Parshat Tetzaveh: Exodus 27:28-30:10; Ezekiel 43_10-27. (Shushan Purim)

I read a story about a Jewish immigrant from Europe who moved to the lower east side of New York in the early years of the 20th century.

To get a job, he changed his traditional clothes and worked on Shabbat and holidays. He needed to feed his family and felt he had no other choice.

He often slept at work because of late hours at night and early hours in the morning. He often seemed distant, depressed and lost.

At night, children would go to work where he was asleep at a desk and put down a different ritual item: Kiddush cup, Shabbat candles, tallit, Chanukah candles.

Rabbi Aaron Bergman
Rabbi Aaron Bergman

The man came back to life. The items reconnected him to his past and his family. They reminded him who he was: a human entitled to dignity, not just a drone.

This is the main point in our Torah portion. When we remember who we are, we can face the challenges of life more optimistically and joyfully.

The portion describes the fancy, elaborate clothing of the priesthood when making sacrifices. It also describes the Ark of the Covenant that was to be covered in gold.

It seems strange that while the Israelites are trying to get to the promised land they stop and make such elaborate costumes and objects.

Doing so was not ritual for ritual’s sake and not for God, because God does not need anything. It was to remind a group of recently freed slaves that they were capable of beauty and splendor, that they could remember who they really were, and not Pharaoh’s vision of who they were.

The Kiddush cup, candlesticks and challah on Shabbat remind us that we are entitled to rest and a life at home that is joyous and happy.

The mezuzah reminds us to remember our values when we leave for work and when we come back home.

The tallit reminds us that we are robed in splendor, no matter how modest our lives.

The purpose of ritual, of doing Jewish, is to remember that we are all capable of goodness and that we can create a world of beauty and splendor even when we feel like we are in the wilderness.

Aaron Bergman is a rabbi at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills.