Parshat Tetzaveh: Being a Kingdom of Priests

The Torah portion of Tetzaveh may appeal to fashion designers and to anyone obsessed with details about professional uniforms. To the rest of us, Tetzaveh seems quite remote. We learn about the vestments worn by the Priests, when fulfilling their professional duties. The vestments are explained with great care; as if most of us are truly enthused about head dresses, tunics, robes, sashes and other clothing which have little to do with our contemporary lifestyles. Yet, beyond the surface, Tetzaveh has more to offer.

As described, the High Priest wore a head piece, which included the inscription: HOLY TO GOD. The idea was to remind the Priest about carrying out his sacred duties to the people with passion and with grave responsibility. Since the Torah already commanded Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, it was the High Priest who needed to guide the nation toward that objective.

Becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation was both a command and a challenge. Any nation can be commanded to live according to lofty ideals. Embracing those ideals was another matter; each individual must take responsibility for doing his/her part in the process.

I understand that the Torah is directed at Israel and not the United States. Nevertheless, becoming a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation should become the objective of our country and of each country throughout the world. As the horrific shootings in Florida tragically reflect; we are a country far removed from the Torah’s ideal. When our government refuses to modify gun laws-on the grounds of violating individual rights- we lose sight of who we are as a nation. We dismiss any goal of becoming a kingdom of priests and make continuous (and lame) excuses for inaction. Meanwhile, our school children have once again become victims and their parents have suffered the ultimate loss. When pressed to take action, our politicians disingenuously postpone any legislation because now is a time to stand with our families and not to play politics. Such a mantra has been pronounced after previous school attacks; when the mourning period concluded we were back to business as usual.

It is heartening to know that our young people are fed up; that they are publicly and vocally expressing their outrage. Whatever our political views; no one can justify a national policy which puts guns in the hands of killers. It is time for each of us to symbolically wear the inscription HOLY TO GOD on our foreheads. It is time for each of us to work toward our nation becoming a kingdom of Priests. Like the High Priest, our leaders need to carry our their sacred duties to the people; those duties include making the bold decisions to protect the people they serve. Yet, responsibility for becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation lies not merely with our leaders, but with every individual in our society.

What our country suffered last week is the antithesis of being HOLY TO GOD. How we respond to the most recent tragedy will determine whether we become a holy nation or a dismissive nation. The choice is ours.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Klayman