Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fashion and priestly service

Fashion and priestly service

I think it makes sense to republishe this article written in 2007/5767. It was then published in the daily "Jerusalem Post". It makes sense because of the societal context, hedonistics, the tents, New Year 5772 and the creation of the world, time and space. Then, God shaped man and Eve and poured a breathing spirit into their nostrils.

We come now very close to the Feast of Purim, celebrated on Saturday night, eve of 14 Adar 5767 and Shushan Purim (Monday 5th of February, 2007), the day of full rejoicement because the Jews had been saved from the project of extermination. This weekly reading portion is " Tetsaveh\תצוה - You shall further instruct the Israelites" (Shemot 27:20-30:10).

Now, God explains to Moshe how his brother Aaron and his sons will become priests. They should make special vestments. God tellsMoses what vestments they should wear, which material fashion, colors and designs should be used. Indeed, God intends Moses to consecrate Aaron and his sons as (sacrifice-offering) priests, which is the last part of the reading portion.

Last week we were in interior design with the construction of the Mishkan\משכן, God's Tabernacle in the wilderness, housing the Ark of Covenant, the altar and the Shekhinah, the Holy Presence (Shekhinah\שכינה). God had instructed with much details how His house should be built. There is a move, as we might consider this injunction given to the Israelites to construct the Mishkan. God is everywhere, He is in the desert because it is the natural place for Him to converse/daber and thus «midbar = empty place, place where the Only One speaks and can be listened, heard.» God had obliged the Bney Israel to turn to Him in a « facility » that they had achieved, restricted in space and though hosting the Bore haKol Yakhol\בורא בכל יכול – the Creator of all things, spaces.

This week, the design commandments turn to fashion mitzvot: the connection traces back to the time when Adam and Eve opened their eyes, discovering they incidentally were nude in the face of God. God is not that prudish and two young new humans were certainly a poor experience of what is advertized everywhere today. They supposedly were more naive about nakedness and unexperienced about porn.

« Porneia » means « prostitute » in Greek. Not that sure in fact. There are transgenerational invariants, attitudes that certainly remained unchanged from the ver y beginning of humanity. Adam and Eve had disobeyed to God's commandment. They had eaten some fruit, « teenah\תאנה - figs » for the Talmudic tradition; the Christians – maybe for fruitful preferences in the West developed he myth of apples that does not match with our fig-tree that is the tree of teaching.Good, Newton discovered gravity with falling apples. The Jewish tradition the Christian Orthodox Church do not refer to any «original sin» and sex is a part of the « oneg shabbat\עונג שבת – honey sweetness of the Shabbat ».

Adam and Eve transformed the « or - light » of their innocence to some covering « or\אור - skins » tailored by God in person for these two newborn living beings.They wore the divinely made « katnot 'or\כתנות אור – garments of skins », ot the same way some people put on leather at the present. The thing is that we love to make people feel guilty about sex. But they were « arum\ערום - naked », which is a normal state. The word is linked to the root «ari\ערי = to stir up, stimulate, excite the sexual organ by contact (Keritot 2:4). »

In Yoma 54a, « the cherubim in the Temple were intertwisted with one another ». Thus, « the man should always be deliberate (arum) in his fear = of goodwill in his way to serve God » (Berachot 17a). As it is usual in Hebrew, « arum\ערום » means the contrary by paradox: « a wicked man is subtle (arum\ערום) » (Sota 3:4). And look at this: « You may separate the priest's gift while not being dressed and at twilight on the eve of Shabbat » (Demai 1:4).

Clothes are not frankly significant because of sins and guilt that some people would love to impose on others. They separate times of service, times for blessings and blessings as the priests were putting on their vestments in order to take up God's Presence and be protected by garments that could prevent them from pride, presumption and hauteur.

