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Inside Out – Parshat Tezaveh 5774

For a printable PDF version click here: Parshat Tezaveh – Inside out

What do we know? How do we know? Can we ever achieve absolute knowledge of truth? Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that questions the way in which we acquire knowledge and what the source of knowledge is.  It asks the questions of what we know or don’t know and how we know.  Throughout the history of thought there have been attempts from all types of thinkers to lay claim to the source of man’s knowledge.  What is the attitude of the Torah to knowledge? Is the search for truth and knowledge something the Torah applauds or condemns?[1] In this piece I would like to look at one idea that is embryonic in its development. It begins in Sefer Bereshit develops in Parshat Tezaveh and ends in Megillat Esther.

I have been pondering Parshat Tezaveh for some time and I have not felt at ease with the themes or with the topics and their juxtaposition.  Let’s reflect for a moment on its makeup.  Following on from Parshat Terumah the Torah continues by describing the construction of the mishkan. It begins  by commanding the people to make the ner tamid – the eternal lamp that sat in the Mishkan. It then goes on to painfully detail the clothes of the Kohen Gadol – the High Priest.  Finally it finishes with the Tamid offering (daily sacrifice) and the incense that needs to be lit every morning.

There are many things that are peculiar in this week’s Parsha.  Let’s begin with the obvious; Moshe’s name is not mentioned once – why? And why specifically this Parsha?  Secondly, the people are in the desert as wandering nomads yet they are being commanded to make clothes of grandeur adorned with the most expensive stones and material.  What is the significance of these clothes? Why is so much emphasis placed upon clothing? Finally, why is the notion of the Priest’s clothing framed by the Ner Tamid, Korban Tamid and Korban Hakatoret?  Is there significance to the Parsha’s construct?

Before proposing a slightly unconventional understanding of Tezaveh, which focuses on the notion of epistemology, I must share with you where my search began.  Looking for the very first hint of ‘epistemology’ in the Torah I found myself firmly placed in the Garden of Eden, at the moment of consumption from the ‘tree of knowledge’.  Let’s take a look at the narrative and try to decipher the implication of knowledge in this context.

Bereshit 3

א וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן.  ב וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה, אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ:  מִפְּרִי עֵץ-הַגָּן, נֹאכֵל.  ג וּמִפְּרִי הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹךְ-הַגָּן–אָמַר אֱלֹהִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, וְלֹא תִגְּעוּ בּוֹ:  פֶּן-תְּמֻתוּן.  ד וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה:  לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן.  ה כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע.  ו וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל.  ז וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה, עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּדְעוּ, כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם; וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת. ח וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת-קוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן–לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם; וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ, מִפְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, בְּתוֹךְ, עֵץ הַגָּן.  ט וַיִּקְרָא יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶל-הָאָדָם; וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, אַיֶּכָּה. י וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶת-קֹלְךָ שָׁמַעְתִּי בַּגָּן; וָאִירָא כִּי-עֵירֹם אָנֹכִי, וָאֵחָבֵא.  יא וַיֹּאמֶר–מִי הִגִּיד לְךָ, כִּי עֵירֹם אָתָּה; הֲמִן-הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לְבִלְתִּי אֲכָל-מִמֶּנּוּ–אָכָלְתָּ. יב וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם:  הָאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה עִמָּדִי, הִוא נָתְנָה-לִּי מִן-הָעֵץ וָאֹכֵל.  יג וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לָאִשָּׁה, מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂית; וַתֹּאמֶר, הָאִשָּׁה, הַנָּחָשׁ הִשִּׁיאַנִי, וָאֹכֵל.  יד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ, כִּי עָשִׂיתָ זֹּאת, אָרוּר אַתָּה מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה, וּמִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה; עַל-גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ, וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל-יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ.  טו וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית, בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ, וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ:  הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ, וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב.  {ס}  טז אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר, הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ–בְּעֶצֶב, תֵּלְדִי בָנִים; וְאֶל-אִישֵׁךְ, תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ, וְהוּא, יִמְשָׁל-בָּךְ.  {ס}  יז וּלְאָדָם אָמַר, כִּי-שָׁמַעְתָּ לְקוֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ, וַתֹּאכַל מִן-הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לֵאמֹר לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ–אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה, בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ, בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּאכְלֶנָּה, כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ.  יח וְקוֹץ וְדַרְדַּר, תַּצְמִיחַ לָךְ; וְאָכַלְתָּ, אֶת-עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה.  יט בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ, תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם, עַד שׁוּבְךָ אֶל-הָאֲדָמָה, כִּי מִמֶּנָּה לֻקָּחְתָּ:  כִּי-עָפָר אַתָּה, וְאֶל-עָפָר תָּשׁוּב.  כ וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ, חַוָּה:  כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי.  כא וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ, כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר–וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם. 

