Parashat Tetzaveh

The Holy Art of Sacrifice

Balancing wisdom with passion is the key to achieving justice in the world.

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Aaron and his sons are ordained as priests and instructed in the elaborate rituals of sacrifice.

But first they must get dressed.

Parashat Tetzaveh devotes great attention to the preparation of Aaron's garments, down to the most precise details of color, decoration, and accessories. It also provides interesting instruction as to who should prepare them, and in what frame of mind.

The garments of the priest are designed to literally remind him of his task as community representative and emissary. He is going before the Lord, but he is not going alone or in his own name. The names of all his people have been woven into his garments--sewn into the shoulder pads, and written across the breast plate.

Who Clothes the Priests?

It is interesting to note that while the priesthood is hierarchical (and patrilineal), the task of clothing the priests is left to "chochmei halev"--those who are "wise of heart whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom" (Exodus 28:3).

What does it mean to be "wise of heart" and how does this relate to sacrifice, and to the pursuit of justice?

Wisdom is usually associated with the mind--with linear thinking, rationality, and assimilation of complex ideas. What is wise is not simple. Wisdom is not commonplace, otherwise it would not be wisdom. Hearts, however, are the home of passion and compassion; the heart as we understand it is the organ of love and of empathy.

"Wisdom of the heart" is the place where two of our greatest human capacities come together; the capacity to think and problem-solve merges with the urge to nurture, heal, embrace, and love.

Aaron is sent forth to meet God clothed, literally, in the collected wisdom and love of his community. The center of this garment is the "breast plate of decision" (also translated as "the breastplate of judgment"). It is worn over Aaron's heart and provides a reminder that as priest and leader, he will be called upon not only to serve and worship, but also, in the most critical moments, to decide and judge.

A breast plate is usually thought of as protection for the heart, our most vulnerable organ. Perhaps there is a message here that difficult judgment calls may be wounding (or even heartbreaking)--but for a leader, they are nevertheless required. Decisions may emanate from the heart or be driven by emotion, but ultimately they must also guard the interests of the community. And they must also be wise, embracing the complexities of multiple needs and interests.

How do we balance wisdom and passion as we go forth to do justice in the world? This is one of the hardest questions, and perhaps the most central. Wisdom should guide our actions. They should be calculated and strategic, and we should know the outcome we hope to produce from our efforts. But "wisdom" alone can mire us in bureaucracy--or a calculated approach that loses sight of what we sought to correct in the first place.

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Aliza Mazor

Aliza Mazor is an independent organizational consultant specializing in non-profit start-ups and the social change sector. She currently serves as Program Director for Bikkurim.