פרשת תצוה, תשפ״א
Parshat T'tzaveh, 5781
by Rabbi Sydni
Saturday, February 27th, 2021
Please, Look Jewish!
We keep them in the back of the closet - those t-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags from Jewish camps and conferences. Some of us keep them stowed in our jewelry boxes - Star of David earrings and necklaces engraved with the word חי. Many of us have drawers full of unworn kippot from weddings and b’nei mitzvah. For many of us who have been Jewish for decades, our closets, jewelry boxes, and dresser drawers are filled with opportunities to actively “look Jewish.” And yet, “looking Jewish” out in the world, especially here in Shreveport, comes with some responsibility. So, day in and day out, we leave that Hebrew-laden clothing, jewelry, and ritual wear on the shelf. We make an active choice to avoid “looking Jewish.”
The first portion of Parshat Tetzaveh focuses on the priestly garments, commissioned by God, לכבוד ולטפרת, for the sake of honor and glory. These garments are so holy that they must be handmade only by those who are wise of heart and mind, filled with the spirit of wisdom. Each of the garments - the ephod, the breastplate, the particular turbans for the kohen gadol and for his sons, and the skirt embroidered with pomegranates, has particular colors, measurements, and ritual meaning. The specific clothing that the kohanim wear in the mishkan, and later, the mikdash - endows them with awareness of purpose and begs a feeling of awe from those who see them. When the kohanim don their clothing, they embody sacrifice and atonement; their very appearance represents the sacred. In the mishkan and mikdash, like so many places in our modern world, clothing affects the wearer and the observer, influencing outlook, intention, and reputation.
It’s no wonder, then, that today, we might think twice about wearing a kippah to the grocery store. We know that when we leave our house “looking Jewish,” there’s a good chance we’ll be stopped and asked about our beliefs, our rituals, or the church we attend. We may be seen as representatives of the Jewish people as a whole, a people who are much more diverse than just you and me. But what if we embraced that challenge? The more we dare to actively look Jewish, the more we let the world know that there are Jews here, and that we do spend time at Kroger and Planet Fitness, just like everyone else. The more we put ourselves in situations in which we are asked to explain our Judaism, the more we are pushed to learn where we stand in our own theology. When we show ourselves as confident representatives of the Jewish people, we want to show our best selves. Actively looking Jewish, then, can inspire us to practice more public mitzvot, to be more conscious of and deliberate about our every-day words and actions.
The next time you leave the house to run an errand, take on the challenge of wearing that jeweled kippah you received as a gift years ago or that ball cap with big Hebrew letters on the front. See what a simple wardrobe change can do to affect the choices you make as you scan the aisles. And then, work up the courage to wear your kippah or ball cap again on next week’s errand. Make the effort to look Jewish.
The 14th century Spanish commentator Seforno writes that those words mentioned earlier, לכבוד ולטפרת (for honor and glory), refer to the honor the kohen would bring to God’s name and the awe that the kohen would inspire in those who looked his way. Each time we look Jewish, may we remind ourselves to cling to the mitzvot God has commanded, and may we show our Judaism as a faith and culture of compassion and righteousness. May we, too, bring that honor and glory, to God and to the Jewish people. Shabbat Shalom.