1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman: ‘Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’ 2 And the woman said unto the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’ 4 And the serpent said unto the woman: ‘Ye shall not surely die; 5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.’ 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles. 8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden toward the cool of the day; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. 9 And the LORD God called unto the man, and said unto him: ‘Where art thou?’ 10 And he said: ‘I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ 11 And He said: ‘Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?’ 12 And the man said: ‘The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.’ 13 And the LORD God said unto the woman: ‘What is this thou hast done?’ And the woman said: ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.’ 14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent: ‘Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou from among all cattle, and from among all beasts of the field; upon thy belly shall thou go, and dust shall thou eat all the days of thy life. 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise their heel.’ {S} 16 Unto the woman He said: ‘I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail; in pain thou shall bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ {S} 17 And unto Adam He said: ‘Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying: Thou shall not eat of it; cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shall thou eat of it all the days of thy life. 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shall eat the herb of the field. 19 In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shall thou return.’ 20 And the man called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them

God tells man and woman that they may not eat fruit from the tree of knowledge.  After eating from it, their eyes are opened, they realise they are naked and they attempt to cover themselves up.  After mans inept attempt at hiding his nakedness, God cries out to him ‘איכה ‘ – where are you? Man responds that he was afraid.  In having their eyes opened, in acquiring knowledge, they also became self conscious – conscious of self.   Listening to ourselves, recognising the realm of inside and out, can be a terrifying experience.  Often in endeavouring to cover up our inner voice, our shame, our conscience, we stifle the call for self reflection and assessment.  In choosing to be ‘free’, to make a free willed decision against God and eating from the tree, Adam and Chava must accept the consequences that are allied to ‘knowing’.  Those consequences are that in a real world the attainment of absolute knowledge is not something that is clear transparent or visible.  It is something that is often convoluted, obscure and multifaceted.  Whilst man has the capacity to attain knowledge, though not perhaps absolute truth, it is a journey that requires time, effort and openness of heart and soul.  It means at times exposing oneself and ones inner being whilst at times learning to conceal elements of self and truth that must be hidden, but forever being open to the call of God to mankind that echoes through eternity – איכה where are you?

I see this idea being conveyed by God to Adam and Chava through the ‘punishment’ given to them after they sin.[2] Man must ‘work’ the land, he must plant to eat, he must deal with thorns and thistles that grow among the herbs and he must be cognisant of his mortality ‘for you are dust and to dust you shall return’.  Woman’s decree was that of pain in childbirth and rearing. There is a common thread that ties these two decrees.  Both recognise the need for time, process and development.  A man must wait approximately nine months for the seed he plants to come to fruition, he must then take the wheat and process it into something that can be consumed.  The exact same process takes place with woman.  A seed is planted, although this time internally. She must wait patiently for it to develop and grow until eventually nine months later, in pain, it will come to fruition. Then she must nurture the child so it grows to become an independent being.  Both ‘seeds’ are hidden, one in the ground, one in the women. Having eaten from the tree of knowledge, the message to man is to understand the limits inherent in our physical being and in our knowledge, as well as making space for process and growth.

Immediately following these decrees, God presents man with a ‘garment of skin’ – a covering to be worn in the new world he is about to enter.  Man is endowed with a gift and a profound message about the existence he must live outside of the Garden of Eden.  Man is at once God-like and man-like, he knows good and evil, yet he has been forced out of paradise.  If he is to have knowledge, be given the God like capacity of reason and thought, he must also recognise the limits of that knowledge.  To be mortal means there is an eternity that lives beyond me, by definition I am limited. To be mortal means I am limited not just physically but also cognitively.  If I exist in one place and one time, I cannot possibly be able to know everything at all times.[3]  I must recognise the limits of my knowledge and experience whilst simultaneously searching for it.  Though I am an individual obsessed by my search for knowledge and truth, I am also a social being that must clothe himself, cover himself and create an illusion of self that must be presented to the world.  In psychological terms we must create a false self to present to the outside world, in order to protect the true self. Our false self can be either positive or negative.  If we manage to maintain a healthy balance between being real to our true selves then we will continue to lead a healthy life.  If however we only put on a ‘show’ of being real, but our external false self becomes our inner self; such people say psychologists, suffer from feeling’s of emptiness and self loathing.[4]

Throughout the book of Bereshit we encounter various examples of where clothing fails to reflect the ‘truth’ of being.  The very word ‘בגד-clothing’ means betrayal.  Man is destined to be on a constant existential journey to truth. Truth of oneself and the world; truth of being and existing.  When we begin to ‘cover up’ the inner voices of truth, our consciousness of being, and focus instead on the ‘externalities’ of existence we are not just ‘betraying’  God, but perhaps more poignantly, we are betraying ourselves.  When Yaakov dons the ‘clothes’ of his brother Eisav and consequently covers up the truth, as well as taking on the identity of another, he is destined to spend the rest of his life searching for redemption of self.  By ‘betraying’ his father he betrays his inner conscience and looses an element of his own being.  Subsequently his life is plagued by constant intimations of deceit and betrayal.[5]  The truth and peace of being for him is never fully achieved.[6]

With this in mind, we can now turn out attention to Parshat Tezaveh.  The idea I am proposing is admittedly embryonic in its development, yet I would like to share it.  Consider for a moment that we are discussing the vehicle through which God’s presence will be manifested on earth.  Furthermore we are then describing in significant detail the clothing the Priests, who will be working in this Divine vehicle, must adorn.  The clothing must be made exactly as God commands it to be, God given clothing to be adorned by man for honour and splendour.

וְאַתָּה הַקְרֵב אֵלֶיךָ אֶת-אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְאֶת-בָּנָיו אִתּוֹ, מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–לְכַהֲנוֹ-לִי:  אַהֲרֹן–נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אֶלְעָזָר וְאִיתָמָר, בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן.  ב וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי-קֹדֶשׁ, לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ, לְכָבוֹד, וּלְתִפְאָרֶת. 

And bring thou near unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that they may minister unto Me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. 2 And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and for beauty. (Shemot 28)

One cannot help but be drawn to the precedent of God-made clothes which feature in Bereshit. God is imparting a similar message here.  The mishkan is an important vehicle through which you will receive knowledge (significantly the Urim VeTumim through which the people were able to inquire of God) and will be able to worship God directly.  However, at this moment, when knowledge may appear to be direct and open, truth direct and transparent, God reminds us that we are still human. We have reason and our senses plus we have our day to day experience of living.  The day to day, the routine, the sensory experience of humanity, is what ‘surrounds’ the Priestly clothing narrative.  The ‘Ner Tamid’ and ‘Korban Tamid’ come to remind us of our need for תמידות – regularity, routine.  God’s presence, absolute knowledge, has a place but so does our day to day living and struggles towards knowledge and truth – the experience of being human. [7] The place of absolute Divinity is also the place where man must be reminded of his mortality and hence must ‘cover up’ accordingly.  We are being reminded that knowledge of God, the world and ourselves is not something simple and easily comprehended.  It cannot and must not be delineated to one method, one philosophy.  It is a dance, a work of art, a constant movement.  It is planting seeds and watching them grow.  The older we get the more we realise what we don’t know because wisdom is something that one acquires through experience and experience is something one acquires through time. To be human is to learn when our search for truth must meet our human need for relationship, spirit of self and community.  We must ‘clothe’ our inner selves to be presented, in an authentic mode, to the world whilst simultaneously maintaining a sense of true being.  There is so often a dissonance between our inner and outer worlds, between the nakedness of soul, the often painful existential longings and searching we experience and the covered up whole person we present to the world.  That is the way it must be, that is what God has destined for man.  What we present to the world is often a ‘betrayal’ of what we bear inside.  The only place where the dissonance ceases to exist, where the inner and outer worlds are united is in God’s chamber, the Mishkan.  There the clothing represents the authenticity of its purpose.  There, knowledge is absolute, there is nothing unknown, and the motive and action are one.   There the clothing is for honour and splendour of God not man.  There even the forbidden is bidden, the Chok becomes obsolete.[8]  In God’s place of dwelling the dissonance created through our humanity, the limitation of knowing and the complexity of existence is null and void.

