Posts Tagged ‘Parshat T’tzaveh’

Becoming a Menorah for a Holy Flame

I delivered this sermon for Parshat T’tzaveh on Friday evening, February 23, 2018.

We read in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat T’tzaveh, “And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring unto you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually (neir tamid).”  And there it is, the neir tamid in our Temple.  Every synagogue has one – a light that burns eternally in good times and bad, in an empty building and a full one, whether we see it or whether we choose to look away.  It has been a pretty dark week.  Stories of the horror of what went down in that high school in Parkland, FL, continue to abound.

At first it looked a lot like what we’ve seen every other time this happened.  One group offers their “thoughts and prayers.”  The other say the time for thoughts and prayers has ended and we must act.  One side accuses the other of politicizing a tragedy.  The other replies – if not now, when? 

But this time does feel different to me.  This time, we are hearing the voices of protest, not completely, but at least in part, from the full range of the political spectrum.  This time we hear the cries differently through the thoughtful, articulate, and enraged voices of our youth and we cannot help but see in their eyes our own sisters, cousins, friends, and children.

Some have tried to dehumanize and distance themselves from these voices by engaging in conspiracy theories that these children are nothing more than paid actors.  Fortunately, for the most part, I think that those who believe this are roundly scorned.  Because this time is different.  Our children are crying out for our help.  Our children want us to wake them from this nightmare.  Our children will rise up and fight the fight for us if they must. 

There are two themes in this week’s Torah portion.  The concept of the neir tamid – the eternal light of holiness that must, through effort, be kept pure and burning continually is the first.  The second is a lengthy description of the clothing of the High Priest.  From his undergarments to his decorative breastplate, we learn about the intricacies of every thread of this sacred garment.  The thing is though, underneath this outfit – the priest is still a man.  If he didn’t wear it, you would not know that he was a priest. 

I am struck, this week, by these children who have suddenly donned sacred garments and become the vessels of the neir tamid.  They appeared to be nothing but ordinary, self-absorbed teenagers, but this tragedy has adorned them and changed them and I doubt that we, as country, will ever be the same.  They are our light.  They are showing us the path.  Cameron Kasky, a junior who survived the shooting said, “This isn’t about red and blue.  We can’t boo people because they’re democrats and boo people because they’re republicans.  Anyone who’s willing to show change, no matter where they’re from.  Anyone willing to start to make a difference is somebody we need on our side here.” 

And they have something that most of us have lost – hope.  These teens expect to win, and because they do, they actually might.  We never told them that you can’t win against the NRA – most of us have practically given up the fight before it even begins – leaving the gate from a position of severe compromise.  Emma Gonzalez said, “If you actively do nothing, people continually end of dead, so it’s time to start doing something.”  They don’t care that it has never worked before.  They don’t care what people say or think about them.  They are showing us all what being awake, alive, and furious can accomplish. 

Can we come together for their sake?  Can we learn from what they have to teach us?  These children have been lit up by this tragedy, but a fire must be kept burning.  A fire must be tended and supported and helped.  If these students are to change our country, they cannot do it alone.  It is up to us to support them, help them, work with them.  They are the fire – we must be the menorah.

I posted earlier this week on facebook, that this was not the time for thoughts and prayers.  I recant that statement.  A prayer is a guided wish.  A prayer reminds us what is truly important, and if our prayers mean anything at all – they lead us to work as partners with G-d to make change.

Shabbat shalom.


Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)

By Michael Williams from New York, United States (Tim Gunn & Heidi Klum)

The fashion conscious people of the world know it to be true: “Clothes make the man.” What we wear has a profound effect not only on how others see us, but on how we see ourselves. I learned this when I was first graduating from Cantorial school. Our first interviews were conducted over the telephone, but our advisors suggested that we dress in a suit – as if the interview were happening live and in person. You know what? It made a BIG difference. Wearing my suit and dress shoes, I felt professional, organized, put together. I know that when I spoke, I presented myself in that way as well.

This week’s Torah portion, T’tzaveh, talks a great deal about the clothing of the priests. We learn about everything they wore from the hats on their heads down to their linen undergarments. Every piece was designed with care. Every color, stone and ornament had meaning. Why? The priests needed to be enveloped in their role from the outside in. The clothing served not only to broadcast their role to the community, but also to help the priests themselves feel the importance of their job.

This brings me to the question of attire in the synagogue, and it is a fascinating question. Many people feel that we should wear our best to services. Clothing should be modest, so as not to draw attention away from prayer, but nice – at least as nice as what we would wear to our places of employment. They argue that this good attire shows our respect for G-d and the importance of the synagogue as a place we should dress up for.

Others suggest that the synagogue is a place where we should feel comfortable. After a long day at work, we should be able to put on a comfortable pair of jeans and gather to sing and pray casually with our community. The synagogue, according to this group, should be a relaxed and friendly environment – not one where it is necessary to dress to impress.

In my own synagogue, people from the two camps seem to comfortably co-exist. In the same service, I can look around the room and see jeans and suits. I am glad that both groups feel comfortable expressing these two points of view, but it leaves me in a bit of a quandary when someone asks me directly how they should dress for synagogue.

I grew up in a Reform congregation where women wore skirts, stockings, and (often) heels to services (heaven forbid you should wear nice slacks!) They have since moderated that, and I know that my mother often wears slacks to synagogue (nice ones, though – not jeans!). As a result of this upbringing, I cannot imagine even wearing a pantsuit on the bima. I always wear a skirt whether I am sitting in the congregation or on the bima.

I like dressing up to go to synagogue. It means that even though I go every week, services are special. But surely, readers you know me by now – I don’t like to tell others what to do! I like to make people question what they do, define reasons for their choices. If you are going to wear jeans to synagogue, don’t let it be because that is what you were wearing all day, and you didn’t think about it. Let it be a conscious choice. Similarly, if you are going to dress up for services, don’t do it because that’s what you have always done. Our clothes inform how we feel about ourselves. How do you want to feel when you step foot in the sanctuary?

I walk right on the line. I want to be comfortable and I want to feel special and respectful. I wear comfortable long skirts. My long skirts mean that I don’t have to worry that when I sit on the bima, people can see up my skirt! It isn’t comfortable or relaxed for me to have to worry about those kinds of things. My long skirts are very comfortable, but they are also not my every day attire. They are special and dressed up for the occasion of Shabbat and worship. It’s a compromise that works quite well for me, even though I’m pretty sure that the fashionistas of the world would call my Shabbat dress a “fashion don’t!”

I am interested to hear your thoughts. How do you dress for synagogue and why? How would you recommend others dress? Do you have a different answer for Friday evening versus a Saturday morning? What about kids and teenagers? Should clothing rules be different for them and if so, should they lean more towards dressing up or dressing down?