BAC – Parshat Tetzaveh – Feb. 24, 2024

This Shabbat, I’d like to share an idea on the Parsha that I learned from

the writings of Pinchas Peli. Pinchas Peli lived from 1930 to his

untimely death at the age of 59 from cancer in 1989. He was an Israeli

modern Orthodox Rabbi, essayist, poet, and scholar of Judaism and

Jewish philosophy

He was Professor of Jewish Thought and Literature at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and a visiting professor at Yeshiva UniversityCornell UniversityNotre Dame University, the Seminario Rabbinico in Argentina, and the Makuya Bible Seminary in Japan.

For many years, he served as the Torah Commentator for the Jerusalem Post. He is a highly respected commentator on the weekly Torah portion.

A very deep Jewish Talmudic scholar, I often read his writings as I agree with his stance on Jewish life in Israel. 

Peli opposed efforts to impose greater religious control over life in Israel. He told an interviewer in 1986, “I think for the sake of religion and for the sake of Israel there must be a separation between state and religion.”

One of the biggest problems in the State of Israel is the large gap

between the (Dati Jews) Orthodox and the (Lo Dati Jews) Secular Jews

who live in Israel.

Though an Orthodox thinker, he was always very respectful to the

Conservative Rabbis of his generation. He engaged with such luminous

Conservative Rabbis as Abraham Joshua Heschel and was collegial with

the longtime Chancelor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi

Louis Finkelstein.

In his book called “Torah Today”, he writes that more than forty verses

of the Torah are devoted to elaboration of the command given to Moses

in this week’s Parsha, Tetzaveh, to “make holy garments (or garments of

holiness) for Aaron, Thy brother, for splendor and for beauty” (Exodus


So he asks:” What was so important about the garments of the High

Priest? Does not Judaism usually concentrate on the inner quality of life,

frowning on such external manifestations as clothing? What do splendor

and beauty have in common with ‘garments of holiness’”?

These obvious questions engaged the minds of some of the classic Torah


Some, like Nachmanides, a 13th Century Commentator who lived most

of his life in Spain, tend to derive from here that this is precisely the

lesson the Torah wants to teach us- that clothing does, or at least helps,

make the person,… that “splendor and beauty” are indeed an integral

part of the “holy” and add much to the honor and esteem of the person

who is to represent it in public office.

Just as the crown and other royal vestments command the respect of the

people for their King, so do the high Priest’s exquisite garments enhance

his position among his people.

Peli points out that clothing is associated in the Bible with some of the

earliest signs of human civilization. Adam and Eve, when “their eyes

were opened” after tasting from the forbidden fruit of knowledge,

became afraid and ashamed of their nakedness (Genesis 1:24).

The first thing G-d does for humans on their introduction to civilization

is NOT to build them a home or teach them to fashion tools, but “the

Lord G-d made for Adam and his wife coats of skin and clothed them

(Gen 3:20).

Rabbi Yochanan (a leading third century Rabbi) described clothes as

“dignifiers”, instrumental in endowing dignity to humans.

How many of us recall recently the hubbub created by how Senator John

Fetterman from Pennsylvania dressed? It created such an uproar that for

many, his casual dress, lowered the bar on the dignity of the entire

Senate chamber.

So, I think it’s safe to say, that when our Parsha talks about wearing

specific clothes, it is trying to teach something for every generation to

adhere to.

One of the interesting lessons I gleaned from Peli’s ideas is in regards to

the Ephod, the rather large apron worn by the High Priest. The

description of the making of the Ephod and its attached breastplate,

takes up no less than 30 verses (28:6-35)

On the two stones which were part of the Ephod were the names of the

tribes of Israel, “the names of six tribes on one stone and the names of

the remaining six tribes on the other, in order of their birth” (28:9). The

names were inscribed there so that “Aaron shall bear their names before

the Lord upon his shoulders as a remembrance” (28:12).

Later on we reed (read) (28:29): “And Aaron shall bear the names of the

children of Israel…upon his heart when he goes into the holy place, for a

remembrance before the Lord continually”.

It seems that the design of the Ephod and the breastplate is meant to

teach us a most important lesson about responsible leadership. And

here’s why all of this detail is important enough that it was included in

the Torah:

There are many leaders, who after they are elected or chosen for high

office swiftly forget the people whom they are supposed to represent.

The names of the 12 tribes of Israel were to be carried on the

“shoulders” of Aaron, so that he should never forget the burden of their

needs and always remember that he was not carried on their shoulders,

for him to enjoy the good life of the people in high office- but that they

must constantly be carried on his shoulders, to care for their needs and to

be a loyal spokesman for them.

Furthermore, while carrying the burden of his mission on his shoulders

was a must, it was not enough for a true leader… of which Aaron has

become an everlasting model.

He must not only carry on his shoulders that which is within his line of

duty but must also fill his heart with love and compassion for each and

every one of his people.

That’s why the Torah states: “And Aaron shall bear the names of the

children of Israel…upon his heart when he goes into the holy place for a

remembrance before the Lord continually”.

So, my friends, Rabbi Peli teaches us that from Aaron, the first High

Priest of Israel, we learn that a true and sincere leader carries the needs

of his people on his shoulders and… inscribes them on his heart.

My dear friends, we Americans are soon to be asked to make decisions

about who will be our leaders.

Let’s put the Torah into our decision making.

Let’s make our decisions based on whom we think will put our people

on his or her shoulders and keep us physically safe and, more

importantly, which prospective leader, like Aaron in ancient times, will

truly fill their heart with love and compassion…for each and every one

of us.

May G-d help us make a wise decision.

Shabbat Shalom