There is a final dimension of the parsha which we have not yet mentioned but fits perfectly into the paradigms that have been presented.  Moshe’s absence.  The entire narrative is focused on Aaron and his sons; Moshe’s name is obviously omitted.  Moshe, as we are fully aware was איש האמת – the man of truth.  He was the only human ever to speak with God face to face; he received the Torah and came closest to the world of truth.  When he returns from the top of the mountain his face is shining, he must use a veil to cover himself.  Moshe is someone who is constantly searching, we see him in touch with his inner self, there is nothing hidden. In the Torah we are more often exposed to his inner self than his false self.  We see his deliberations, crisis of identity, and crisis of faith in the people and in himself.  His life is a process of journey to self, filled with managing the delicate balance of being a man of God and a man of the people.  Being true to his inner self and having to mask it.  Moshe is not a man of ‘clothes’, the mask does not come easy to him, relationships and social situations are not his strength.  Aaron, conversely, is a man of the people.  We rarely, if ever, get a peek into his inner being, his existential loneliness, or his search for a higher truth or sense of being. There are many occasions in the narrative when we perhaps expect to do so.  After he commits the great sin of the Golden Calf, we may have expected to see a complete breakdown, an exposure of the inner drama that may have been plaguing him.  Or when his two sons are unexpectedly swallowed up in a consuming fire from heaven – nothing! Simply וידם אהרון – Aaron was silent – he was able to accept the limitations of his knowledge, the mortality of being.  For Aaron perhaps the dissonance didn’t exist, or perhaps he was a person that has perfected his false self and had found a balance that worked.  Hence he is the one who can don the clothes of God and work in the Mishkan.

I want to conclude with a few excerpts from Megillat Esther.  This week we celebrated Rosh Chodesh Adar.  Had it not been a leap year we would very shortly be ‘dressing up’ and putting on our acts for Purim.  Purim is a festival of covering and uncovering, facades and truth.  In the Megilla, we have an unusual emphasis on clothes and dress.  We also have a world where man as well as God is presented with many masks.  God is hiding and men hide too. Some hide purposely, behind the facade of being Queen-Esther.  Others have become so obsessed with their own honour and glory that they have lost any sense of self – Haman.  The people have forgotten their national purpose, masked by the comfort of Galut.[9]  The only personality in the narrative who still manages to maintain the tension between inner and outer self is Mordechai.  Refusing to ‘dress himself’ to come to the King’s gate, his true self determining his fate.  Now is not the time for false self projections.  Now is the time to act on an inner conviction of truth and yet almost ironically the words he sends to Esther are, ‘Who knows if for this reason you were put in the Palace?’.  Despite his surety of self, Mordechai also recognises the limitation of knowledge.  The dialectic of true and false self, knowing and not knowing, exposing and covering up is relayed here in its fullness.  The repeated emphasis on dress and covering up, knowing and not knowing, in the text are startling.  When Mordechai appears in sackcloth at the gate of the Palace, Esther is struck by an abrupt sense of emptiness expressed through the word ותִּתְחַלְחַל – the word חלל denotes an ’empty space’.  Esther is suddenly made aware of the existential emptiness she has been covering up all this time in the palace.  Her only solution is to take the clothes of royalty and use them for the good of the people – for the fulfilment of what her true self aspires to.

(וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי, וַתִּלְבַּשׁ אֶסְתֵּר מַלְכוּת– and it was on the third day Esther adorned royalty. Chapter 5-note the word begged – clothing – does not appear since here she is using clothing not to betray but rather for splendour and truth).

א וּמָרְדֳּכַי, יָדַע אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה, וַיִּקְרַע מָרְדֳּכַי אֶת-בְּגָדָיו, וַיִּלְבַּשׁ שַׂק וָאֵפֶר; וַיֵּצֵא בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר, וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה גְדוֹלָה וּמָרָה.  ב וַיָּבוֹא, עַד לִפְנֵי שַׁעַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ:  כִּי אֵין לָבוֹא אֶל-שַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ, בִּלְבוּשׁ שָׂק.  ג וּבְכָל-מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה, מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דְּבַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ מַגִּיעַ–אֵבֶל גָּדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים, וְצוֹם וּבְכִי וּמִסְפֵּד; שַׂק וָאֵפֶר, יֻצַּע לָרַבִּים.  ד ותבואינה (וַתָּבוֹאנָה) נַעֲרוֹת אֶסְתֵּר וְסָרִיסֶיהָ, וַיַּגִּידוּ לָהּ, ותִּתְחַלְחַל הַמַּלְכָּה, מְאֹד; וַתִּשְׁלַח בְּגָדִים לְהַלְבִּישׁ אֶת-מָרְדֳּכַי, וּלְהָסִיר שַׂקּוֹ מֵעָלָיו–וְלֹא קִבֵּל…….

יב וַיַּגִּידוּ לְמָרְדֳּכָי, אֵת דִּבְרֵי אֶסְתֵּר.  יג וַיֹּאמֶר מָרְדֳּכַי, לְהָשִׁיב אֶל-אֶסְתֵּר:  אַל-תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ, לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית-הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים.  יד כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת–רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ–אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת.  טו וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר, לְהָשִׁיב אֶל-מָרְדֳּכָי.  טז לֵךְ כְּנוֹס אֶת-כָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן, וְצוּמוּ עָלַי וְאַל-תֹּאכְלוּ וְאַל-תִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם–גַּם-אֲנִי וְנַעֲרֹתַי, אָצוּם כֵּן; וּבְכֵן אָבוֹא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-כַדָּת, וְכַאֲשֶׁר אָבַדְתִּי, אָבָדְתִּי.  יז וַיַּעֲבֹר, מָרְדֳּכָי; וַיַּעַשׂ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-צִוְּתָה עָלָיו אֶסְתֵּר.

1 Now when Mordecai knew all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry; 2 and he came even before the king’s gate; for none might enter within the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 3 And in every province, whithersoever the king’s commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes. 4 And Esther’s maidens and her chamberlains came and told it her; and the queen was exceedingly pained; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai; and to take his sackcloth from off him; but he accepted it not…..

12 And they told to Mordecai Esther’s words. 13 Then Mordecai bade them to return answer unto Esther: ‘Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. 14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish; and who knows whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?’ 15 Then Esther bade them return answer unto Mordecai: 16 ‘Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ 17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him. (Esther 4)

In our generation, in the world in which we live, knowledge is at our fingertips – very literally. There is a stark danger in forgetting the Divine message imparted to man at the door of Gan Eden.   Knowledge is not immediate; anything that we acquire immediately cannot and must not be deemed a sincere life lesson.  Understanding ourselves and the world requires process, time and an acknowledgment of our physical and cognitive limitations.  We live today in a world where our false self has become for many the only self.  In forgetting to listen to our inner being, we clothe ourselves in masks and layers of falsities.  Perhaps the message of Tezaveh, of the Kohanim and their garments, is there to remind us that only the ‘covering up’ we do for a genuine purpose, in order to protect and work together with our true self and God, is part of an authentic existence.