Jews have always underscored that, in particular on festive days, they should be well-dressed and wear the most beautiful tallits (prayer shawls). This is what happens to Aaron and his sons that are to be ordained as priests. The beauty of the vestments does not correspond to some sort of fashion competition. Women as all sorts of clerics and rabbis (as the priests in Temple) can be terribly frivolous - « trivial » sounds nice at the present - about their look and the richness of their garments. These vestments precisely aimed at obliging the priests to forget about their egos and disappear, concede that God covers and overshadows them with these vestments. They were not in a religious fashion defile to show off their human smugness. Holier-than-thou parading is a huge temptation for any person serving God in any visible or defined function. But the function is rather comparable to Adam and Eve wearing their « katnot 'or\כתנות אור – garments of skin » made by God Who « yalbishehem – clothed them » (Bereishit 3:21).

They act « under His tent ». As new-fled from the Land of Egypt, recently born to freedom, Aaron an his sons would, to begin with, serve with innocence, standing under linen and wool, tissue wings of the Most High (Tehillim 91), wearing the prophetic Urim and Turim breastpiece (Num. 27:21) as a sign of « mishpat\משפט - decision » that only God can determine (cf. Blog: lishpot\לשפוט). This is the real problem: are these instruments conceived by man, of anthropological interest? or are they fashion accessories for modernist artcraft creators? Again, the Israelites had to listen to God and hear this redundant appeal » « ve'assu, ta'asseh\ועשו תעשה – and they, you will make ». It clearly has some cultural and ethnological significance. But patterns are basically all the same everywhere in the world.

At Mount Sinai, Aaron was not a model in a show. He did not know what would happen next in this wilderness story. He might have not understood at once that he was covering himself because God wanted to clothe the Israelite of His Presence and make it solemn and beautiful. As beautiful as the « ma'il... techelet\מעיל... תכלת – pure bluecoat or robe of the ephod\אפוד » and the pomegranate bells showing that the priest would not die because this vestment secures him while he officiates (Ex. 27:28).

Let's go for a walk in Jerusalem these days. Long dark black raincoats everywhere, same tailor, same cut, tissue, some colored fur on a black hood, mostly, rarely leather (less modest). Clones meeting their people. It is convenient.Are you? Yope, you/me = same group, tribe. This does not only concern the Jews but a lot of people, women, men, youth. At this point, fashion shows who we are, not Who God is. Aaron and the Israelites were not like young beauty fashion models scratching their brains to create next year's winter season to be instantly flashed down to cellphones and eventually be erased upon receipt... This is our hedonistic « one-shot » attitude: epicurian, ephemerical styles, permanently mirroring on trading looks, clothes and fading models.

No long-term envisioning prospects. No. One can be fond of looks. They fade and grow old every minute. « ta'asseh\תעשה – you shall make » (for Aaron and his sons) a frontlet on pure gold and the seal inscription « Kodesh leHaShem\קודש לה' – Holy to the Lord »...the fringed tunic of fine linen, the sash of embroided work, turbans... to cover their nakedness and enter the Tent of Meeting so that they shall not incur punishment and die.

This is a law for all time for him and for his offspring to come » (Shemot 28:36-43). Glamor is on the spot, maybe because of new (video, filming) techniques that would combat evanescing manners and facades and the apparent futility of time. Who knows? Glamorous people might in secret be closer to God that clerics in beards, hats, gehrok, cassocks, tunics...

Moses is asked to procede to the ordination of Aaron and his sons so that they be acting sacrificers (« kahan – to sacrifice » for the Lord in the Tent. The « semichah - ordination » is a very ancient ritual that, in Judaism, is profound ly linked to a major profession: « shochet\שוחט – ritual slaughter ». The thing is that we are so embattled in wars, conflicts, rapes, corruption, robbery and titillating sex misconducts that a simple rabbinic ordination certificate look like a cleancut nature and wildlife document.

