This week, on the Shabbat before Purim, we read the weekly Torah portion Tetzaveh. In it, we read about a seven-day period in which the priests, Aaron and his sons, are inaugurated into service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Torah provides exacting detail about how the priests should dress, and what and how the sacrifices should be made, including how to smoke the sacrificial animals to create a pleasant odor. The Torah warns that the priests will die if they don’t wear the proper attire. It’s all about how to be holy in the presence of God, the ultimate judge.
In contrast, the Purim story begins in King Ahasuerus’s palace in Shushan. He has thrown a 180-day drinking party, followed by another seven-day party. At the end of the seven days, he summons Queen Vashti to appear naked before him and all the party guests. She refuses. After consulting his advisors, the king banishes Vashti and likely has her killed.
Everything in Tetzaveh is designed to heighten the senses and cultivate awe of the Divine. Everything in the Purim story is designed to deaden the senses, resulting in chaos and death.
Tetzaveh begins with a commandment to bring oil to light the lamps in the Mishkan, a light that must burn continually. While the lamp is physically located in the Mishkan, symbolically we understand it to represent the Divine presence, teaching: Layehudim haytah orah, “the Jews had light.” We therefore are compelled to shine light on chaos and injustice and to bring holiness into this world.
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To celebrate five years of this sacred work, we are designating the month before Purim as a time in which we fulfill the line from the Book of Esther, “The Jews had light/ Layehudim hayeta orah.” During this month, we will publish and distribute materials related to light and Purim.
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