Colorful Robes and Musical Hems
February 26, 2021
By Nadine Chalmers

This week’s parsha is Tetzaveh, and the bulk of the reading consists of God giving Moses a description of the priestly garments that Aaron and Aaron’s sons (the priests, or Kohanim) must wear in the sanctuary: And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. The garments described are intricate and beautiful, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and of fine twisted linen, skillfully worked.

While at first this parsha reads a bit like a very elaborate laundry list, on closer inspection, there is much to be gleaned. As we approach a full year of living in a pandemic, my first reaction was to think about this parsha in the context of how our relationships with clothing have changed over the past year. The priestly garments are required to be elaborate and beautiful to signal to the community that the priests are doing holy work, reflecting the glory of God. Though we are not holy priests, our garments also reflect our work: health care workers in scrubs or white coats; postal workers and bus drivers in uniform. Our clothes also reflect the things we are not doing: dressing up for weddings and birthday parties; suiting up for team sports. Masks have become a ubiquitous garment for all of us, as we wear them to protect our community and ourselves. 

In addition to telling others about our responsibilities, our garments influence our own state of mind. The priests’ garments not only signaled to others that they were doing holy work in a holy space, but reminded them, themselves, of their special role. So too do our clothes help us separate work from leisure, waking from sleeping, working out from sitting by the fire. Many of us fortunate enough to do all of these things safely from home over the past year have seen all of those activities start to blur together. For me, an outfit change still helps mark the moment. It also helps tie us to our traditions and our past. Dressing up for even a virtual Rosh Hashanah service reminds me of my childhood, when every year my mother would do her best to get my sister and me new dresses to mark the new year.

After a year when clothing has seemed like the least of our problems, Tetzaveh’s descriptions of colorful robes with musical hems (adorned with golden bells and decorative pomegranate seeds) brightened my week.

Nadine Chalmers serves as the Senior Transportation Planner at Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and is an active participant in Nickel City Jews.

Colorful Robes and Musical Hems - Jewish thought of the week graphic