This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, describes the sacral priestly vestments that are to be worn by Aaron and his sons. The text goes through very specific detail about how to construct the clothing, adornments and headdresses and with what kinds of material.
The ephod, a kind of apron that the priests wore, was made of fine, twisted linen. It had on it two gold-framed lapis lazuli stones with the names of the 12 tribes engraved upon them. There was a breast piece made of precious stones mounted in gold and attached to the ephod with braided chains of gold.
The Urim and Tummim, precious gemstones that helped the high priest determine God’s will, were carried in the breast piece next to the heart. The robe was woven in blue with pomegranates and bells interspersed along the hem. The headdress was made of fine linen, the tunic was fringed, and the sash was embroidered. Lastly, the frontlet that the priest wore on his forehead bore the phrase “Holy to the Eternal.”
Indeed, the process of ordaining and anointing the priests was in order to consecrate them, to make them holy for God. Their clothing, therefore, was the outward symbol of their unique relationship to God as the ritual intermediary between God and God’s people. And so, by wearing these elaborate, splendid garments, God was setting them apart, making them stand out, declaring them holy.
Ultimately, that is what it means to be holy. That which is holy and sacred is special, rare, and treated differently from that which is considered more commonplace. And at the same time, it is only holy because we have chosen it to be so. Nothing is inherently holy; we determine what is sacred to us.
Think of our Torah scrolls. In essence, they are parchment, wood and ink. But, because we have declared the content holy, we treat the object itself differently than we treat other objects. We adorn it with woven and embroidered cloth, crowns, breast pieces and bells. We stand in its presence. We sing blessings when we hear its words.
The priests would simply be men dressed in fancy clothes unless we understand that the clothes are to remind us that they are special, that they have a unique role to play and thus are holy to God.
In the image of God’s actions, we follow suit, also finding individuals and anointing them with holiness in our lives. The clearest example of this is the wedding ceremony, whereby an individual consecrates another to himself or herself. An individual makes another holy by determining that his or her relationship with that person will be entirely unlike any other relationship in life.
Marriage isn’t the only example, of course. Within many of our relationships, there are ways we treat people and are treated by people that are unique in a positive way. Affirming a significant relationship means making those with whom we share sacred relationships feel that they are truly holy to us.
It sounds obvious, but how often do we take out our frustrations on those we love the most? Those closest to us will often get the brunt of our negativity because it is safe for us to be ourselves, and we can take for granted that they will stay connected to us. Yet, in the moment, it never feels like we are losing our patience because of the strength of our relationship. It usually just feels bad.
How do we remind ourselves of the holiness of our relationships at any given moment? How do we remember to make our loved ones feel that they are sacred to us?
While we can’t simply inscribe the words “holy to me” onto the foreheads of our loved ones, we can intentionally remind ourselves to heighten our awareness. Remember that you are entering a sacred space with special people before you enter your home at the end of the day. Remind yourself of the holiness of your relationship before you pick up the phone to call a parent or a sibling or a friend.
We make our relationships holy by the ways in which we treat those we love. God chose to visually set apart those who were holy to God. How will you set apart those who are most holy to you?
Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin is a rabbi at Temple Sinai in Oakland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.