Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:20-30:10; Deuteronomy 25:17-19, Parshat Hashavua for Shabbat Zachor, March 4, 2023

My father used to say that in the city he grew up in, Kosice in eastern Czechoslovakia on the border with the Soviet Union (two countries that no longer exist), they were Jewish but dressed European. In other words, they were what we would call today modern-Orthodox. They were observant but dressed as their neighbors did, suits and no beards for men, dresses and no wigs for women. They did not wear traditional clothing that identified them as Jews. This is true for us today. Whether we know it or not, we all wear clothes and hair styles that identify us, by our work, our economic class, whether we are urban or rural. So it was for the Kohanim (priests) in ancient Israel. In this week’s Torah portion we read, “Make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron, for dignity and adornment.” (Exodus 28:2) Commenting on the verse, Ibn Ezra (12th Century Spain) wrote, “They shall glorify themselves with these garments, for no other Israelite shall wear similar garments.” The special clothing of the Kohanim identified them as priests during the sacrificial service and were designed to mark their special status. This is one reason that we dress up for special occasions, weddings, funerals, or attending synagogue. As our society becomes more casual in its dress standards perhaps this indicator of specialness is being lost. Perhaps we are losing something of value, another blurring of boundaries between the special and the mundane.

Special note: the Shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor. We read a special maftir, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, that reads, “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” According to tradition, Amalek is the perpetual enemy of Israel, for they prey on the weak and helpless, and question God’s moral revelation at Sinai.  Because Haman, the villain of the Purim story,  is considered to be a descendent of Amalek we read this special Torah portion on the Shabbat that precedes Purim.