Moses did as the Lord commanded him. And when the community was assembled at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, Moses said to the community, “This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.”
Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. He put the tunic on him, girded him with the sash, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him, girding him with the decorated band with which he tied it to him. He put the breastpiece on him, and put into the breastpiece the Urim and Thummim. And he set the headdress on his head; and on the headdress, in front, he put the gold frontlet, the holy diadem — as the Lord had commanded Moses…
He poured some of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him. Moses then brought Aaron’s sons forward, clothed them in tunics, girded them with sashes, and wound turbans upon them, as the Lord had commanded Moses…And Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood that was on the altar and sprinkled it upon Aaron and upon his vestments, and also upon his sons and upon their vestments. Thus he consecrated Aaron and his vestments, and also his sons and their vestments.
Moses said to Aaron and his sons: …You shall not go outside the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the day that your period of ordination is completed. For your ordination will require seven days. Everything done today, the Lord has commanded to be done [seven days], to make expiation for you. You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, keeping the Lord’s charge — that you may not die — for so I have been commanded. (Vayikra 8:4-13, 30, 31-35)
The people crowd and stare up mutely
at the line of men, disrobed,
upright as a row of cedars
lit by rays of early sun.
Each in turn steps forward as
his skin is washed in sacred rite,
the cleansing water trickles down
in pools upon the courtyard floor.
The High Priest first is clothed in layers
tunic, sash and robe are tied,
invested in the mark of service
his head anointed then with oil.
His acolytes in turn stand forward
to be attired in priestly garb,
their faces solemn as they ponder
Whom it is they come to serve.
In an article on Parashat Tsav entitled Transparent Leadership, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/transparent-leadership/ Rachel Farbiarz comments “For as long as people have organized themselves into civil societies, corruption has placed its thumb on the scales of justice, diverted the flow of essential resources, and helped turn the wheels of power…Beside the economic burdens, corruption levies a perhaps even more damaging psychological toll, under which ordinary citizens come to feel powerless in the face of corruption’s constant, common debasements…
“Testament to the timelessness of corruption’s havoc, the Torah repeatedly exhorts Israel’s leaders to resist venality.” Farbiarz suggests that Parashat Tsav conveys this message in a more subtle manner “through the exquisite choreography of the ritual consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests.”
First, the investiture ritual was a public affair, taking place before the eyes of the entire people. We are told that Moses assembled Israel at the entrance to the Tabernacle where everyone, Rashi explains, was miraculously accommodated. We learn that the new priests were to stay at the Tabernacle’s entrance for the entire seven day period of the investiture, lest they die.
Farbiarz says, “The metamorphosis of Aaron and his sons into kohanim, or priests, was thus a process wholly transparent to the nation. All of Israel watched as Moses bathed Aaron and his sons. They stood witness as Moses clothed the naked initiates in tunics and girded them with sashes; as he wrapped his nephews’ heads with turbans; as he bedecked his older brother with the urim v’tumim, the jeweled breastplate of the High Priest (Leviticus 8:6-34).”
The people watched Moses demonstrate the rites of the korbanot to the first priests; they saw how he sprinkled sacrificial blood on Aaron and his sons, on their thumbs, toes and ears and on their vestments. Farbiarz suggests that this intricate ceremony of ordination transmitted a powerful message of “mutual responsibility between priest and nation.” She continues, “That the nation witnessed Aaron and his sons laid completely bare and then costumed bit by bit, chastened the priests to remember that critical to their holy transformation was the nation’s intimacy with their humanity. The nation, in turn, was vested with the awesome trust implied in witnessing the initiates change from naked, vulnerable men into God’s – and the people’s – servants.”
She submits that the “investiture’s peculiar pageantry” further conveys that the priests’ service was intended to be carried out in an altruistic spirit of dedication. “To both the nation and the initiates, the macabre image of Aaron and his sons, their garments, and extremities covered with sacrificial blood, conveyed a humbling message: Henceforth, the priests’ lives were to be like the korbanot with which they were entrusted–sacrifices to God on the nation’s behalf. The priesthood was emphatically not to be a life of self-aggrandizement and personal profit, but one of service and accountability to others.”
However, although this was a notably public spectacle of the ordination underscoring the priests’ accountability to God and the community, and thus exemplifying the priesthood at its best, it was a unique occurrence, a ritual that was never repeated. And the priesthood was later degraded by corruption and greed. Farbiarz notes, “The holy institution thus tragically succumbed to precisely what the investiture seemed crafted to derail: the powerful tendency of public institutions to become the people’s victimizers, rather than their servants, when transparency and accountability are abandoned.”
Finally, she points out that widespread corruption is rife the world over. In the world’s most impoverished countries, corruption is one of the most serious obstacles to progress, affecting nearly every aspect of life in these societies.
She mentions the courage of individuals around the world who frequently endanger themselves by exposing and fighting corruption. She concludes, “Their struggles lend hope that the priestly investiture’s emphasis on transparency and accountability will take root in their own communities and throughout the world.”