It’s rather inevitable that Parshat Tetzaveh leads us to think about clothes. Before moving on to outline the priestly ordination ritual for Aaron and his sons, Tetzaveh details the clothing that the priests—in particular, the High Priest—will wear: the special breastplate, the tunic, the crown on which is written kodesh Lashem, holy unto God, and the other special appurtenances.

“You will make holy garments for Aaron and his sons, for honor and for splendor, l’khavod u’litefaret” (Ex. 28:2). These two words, kavod and tiferet, establish the purpose of the garments, and they require some unpacking. Kavod is associated with words like honor and glory. It is also related to the word kaved, heavy. And, elsewhere in Exodus, we find the term k’vod Hashem, which refers to the Divine presence—a mysterious notion, given that God is simultaneously outside of the world. How does God have a presence?

How do human beings have a presence, for that matter? What does it mean to be present? We have all experienced being with someone physically while our minds and hearts wandered somewhere else. Likewise, we have been on the other end of the exchange, in which we are sharing space with someone else, but feel as though they don’t recognize the fact that we’re there. Encounter requires mutual recognition, an exchange of kavod, a bidirectional honoring of presence. To fail on either end of this interchange is fundamentally an act of i-kavod, disrespect.

So one meaning of the kavod of Aaron’s clothing could be to call attention, both to God and to Aaron and the people, that a relationship is taking place between God, who is given kavod—presence, honor, dignity—through the Tabernacle, and the human representative of Israel, the High Priest, who is given kavod through resplendent clothing. Both parties thus become recognized.

Yet another direction of kavod, however, could be to raise the awareness of the actors themselves—yes, of the other actor (for God, Aaron; for Aaron, God), but also internally (for God, God; for Aaron, Aaron). Rashi notes that Aaron becomes consecrated as the High Priest “by means of the clothing” (comment to Ex. 28:3). That is, when he dons the priestly garb, Aaron becomes recognized and authorized by God and the people, but he also recognizes himself in a new way.

Natalie and I were married the Sunday after we read Parshat Tetzaveh, and I have thus long associated this parsha with weddings. One of the things I like to remind couples getting married is that the commandment to be mesameach hatan v’kallah, to bring gladness to bride and groom, is not only incumbent on the guests at the wedding, but on the bride and groom themselves. The couple—who, like Aaron, wear special clothing to mark a moment of encounter and consecration—need to be recognized not only by everyone else, but they also need to recognize each other and themselves.

So it is with all of our encounters and relationships, not only at a wedding, but every day.

Shabbat shalom.

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