Tetzaveh: The Words Of My Mouth Shall Be UponMy Heart

This Shabbat we meet Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-29:10) and with it the detailed instructions Priestly vestments. Clothes helped make the men in this passage. Indeed, we are regained with the fine points of Priestly dress and, in closing, investiture. We also see the description of proper approach to the Temple and we meet the ner tamid at the very beginning (27:20)

There is a fascinating passage however that I suggest can speak to Boomers as we examine how life has changed us and how we now embrace our own life stage. In 28 we read the detailed description of the breastpiece that is to be worn by the High Priest. The artifact is to contain, in a symbolic sense, the representation of the people. It is a reflection of the life of the people. The choshen ha’mishpat is described in one translation (Plaut) as a “breastpiece of decision (28:29) and then as an “instrument of decision” (28:30). And it is to be worn al libo (over his heart). 

“Over his heart”! Think about that. The idea of this piece, representing decision, is to cover the heart. Maybe this is telling us that the true decisions that count are based not on our head, but our heart. How could that mean something for us? Look at the word for heart: the lamed and vet (lev). You can look at the word and consider what values may speak to each of these letters that make up the word for heart. The lamed could easily represent the word lashon, the word for speech (as in lashon ha ra: evil speech or gossip). Perhaps the portion issues saying to us that  we get older and experience life we come to know the power of words that hurt. Many of us have studied texts that speak to this value of guarding what we say and how we say it so as not to “kill” another person.

And the vet can easily stand for the word and value of blessing (b’racha). We come to know as we get older the value of speaking words that bring blessing to others. The kindness of speech, delivered and received, can be a type of blessing that brings peace to relationships and moments of interaction. To speak words of blessing engages the heart, and, as this portion may be telling us, it is the heart that knows truth; it is the heart that feels what is good and what is threatening. Maybe the portion is telling us not to fear to “wear” our heart, to speak the truth of what we feel so as to bring blessing to others and to our world.


Rabbi Richard F Address

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