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Seeing the Holy in Our Work

Riva Gambert

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This parsha describes the lamps of the Tabernacle and the consecration of the priesthood. It also minutely describes the sacred vestments of the priests who are to be adorned in special/splendid clothes.


All of them are to wear four garments: linen breeches, tunics, sashes and turbans. In addition, the high priest, Aaron, is to wear a special robe of pure blue decorated at the hem with pomegranates and golden bells, which ring when he walks. Over this robe, the high priest will wear an apron-like garment woven of gold, blue, purple and crimson, and on top of this, a breastplate inlaid with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel and precious stones. There is also an 8th special item tied with a blue cord to the front of the high priest’s turban--a gold plate engraved HOLY TO THE LORD.

Some commentary on this parsha finds the splendor of the priestly adornments to be rather puzzling as the requirement for the priests to wear beautiful sacred clothing emphasizes the visual. The vestments seem to counter a fundamental Jewish value—the emphasis of hearing “the still small voice” of God, who primarily reveals himself in words and not as an idol. Why then the beautification of the priestly garments described in this parsha and the enhancement of the aesthetic and what many of us might call “the superficial”? 

The late Rabbi LORD Jonathan Sacks proposed an answer.  

The story of the Golden Calf shows us that people cannot always fully relate to a God who doesn’t give them a visible sign of God’s presence. It is had to believe in a God of everywhere-in-general but nowhere in particular. It is hard to sustain a relationship with God who is only evident in miracles but not in everyday life…

…The entire purpose of the Sanctuary was to bring the experience of God down to earth in a physical structure with regular routines performed by ordinary human beings. Its purpose was to make people sense the

invisible divine presence in visible phenomena.

We may then ask ourselves when considering our CCJCC, a JCC without walls: How do we see the divine in our organization?  

I would say that our people to people interactions--whether in-person or on-line--provide the human connections that are so valued in Judaism. Our mental engagement and person-to-person learning experiences can be and often are soul enriching. They can engage the spirit and because of that can be considered holy work.

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