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Tetzaveh 5782 - To Set Down a Burden

February 11, 2022 - 1 Adar 11, 5782

We all carry burdens, laid upon us by our friends, our family, our jobs, and ourselves. We carry guilt, pressure, and responsibilities, the ones only we can handle. Sometimes, all of that weight feels like too much to bear; every now and again, even if just for a moment, we have to make that great effort of setting our burdens down.

Aharon, Moshe’s brother, also carries quite a literal and figurative burden. A great deal of this weekend’s parshah details the very heavy clothing he is commanded to wear, as the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest of the Israelites. Take, for example, the headpiece Aharon must wear over his turban. God commands Moshe and the people Israel:

You shall make a frontlet of pure gold and engrave on it the seal inscription, kodesh l’Adonai, holy to God…It shall be on Aharon’s forehead, that Aharon may lift any wrongdoing arising from the holy things that the Israelites consecrate, from any of their sacred donations. It shall be on his forehead continually, to win acceptance for them before Adonai (Ex. 28:36, 38).

Imagine spending the day wearing a big sign on your head that says, “Holy to Adonai!” Imagine being the only person who can wear this sign, and also, being the one person responsible for recognizing and fixing all of the mistakes made in worship at the mishkan, the Tabernacle. Notice, too, that the word for the atonement Aharon must perform is נשא, meaning to lift or carry. All day long, Aharon must bear the burdens offloaded continually by the people Israel; all day long, Aharon must live his life as a model of what it means to be kodesh l’Adonai, holy to Adonai. 

12th century Ashkenazi commentator Rashi indirectly asks the question, “Does wearing the frontlet continually (tamid) really mean always? Does he wear it when he’s sleeping or eating dinner with his family?” Rashi’s answer is a clear no; Aharon must only wear it when he is performing sacrifices. The word tamid - continually - refers to Aharon’s continual responsibility when he is wearing the frontlet. Even Moshe’ brother, even the kohen gadol, cannot carry the burden of Israelites’ wrongdoings all the time. Even Aharon must unload his burdens at the end of the day. 

Each and every one of us must regularly practice letting go of what weighs us down. Regardless of our worries and tasks, we each need a regular reset to maintain the positivity and energy to keep carrying. I know we have spoken here before about Shabbat as one of those ways to reset, to convince ourselves that the world will continue without us for just 25 hours a week. Beyond Shabbat, we have daily opportunities to sit back and do nothing active, nothing productive. We can mindfully meditate in the parked car in that lull before picking up the grandkids, and we can take a half hour before bed to read a book that has nothing to do with our job. We can go down a rabbit hole of Wikipedia articles or watch one of those romantic comedies in which we know the ending within five minutes of the movie’s beginning. When we give ourselves time to breathe and sit down, we allow ourselves to better stand up again and fully be there for friends, family, and colleagues.

Just a few weeks after we have read about Yitro, Moshe, and delegation, we can remind ourselves that even if we believe we are the best person for the job, we may not be the only person. Whether we are dealing with our own imperfections or caring for another person and their guilt, we always have the opportunity to ask for help from professionals or loved ones. Once in a while, we can share or offload for more than just one moment a day.

For those of us who believe, as I certainly have in the past, that we don’t have extra time for rest or that we don’t have people in our lives to help us with our struggles and duties, now has to be the time to actively reevaluate and clear our schedule or to reach out to someone new in search for assistance. If Aharon gets a break from that public identity of kodesh l’Adonai at the end of the day, we, too, benefit from time scheduled into each day with no expectations. With that extra time, we are more productive, focused, and positive when we are doing the work of fixing our personal and communal world. With that extra time, we leave space for when new burdens will inevitably, unexpectedly be added to our load.

There is a reason why Luisa dolls, from the newest Disney movie Encanto, have been sold out for weeks. We identify with the character’s struggle of literally carrying the whole town’s burdens, including pianos and donkeys. We identify with Luisa’s musing, “But wait/ if I could shake the crushing weight of expectations / would that free some room up for joy / or relaxation / or simple pleasure? / Instead we measure this growing pressure.” And we identify with her and her family’s hope and relief when the town comes to carry them when they need it most. Hopefully, we too can lighten our loads, and when we have that light load, we, too, can step in to help carry someone else’s. Shabbat Shalom. 

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782