Our biblical portion opens with the exalting and exultant ceremonies of the consecration of the desert Sanctuary, closely followed by a description of the tragic death of Aaron’s two eldest sons. These events lead to a fascinating halachic discussion between Moses and Aaron that has important ramifications for our religious attitudes today.
Would you rather be a martyr, a hero, or a builder? Each of these, says anthropologist Mary Douglas, corresponds to a different kind of society. Each creates a different prism through which to view the world.
“And God called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any man of you brings an offering to God, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd or of the flock’” [Leviticus 1:1-2].
Tetzaveh is wholly devoted to the High Priest Aaron and his children, the priesthood, without even a mention of Moses’ name throughout the reading.
What is most jarring to the modern ear, and especially to those of us who have become accustomed to the informality of Israeli dress, is the painstaking description of the eight special garments of the High Priest and the four special garments of the regular priests.
The most seminal event in Jewish history, the miracle that informed, inspired and inflamed our people with passionate commitment to ethical monotheism, was the Revelation at Sinai. How strange that the biblical portion that details this phenomenon is named Yitro — after Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), a Midianite priest. What did Yitro do to deserve such an honor?