Tetsaveh: Sacred vestments

Make sacred vestments…for honor and splendor. (Shemot 28:2)

The priests were arrayed
in honor and splendor,
in garments of gold,
purple, crimson and blue.

Their fine linen raiment
signified holiness:
the priests’ dedication
to the service of God.

The body’s the garb
of the spark of our soul:
may our deeds clothe our spirit
in radiant attire.


The Sefat Emet notes that the commandment regarding the oil for the menorah is followed by that concerning the priestly vestments. He says that oil hints at the mind and intellect, that they should remain pure and clear. The priestly clothes, he says, hint at the physical – the body which clothes the soul, which should be “for honor and splendor.” He quotes from Koheleth (9:8) “Let your garments be always white: and let your head lack no oil (ointment).” and comments that purity of mind and body should be linked together.

In a blogpost on Tetsaveh http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2008/02/this-weeks-port.html, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat comments that the priestly garments, which are described in great detail, are important because they symbolize service. “Aaron and his sons will dedicate their lives to serving God; in return, their community enfolds them in these beautiful garments, made to reflect their innate kavod, honor, and tif’eret, beauty.
Today there are no priests, and no temple in which to serve. Instead each of us serves God in the temple of our own hearts, offering words and intentions instead of bulls and sheep. What would it mean to dress ourselves in garments like these?” Rabbi Barenblat brings a teaching by the Rebbe of Chernobyl* who taught that the body is a garment for the spark of godliness within each of us. Rabbi Barenblat asks, “How can we bring all the glory, all the splendor, all the honor of our being into living in a way that keeps us mindful of our Source?”

*Chernobyl is a Hasidic dynasty founded by Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky who was a maggid (a skilled narrator of Torah and religious stories) in the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl. Rabbi Twersky was a student of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Hasidic movement) and of his pupil and chief disciple the Maggid of Mezeritch. He is considered one of the pioneers of the Hasidic movement. He is known by the name of his work, the Meor Einayim, which is a compilation of insights on the weekly parasha and which achieved widespread acceptance as one of the major works of Hasidic ideology.
Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl – also known as the Chernobyler Magid. His thoughts, sermons and discourses were published in his book Likutei Torah, which was praised for its holiness by other Hasidic leaders. Throughout his teachings, Rabbi Mordechai stressed the importance of pure speech and pure thought as a condition for a proper prayer connection. Rabbi Mordechai was succeeded in Chernobyl by his son Rabbi Aaron. All of Rebbe Mordechai’s eight sons became rebbes in different cities.
The Chernobyl dynasty includes the rebbes of Chernobyl, Cherkas, Turisk, Talne, Korestchov, Makarov, Skver, Rachmastrivka, Malyn, Hornosteipl, Machnova, Ozarnetz and several others.
Chernobyl Hasidism as a movement survived the devastation of the Holocaust although many of its members perished. There are many scions of the Chernobyl dynasty alive today and anyone with the surname Twersky is likely to be a descendant of the Chernobyl dynasty.

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