Mekor Chaim: Tetzaveh

Rabbi David J. Zucker 

This week’s sedra, Tetzaveh, is unique in the Torah in that it is the only weekly section that does not mention Moses. Instead, it concentrates on Aaron, priests, and priestly vestments. A good part of the legislation describes what Aaron is to wear when he performs his duties, and in those details, there is an important message.

In Exodus 28:6-12, in the description of the special clothing worn by the high priest, we read that there are two shoulder straps which form part of the ephod, an apron-like garment. On these straps are two stones of lapis lazuli (or onyx), one on each strap. The names of six of the tribes of Israel are engraved on one stone and the names of the other six tribes are engraved on the other.

Often, when considering community affairs, it is the high profile leaders (the Moses' of this world), who get a great deal of attention. In this Torah section, the focus is on those who do the day-to-day – and often the unknown and underappreciated, behind-the-scenes – work of representing the people before God in terms of approaching the sanctuary. All of us in different ways, both the top leaders and those who fill supporting roles, work for the good of the community.

Note that it is a member of the support staff, not “the leader”, that carries the burden of the community (the collective names of the tribes) on his/her shoulders. The support staff keeps in mind the broad picture, the needs of the total community. Likewise, it is the support staff which interacts with a large spectrum of people. Often because they are not the high profile leaders, they are accessible to a wider group.

In addition, Exodus 28:15-21 describes the high priest’s breastplate, with its individual twelve stones, each containing the name of one tribe. Aaron wears the breastplate over his heart when he enters the sanctuary and has his encounter with God (28:29). Just as each tribe had a separate stone in the high priest’s breastplate, the support staff of organizations in like manner deal with people, one person at a time. The support staff encounters people in their individuality, on a one-to-one basis.

In the best possible way, supportive staff applies a “both/and” methodology to their sacred work, and not the narrower view of an “either/or” approach. They are there for the broad concerns of the community when that is appropriate, and they focus on each person’s needs when that is required.

Rabbi David J. Zucker, PhD, BCC, a member of UJC Rabbinic Cabinet, is Rabbi/Chaplain and Director of Behavioral Services at Shalom Park, a senior continuum of care center, in Aurora, Colorado. His latest book is The Torah: An Introduction for Christians and Jews (Paulist Press, 2005)