We all know that we live in a society that is extremely fashion conscious. Virtually every product has its own designer label, even as we know that many so-called “upscale” products are made in the same factories as products that do not carry the much desired label. And it’s not only we adults who take note of these designer labels; our children also, from an early age, learn that one label connotes “cool” while another is of lesser “prestige.”
The Torah speaks this week of garments with the “ultimate designer label.” We are told of the elaborate garments that the Kohanim (priests) were to wear while serving in the Temple. “Make sacred vestments….a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress…” We learn that these vestments were made of gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, linen, etc.”
Why these elaborate garments? To evoke a sense of awe among the people as they entered the Temple. That the ornate garments worn by the priests would convey the holiness of the Temple, and cause people to feel that God could be encountered in that holy place. The rabbis in our congregation wear a robe and Tallis when we conduct services. Such was the case in the congregation in which I grew up, and I can still recall that the black (or white) robe and Tallis conveyed that I was in a “different” or special place. I was in a place where we were perpetuating ancient values and ideals; I was in a place where people came to pray for health for their loved ones. I was in the same place as my grandfather and father, all of us united by a heritage so much concerned with celebrating the blessing that is life.
I have said many times that our early sages never intended to convey that we could only “encounter” God in the Temple. Judaism has always recognized that we can pray anyplace and that “nine rabbis do not make a minyan, while ten tailors do.”
But I put on the robe before our service begins, and it is perhaps more for me than for you. For when I put on the robe and Tallis, I know that I have entered a different spiritual place, and that it is time to focus upon those things in life that matter most. Please join me for a wonderful Shabbat celebration this evening.
Rabbi David Greenberg