D'var Torah- Parashat Tetzaveh
In this week’s parsha, Parshat Tetzaveh, we are provided with an elaborate description of the “sacred vestments” of the priests and high priests working in the Mishkan. These vestments were made to be seen. They were meant to impress the human eye. They were “for glory and splendor,” as explained in the text. This, however, seems to contradict fundamental values of Judaism. Jewish spirituality is about listening more than looking. The key word is shema, meaning to hear, listen, understand, and obey. In fact, the deep reasoning behind covering our eyes when reciting shema is as follows: in order that we eliminate the world of sight and focus on the world of sound.
This idea relates to the Torah’s battle with idolatry; there were many who thought God to be a visual representation, such as the sun, stars, earth, river, sea, animal kingdom, and earth. Judaism disavows this whole idea. God is not visual. God cannot be seen. God is not nature. God only creates nature. God reveals himself through words. This is apparent through Moshe’s statement at Mount Sinai: “The Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.”
The Mishkan, however, is clearly an exception to the emphasis on sound; there was an obvious focus on the visual. So… what exactly is the reasoning? The answer is quite simple and relates to the infamous sin of the Golden Calf- the Jews constructed a Golden Calf and worshipped it at Mount Sinai. As humans, it is often hard for us to believe in something we cannot see. How can we speak to someone who isn’t standing right before us? We are not unique individuals like Mosheh. Therefore, to fill God’s “empty spot,” the Mishkan became the visible sign of God’s continual presence in the midst of the people. The fancy clothing of those working in the Mishkan were meant to create an atmosphere of reverence, pointing out a beauty and splendour beyond themselves, namely God Himself.