Friday, 15 February, 2019 - 9:00 am

A Jewish man traveling in a train ends up sleeping in the same cabin compartment as a general of the Russian Czar's army. He tells the conductor to wake him up at 4 a.m. so he can get off at his stop. He is awakened at the proper time, yet in the dark, he mistakenly puts on the clothes of the general instead of his own.

When he gets home, his wife asks him if everything is all right. He looks in the mirror and answers, "it seems like the conductor woke up the general instead of me."

In this weeks Torah portion Tezaveh says, "You shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons from among the Israelites to serve me as priests… You shall make holy clothes for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty."

With these words, a new phenomenon makes its appearance in Jewish life. Never before have we encountered robes of office, formal insignia marking off their wearers as holy people charged with a particular function in the religious life.

The Midrash says something very strange on this verse:

G-d tells Moses, “you shall bring forward your brother Aaron,” because, on his own, Moses did not want to.  He was aggravated that this position was being given to Aaron. So G-d told him: I had a Torah and I gave it to you, for without it I would have lost my world.

Why was Moses upset? Some would explain that he was envious. He wanted the priesthood. He was charged to transfer the office to his brother and it hurt him. G-d consoled him by saying that he received the Torah.

Yet, notwithstanding this being a very human emotion (sibling jealousy is one of the most profound and most complicated emotions and is the axis upon which almost every story in Genesis revolves), this is specifically not the case with Moses and Aaron. Over more than forty years, we do not see even one instance of sibling rivalry between them. In fact, when G-d appoints Moses, it is the first thing he guarantees him, that Aaron would rejoice, rather than be enraged, by his younger brother’s rise to prominence. Moses did not want even his own job as a leader and teacher, for many reasons, including because of his older brother, and G-d needed to assure him about this. The Torah states that Moses was the humblest man. Now, suddenly, Moses grows jealous?

There is far deeper interpretation here—and it goes to the heart of Tetzaveh.   The major theme of Tetzaveh is the weaving of beautiful garments, dazzling and glittering, as the official daily uniform of Aaron and his children, serving as priests in the Sanctuary. A turban, an apron, a forehead plate, a breastplate, a coat, a girdle, a tunic, and pants. The Torah gives detailed and nuanced instructions on how to create each garment, its exact fabrics, design, and color, to the last detail.

When we study these garments—and today many artists and graphic designers have drawn vivid pictures of what they may have looked like—we can imagine what Aaron must have looked like in those garments: like a Divine angel.

It is exactly what the Midrash states later:  G-d gave Aaron and his sons an image of the sacred clothes (of the angels).

And this is exactly what perturbed Moses. He did not want Jewish people dressed like Divine angels; he yearned for them to beDivine angels.

Clothes, Moses was saying, superficial and shallow. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks eloquently points out in an essay on Tetzaveh, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were men of G-d, but they did not wear special clothes. Nor did Moses. They were shepherds. They dressed simply. Judaism is a religion of inwardness, not appearances of ethics, not power of character, not the formal dress of office. Judaism is not the place we turn to, to find the specification of official uniforms. Joseph and Mordechai dress in royal garments. But who gives them these garments? Pharaoh and Achashverosh! Indeed, much of Genesis highlights the phony aspect of garments. They are deceptive. They give you the appearance of the person you are not. They are instruments of creating a substitute for truth. Jacob wears Esau's clothes to deceive his father Isaac when he puts out his hand to feel him. The brothers stain Joseph's cloak with goat's blood to persuade their father Jacob that he has been killed by a wild animal. And Joseph uses his new-found appearance as a senior Egyptian ruler to hide his identity from his brothers ("Joseph recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him"). Garments are used to deceive.

It comes therefore as both a shock and a confirmation when we discover that the Hebrew word for "garment," begged, also means "betrayal". That is precisely what garments are: instruments of deception and betrayal. You can be a billionaire, dress up like a beggar and people might mistake you as homeless. You can be a beggar and dress up like a Donald Trump to show up for an appointment, giving the impression that you are well to do. In fact, that is the message conveyed by the very first reference to garments in the Torah. Adam and Eve are without clothes, and all is good. It is only when they betray G-d's instruction, eat from the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, that “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Clothes were the sign of the first great betrayal, the first breaking of a divine command. After Adam and Eve sinned, they felt uncomfortable in their own skin. They felt they need to hide something.

Clothes are what separate the inner reality from outer reality. They embody the gap in human affairs between appearance and reality. I say one thing but mean something else. I say I love you, and I don’t. I say, thank you for coming over, and I do not really feel that way.

Animals do not wear clothes, and animals also never lie. Humans lie constantly. Our external and internal identities rarely align. Who I am and who you think I am often don’t match.

This is what perturbed Moses. Why did G-d command to set in motion the making of special garments for the priests, "for glory and for beauty"? Moses did not want Jews to dress like angels, he wanted them to be like angels. How many people don holy attire, but behind closed doors they are beasts! The focus should be exclusively on character, not appearance.

And yet G-d instructed Moses to bring in Aaron and his sons and dress them in priestly garments, beautifully designed and meticulously choreographed. Why?

The answer to this is that while garments can betray, deceive and create false appearances, there are garments that can become instruments of salvation, healing, and sublimation. When clothes are holy, their very undoing becomes their advantage.

Yes, G-d is telling Moses, not everyone can be an angel all of the time. Sometimes I feel like a demon or just a loser. Sometimes I want to give up. Dress up like an angel, I need to behave externally like an angel, even if my feelings say otherwise. Such external “holy garments” will not betray me; they will reveal me—they will reveal my hidden pure and sacred essence. If my core was rotten, then “holy garments” would indeed be deceptive. But since my inner core is Divine, wholesome, confident, happy, moral, caring and full of love and light, my external holy garments are not a betrayal of my inner truth; they are a betrayal of who I think I am at the moment, but not of my true inner state.

This is the meaning in the words of the Midrash. Moses was upset. He wishes to sublimate his people to a place where there is no need for garments. Where the outside will match the inside. G-d says you received the Torah because you embody Torah. You need not garments. For the rest of the people, who learn Torah but are not always Torah, holy garments are necessary. For them, the inside needs to match the outside.

Faker?  A Chassid of the Rebbe Maharash, Rabbi Shmuel, would often travel on business, dressed in very modern, secular clothes. Yet when he came to the Rebbe he would don the classic Chassidic garb.

Once he told himself: Enough being a hypocrite! I will not lie to the Rebbe any longer. I will show him my true colors. I hate being deceptive. The next time, indeed, he came to Lubavitch dressed in his full secular garb.

The Rebbe asked him why the change of uniform? He explained that he was “coming out of the closet;” it was about time that he stopped acting and playing a game before the Rebbe. This is what he wears out in the world; he will not lie any longer to the Rebbe.

The Rebbe smiled and said something unforgettable.

“Do you think you ever fooled me? You think I did not know how you dress out there and how you dress in here? I always knew about your change of uniform. Yet I always thought that it was out there that you were faking it, and in here you were being real…”

This is a profound idea. You are trapped in the need to impress the outside world, and hence you get dressed in these clothes out there. Perhaps you are trapped in your own imagination that this is who you are. In truth, when you are there, you are faking it. It is here that you are being real—you are expressing your deepest truths.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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anonymous wrote...

What is the source of the story of the Rebbe Maharash?