlightenment to share that light with others.

Understood from the Hasidic perspective, the fatal flaw of these two remarkable spiritual seekers, Nadav and Avihu, is their choice to withdraw from rather than engage in the real world, to return with the fruits of their peak spiritual experiences. The only person authorized entry into the Holy of Holies and grounded enough to process the experience is the High Priest, and even he may only enter once a year to offer the sacred incense of ketoret.

Another aspect of atonement is described through the casting of lots over two goats so as to determine which to serve as a divine offering and which to designate for sins (the scapegoat) and send as an offering to Azazel in the wilderness. How fitting then that this reading is reserved for the High Holiday of Yom Kippur, serving as a perennial reminder of this challenge of grounding our peak, ecstatic experiences into a daily living of our spiritual lives that includes doing the laundry!

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by the scapegoat ritual. Azazel's goat is led into the remote desert and set free, roaming unseen in the wilds of our psyche and burdened with our missteps and failings. Past deeds, for good or for ill, are not erased by primitive magic; even ignored or forgotten, they inform our actions in the present. The scapegoat's eyes are always on us, and we are not called upon to be perfect (nor to deny our imperfect pasts), but instead to strive to better ourselves and to make the world better through action in it. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Tetzaveh -- Exodus 27:20-30:10

CoverDesign_Tetzaveh2When asked about the centrality of clothing in his rock ensemble, Kiss, the Israeli-American musician, singer, and songwriter Chaim Witz (born August 25, 1949, and better known by his stage name, Gene Simmons) once noted that:

The makeup is simply an extension of the personality, and colors, clothing, makeup all express something.

Can this ethos be found within Judaism? To outfit spiritual change, all priests or kohanim wear: (1) a full- length linen tunic [ketonet]; (2) linen breeches [michnasayim]; (3) a linen headdress, or turban [mitznefet]; and (4) a long, waist sash [avnet]. To manifest his spiritual shift, the High Priest also wears: (5) an apron of blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, with linen and gold thread [efod]; (6) a breastplate composed of 12 precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes [hoshen]; (7) a cloak of blue wool, adorned with gold bells and pomegranates on its hem [me’il]; and (8) a golden plate upon the forehead with the inscription, “Holy to God” [tzitz].

Initiation into the priesthood takes seven days for Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, Eleazar, and Itamar. Mirroring the seven day cycle of creation, here Torah is teaching us that every creative choice we make, even the most mundane, outfits us with the possibility of spiritual transformation.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: Another in our series of original illustrations inspired by mid-20th century graphic design, the artwork that accompanies this post is a simple depiction of the hoshen (the priestly breastplate). Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.