Address: 91 Leinster St, Saint John, NB E2L 1J2

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D’var Torah Tetzaveh

Parashat Tetzave

February 24, 2024 | 15 Adar I 5784

Torah: Exodus 27:20–30:10 Triennial: Exodus 28:31–29:18

Haftarah: Ezekiel 43:10–27


Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:

שבץ: embed, fix firmly and deeply in a surrounding mass.
“Duty supersedes desire.” Howard Suber “The Power of Film”.

Interwoven Texts
Bex Stern-Rosenblatt

There are only three stories in the Tanakh in which the root ש.ב.ץ. appears. It occurs most prominently in our parashah, describing the settings or the borders for Aaron’s attire. The names of the twelve tribes are set in golden משבצות, assiduously fastened to the rest of his garb. The root also appears in Psalm 45, a most unusual psalm, which seems to describe a royal wedding, with specific instructions to the bride. There, we read of this bride: “all the honor of the daughter of a king is interior, her clothing ממשבצות with gold.”  The only other appearance of the root is in 2 Samuel 1, in the reported speech of King Saul asking to be killed after he has fallen in battle because שבץ has taken a hold of him.

On the surface, these three occurrences share no similarities. The word means something like to interweave – appropriate for talking of clothing or of the pain of a body breaking down during death. Yet there is a long tradition of finding a way of relating these three stories, of making these three stories, these three places in which the root occurs, say something fundamental about priesthood.

Psalm 45 is a love song. It declares itself as such in its opening verse. It can be read even as a bawdy love song, with innuendo about what will happen to consummate the marriage. But because of the presence of the root שבץ (and our general discomfort with innuendo,) the psalm is read instead to be about the proper role of a bride, the way a woman should behave. Even as the psalm describes the beauty of the woman and the way she attires herself, the text is interpreted in the Talmud (Yevamot 77a, among other places) to insist that women should not be seen, should not appear outside the house when avoidable. “The honor of the daughter of a king is interior” – a woman should stay inside, should shut herself away from prying eyes. A woman should be modest above all else. Vayikra Rabbah 20 explicitly connects the modesty of a woman to the high priesthood. The woman merits to have her sons become the high priests because she never uncovered her hair, not even in her own house.

The interpretation of the golden משבצות in Psalms 45 as connected to modesty, to internal characteristics, invites us to reinterpret the word in Aaron’s context. Even as the high priest is covered in fine gems, precious jewels, and interwoven gold, so too must Aaron’s honor remain interior. So much of Aaron’s life, of his sons and descendants lives, will be about being the living clothes rack for the priestly garments. Before he dies, Aaron must strip. When his sons, Nadav and Avihu, are consumed by fire, their garments remain somehow untouched. Despite all that, despite the role the high priest must play in public, his true kavod lies elsewhere. It is not in the garment. It is in the man himself, in his ability to be modest, to conduct himself with dignity even when no one is watching.

About the word’s appearance in King Saul’s story, Rashi cites Midrash Tanhuma to posit that Saul deserved to die. Saul had ordered the priests of Nob killed. It is only appropriate then that he be killed because שבץ grips him, perhaps even the guilt of killing the priests. Likewise, he begs to be killed by an Amalekite after he much earlier failed to kill all the Amelites as God had told him to do.

The story of Saul is a tragedy. A promising boy becomes a cursed king. A strong and beautiful lad is driven to madness and nearly destroys his own country in his desperation to stay in power. He who was chosen by God is abandoned by God.

The tragedy of Saul allows us to read the tragedy inherent in being the high priest. These people too are gripped by שבץ. These are people who will sacrifice their individuality in order to become able to serve as symbols of the entire nation. These people will be in uncomfortably close relation with God because nobody else wants to do it. Upon assuming the framing, upon donning his clothes, the high priest can never go back to just being Aaron, your buddy from down in Egypt. Yet, somehow, the high priest must also hold onto the message read into Psalm 45. He must retain who he is in private, exist as an individual only when no one else is watching. He must embody modesty to avoid tragedy.


Contact info

Address: 91 Leinster St,
Saint John, NB, E2L 1J2
Phone: (506) 657-4790
Mailing Address:P.O. BOX 2041
Saint John, NB,  E2L 3T5

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