Tetzaveh 5784 – Investing the Priests

D'var Torah | Exodus

Regarding the vestments of the priests, Moses is instructed to make tunics, sashes and turbans for their wardrobe (Exodus 28:40), dress them in these garments, and then “anoint them, ordain them, and consecrate them” to God (v. 41). The rabbis assumed that there are no redundancies in the Torah since that might suggest a careless Divine Author – a possibility the Rabbis thought unconscionable. Given this assumption, some reason needs to be found for three phrases that practically indicate the same thing: Aaron and his sons had to be properly invested.

RaShI, Rabbi Solomon ben Yitzhak of Troyes, the pre-eminent medieval commentator, explains that each phrase signals a separate stage. First, the priests had to be anointed with holy oil. Afterwards, the priests were to have “their hands filled,” the literal expression of ordaining them. RaShI sees this act akin to the practice in France where the person to be installed into office had a glove placed in the hand to indicate entering into office from that moment forward. Professor Nahum Sarna points out that the word “mandate” comes from the Latin meaning “to give into the hand.” So, the priests, following anointing were given their mandate. It is only then that they are officially consecrated and invested (see Ibn Ezra). But the question remains why this layered process is necessary.

Here it is important to realize that the priests are a link between the physical world and the invisible God. They serve as the bridge between the immanent and the transcendent. The priests enable the folk to connect with God. The priests alone are entitled to perform the required religious ceremonials. Accordingly, they are invested with considerable power. Their special status is reflected in the way they are inaugurated to serve. The people, observing the series of steps taken in their investiture, would be duly impressed. These steps do not apply to any other Israelite officials.

Moreover, the nature of the ceremonial investiture establishes the superior status of the priest in Israelite society, sets the boundaries further differentiating the priests from ordinary Israelites, while also emphasizing the importance of serving God.

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