Parsha Time: Part 2 — Anna Batler on who gets to be holy

Anna Batler blogs about faith and feminism at  http://sotah.net/.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anna Batler.

Tetzaveh is a chronicle of priestly clothing and a recitation of the exact order of ritual worship during the seven days of tabernacle sanctification. Buried beneath the fashion show and the party plans there is a coalescing of power. God says that amongst these holy objects is the Devine home.  The text refers to the tabernacle as the “ohel moed” – the tent of meeting (with God). (Exodus 29: 43-46.)

Before the building of this holy tent, the circumstances of one’s birth did not determine if she or he would witness the Divine – even a woman could hear the Devine voice directly. Earlier, Miriam is described in the text as “Miriam the prophetess.” Exodus 15:20.   While this new model is rattled repeatedly, the world of the holy tent is a world where only men born to the right tribe, wearing the right garments, and standing in the right place at the right time have excess to Divinity. (Moshe does not actually follow these rules – however that’s a different dvar).

The project of building this holy tent, and eventually the temple, is circumspect.  Even the text knows it.  If read chronologically, the next big event after the temple is the golden calf. We read it – and see the molten gold of the calf and molten gold of the ark, we see the bringing of sacrifices and we are ashamed. If read out of textual order, as done by Rashi, where Jews are instructed to build the ohel moed only after they already sinned with the calf, the ohel moed becomes a way of mitigating the Jew’s unfavorable desires into something a little less unfavorable.   Rashi on Exodus 31:18.

The limiting of holiness to so few ordained at birth – it cannot stand and it did not stand.  Prophesy cannot be contained by garments, no matter how ornately described. The Torah knows that, at its soul, the ohel moed is a golden calf.

1 reply
  1. Malka
    Malka says:

    The mishkan was a display of G-d’s forgiveness of the Jewish People for having worshiped the golden calf in that it was the first time that G-d’s shechinah would rest itself amongst the people in a (semi-, until the Bet HaMikdash) permanent home.

    The revelation of divinity in the Mishkan served as a benefit to the Jewish nation as a whole and each Jew as an individual. The people could now pray and offer sacrifices in the tent of G-d’s glory.

    Prophecy has nothing to do with priesthood. Miriam’s status as a prophetess did not change after the building of the mishkan. Devorah lived hundreds of years later, and was not only a prophetess but the leader of the Jewish people. Chana (mother of Shmuel), Avigayil (King David’s wife), Chuldah, and Queen Esther are all listed by the Talmud as having been prophets after Miriam’s time. None were descended from a priestly line.

    As for, “Why can’t we all be kohanim” – it’s hardly an original thought. Korach had the same complaint 3,500 years ago. He said to Moshe, “The entire community is holy. Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d?” The fact is, however, that distinctions are a necessary reality of life; vehamaskil yuvan.

    As for the lasting power of limiting of priesthood to those born into it (not holiness, as you say, which every Jew can attain) – this system stands until this very day. Thousands of years after its last practical use, the knowledge of priesthood is still passed down from father to son, a reminder of the great responsibility and privilege of their lineage.

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