We visualize bloody scenes, would never admit that our spiritual guide is offering his life like a beast to be slaughtered (Isaiah 53:10). When Aaron put on the refined vestments, he is called to get covered with the blood of the rams and the bulls (Ex. 29). And he was to be anointed with fresh oil. « Semichut- handlaying » is done on the head of an animal for the good of all the people, potentially for all the humans.And this required the presence of three (people) when elders were ordained (hand laid – semichut zekenim\סמיכות זקנים) », states Tosefta Sanhedrin 1,1). The shochet continues to lay his hands upon the head of the animals to slaughter them the same way as priests were « imprinted, sealed » with the same pressure on their heads. « Vesamach yado al rosh ha'olah-ראש העולה/and he (the son of Israel) will lay the hand upon the head of the burnt offering – venirtza lechaper alav\ונרצה לכפר אליו / in expiation for him » (Leviticus 1:4).

Aaron wa not only called to bless people. He was mainly called to perfom the different offerings. Thus, he becomes himself a sacrifice. « samach\במך – (to)nail », like the name of the /s/, fifteenth consonant of the Hebrew alphabet. And daily « shechitah\שחיטה - slaughtering » made by the ritual slaughters who lay the hands on the animals because killing them so that their blood would sprinkle as water « dam kemayim – blood as water » (Gittin 9b) recalls that Orthodox Judaism continue to pray for the restoring of the sacrifices.This should be taken into consideration before being simply rejected or sublimated to a higher level.

This week, we focus on the priestly vestments. The Eastern Christian and ancient Orthodox Churches have kept many features that are common with the oldest vestments made for the service of the Aaron. The Eastern Orthodox tradition can appear to be full of splendor. Interestingly it is the same theological attitude as found in this week portion.

The servant of God disappears and would even not be « recognized » as this or that priest. Vestments clothe the servants in order to show God's unique glory and Presence. The image of splendid dress should lead us to look for the Living God Who is not visible.Interestingly. The Greek version of the Septuagint (TaNaKh) did not translate « samach\סמך » literally, i.e. By « ereido » because the action of laying the hands with a pressure on a human being would have shocked readers of Hellenistic culture.

Well, this week portion allows us to think of the importance of «tziniyut» in Judaism: vestments, clothes, privacy, discretion, chastity, purity. A general attitude of « modesty », humbleness. This is at the heart of our weekly portion about « tailoring cloths ».

The Christian Orthodox Church will commemorate saint Gregorios Palamas, theologian and Archbishop of Thessalonika (14th c.) who defended Hesychastic practice, a famous spiritual movement of sobriety and equanimity.It consists in trying to get to the closest to God (the closet of the heart), knowing that, according to the Oriental tradition, nobody can reach His Essence. Constant praying and getting deeper into silence constitute mental attitudes that firstly appeared in Cappadocia, developed by the Palestinian monks as saint Sava, Evthymios: Hesychasm is a Greek word: « peace and silence, quietness » (in Modern Greek a « siesta, break »).

The mental and physical posture of the hesychast is to confide to the full in God through much interiority.It implies to be ready to accept all forms of God's light. Throughout the centuries, it evolved in the short and fervent « prayer of Jesus », a certain limitation of Liturgical participation, a combat against sloth (« akadia » that corresponds to the spiritual disease of « atzlut\עצלות »). The existence of the Divine Light, uncreated energies, breathing methods and body postures were strongly adopted by the Byzantine Church, along with a very profound theological teaching to reach faith – not ecstasy.

It took a long time before the Roman Latin Church and the West accepted such a vital tradition based on sobriety. Saint Seraphim of Sarov, the famous Russian monk who lived in the forest, had adopted this spirituality that was initiated in the first Judaean monasteries. It developed in areas where it met with the Slavic and Romanian world of the Jewishness and does show a lot of similarities with the Chassidic movements.

Indeed, it is interesting that on the way to the Feasts of Freedom (Passover/Easter), both Judaism and Christianity suggest to consider our personal, social and general situation with much modesty and sobriety. There is something like that in the fundamentals of the Israeli society.

This article is republished during the Ten Day of Awe 5772, on the way to the Day of Atonement/ Yom HaKippurim - יום הכיפורים, in the year 2011!

Alexander Winogradsky-Frenkel

February 28, 2007 – 10 deAdar 5767