More Ideas on Inside Out:

Since this idea, as I mentioned already is at the start of its development allow me to add a few more ideas to be mulled over:

Ner Tamid, Mizbeach Katoret, Korban Tamid –  Empiricism

A second element of Tezaveh, as we mentioned earlier, are the three elements that frame the Parsha.  The Ner Tamid (eternal lamp), Korban Tamid (Daily sacrifice) and Mizbeach Hakatoret (incense alter).  Whilst considering these three things it suddenly struck me that they each require one of our senses.  The Ner Tamid, requires sight, to be seen. The incense alter, is noted for the smell it emitted and the Korban Tamid, whose remnants were eaten.  In classic terms these all relate to the empiricist school of thought.  Knowledge of the world, God and our relationship to truth emanates from our sensory experiences.   Hence we find another source relating to our search for knowledge from the very real experience of being human.

Tearing Kriya as part of mourning:

Immediately upon hearing of the death of a family member one is obligated to tear ones clothing.  If we continue with our idea, the tearing of our clothing here again represents the inability to ‘cover up’ and to present a false self to the world at that moment.  At that moment we are exposed in our ‘nakedness’, we are betrayed by our suffering and we cannot think about anything other than the trauma that has befallen us.  We are also painfully aware of our mortality, and the limits of our cognition.  Our impulse, understandably, is to ‘rip away’ limitations, to understand the truth.  Ironically it as that moment of ‘kriya’ that the dissonance is most apparent; the world of God’s absolute knowledge, and the world of man’s limited perspective.

Rav Soloveitchik Lonely Man of Faith as a subtext to this idea:[10]

Rav Soloveitchiks essay ‘the Lonely Man of Faith’, is a book of profound insight and depth.  So often I am drawn back to it as a point of reference for so many diverse themes.  Whilst thinking about the ideas presented above I again was reminded of Adam 1 and Adam 2 and the dialectical tension existing between them.  Man’s inner self, true self, is reminiscent of Adam 1; the existential searcher who lives in a covenantal community, asking the ‘why’ questions of existence and seeking redemption through the ‘other’.  Adam 2 is reminiscent of our ‘false self’; the man who seeks to understand not the ‘why’ but the ‘what’.  Who believes he can know the world, control nature, and rule over it.  Rav Soloveitchik explains that man lives between these two realms of existence.  He moves in a dialectical tug between the two, perhaps as we suggested, between the ‘inner I’ and the ‘outer I’, the ‘existential I’ and the ‘practical I’, the ‘true I’ and the ‘false I’.  Just as man needs Adam 1 and Adam 2, man also needs the true and false self. One without the other, man without his clothing/covering, cannot lead the divinely destined existence he has been decreed.


[1] For a comprehensive and enlightening study of this topic see The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture by Yoram Hazony chapters 6 and 7

[2][2] Punishment is not an accurate description, it is more a consequence of becoming ‘knowing beings’.

[3] This is obviously an anti-platonic and Kantian position. Though not quite Hegelian since an absolute synthesis will never occur, it would adopt elements of the Hegelian system.

[4]Donald Winnicott was the first to introduce the definition of the true and false self, however the concept of a separate self or differing identities had been explored by Psychologists including Sigmund Freud – The Ego, Joan Riviere -The Mask of the narcissist and Erich Fromm – the original self and pseudo self.

[5] Betrayal by Lavan and Leah on his wedding night, betrayal by Lavan, betrayal by his sons, betrayal by Reuven.

[6] Of course the irony in him being given the term ’emet’ by chazal is a reflection of this very dichotomy between falsehood and truth, inner and outer worlds and the search for redemption after having betrayed those around him.

[7] See notes at the end on empiricism and the ner tamid, korvan tamid and mizbeach hakatoret.

[8] The Kohanim’s clothing is the only time wool and linen (the chok – law of wool and linen not to be mixed shatnez is permitted. 28:4-5

[9] The historical context of Megillat Esther is imperative to a full understanding of the story.  It takes place after the decree of Koresh (Cyrus) allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  Only a small minority returned (as told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah) most remained in the comfort of the Persian Empire.  It is in this context the Purim narrative takes place.  In many ways the Megilla is a satirical message to the people at the time to return to their national land.

[10] The note is written on the assumption that the reader has pre-knowledge of the essay.

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