Politics & Parsha: Tetzaveh 5771

Posted on February 11, 2011 In Archives

Politics & Parsha: “Shul Politics Like Never Before”

Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

Tetzaveh 5771: Flag Man

Mr. Kinnevy: Wait a minute. You’re a kid.
Douglas ‘Doogie’ Howser: True, but I’m also a genius. If you have a problem with that, I can get you an older doctor who’s not as smart as me. (Doogie Howser, MD;1989)

We all know what it feels like when someone doesn’t quite look the part: a rabbi isn’t “dressed” like one, or a policeman is out of uniform. This author recalls vividly the first time he watched an undercover transit cop approach someone on the NYC subway, sure, until he pulled his badge that trouble, with a capital T was unfolding.

That helps explain why the Bible devotes significant papyrus & ink to the vestments of the High Priest (and the regular priests too, but our concern is only with him). Sure, like any uniform or specialty garment (from running shoes to tuxedos), they act to help the kohen get his “game on” as he does the service and/or pleads for the nation.

But is there more? Is there a lesson?

The closest I’ve yet come to royalty was a visit to Windsor Castle, with the Queen “in residence” (British for: she’s around here somewhere). But we’d never know it if not for a particularly perceptive member of our group who noticed the strange flag flying. Our guide told us it was the personal standard of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, Queen of England and by law or custom, it only flies when the sovereign is “in residence.”

Well, the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, didn’t get his own flag. He wears a breastplate of precious stones inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes. That is, the High Priest isn’t sovereign. He isn’t separate from the community of people he represents. And whatever service he is performing, the Bible – and Jewish tradition – want to remind him from where he draws his position and to whom he owes his allegiance.

Like a soldier with an American flag on their uniform, the High Priest’s role is to serve the nation. His particular task at hand may be to atone for their sins or to defend them against danger. But whatever he’s doing now, he has an original mission and an ultimate task. He wears the stones to remind him of that.

We all have different roles each day: parent, child, boss, employee, friend, citizen. But ultimately, we need to choose whether our flag is our personal one or if it is a community’s.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha.