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We are a Kingdom of Priests

02/22/2024 07:10:09 AM


Rabbi Bryan Wexler

In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, the role of the priests (kohanim) in the service of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) takes center stage. Tetzaveh serves as an instruction manual for how to operationalize the Mishkan as God details how to sanctify the priests and offer sacrifices during the seven days of inauguration in the Mishkan.  It also describes in detail the priestly uniform. 

One central element of the clothing of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was the hoshen mishpat, the Breastplate of Judgment.  This special breastplate had four rows of stones, twelve stones in total, each corresponding to one of the tribes of Israel. The text says (Exodus 28:29):

וְנָשָׂ֣א אַֽ֠הֲרֹ֠ן אֶת־שְׁמ֨וֹת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בְּחֹ֧שֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּ֛ט עַל־לִבּ֖וֹ בְּבֹא֣וֹ אֶל־הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ לְזִכָּרֹ֥ן לִפְנֵֽי־י תָּמִֽיד

“Aaron shall carry the names of the children of Israel on the breastplate of judgement over his heart, when he enters the sanctuary, for remembrance, before God at all times.”

As I think about the breastplate and specifically the embedded stones, I am struck by what they represent.  You see, each stone represents a unique story, or perhaps a series of stories, about real people. The Kohen Gadol is given the important task of bringing all of these stories together in sacred service.  In fact, the text tells us that the priest is to “carry” these stones and stories forward.  The Hebrew word used for “carry” is nasa, which literally means “to raise up.”  The priest is to lift up the stories of each individual Israelite in his moment of encounter with God.

Even more, the text could have simply said that the priest wears the breastplate on his chest, after all, that is where ones wears a breastplate. However, the text states that the priest is to wear the breastplate al libo, “upon his heart.”  We hold our sacred stories as well as those of others, in our hearts.

The Torah teaches that we are a kingdom of priests.  This means that we each have the opportunity to hold our stories and the stories of others al libo, upon our hearts and in remembrance of those who came before us.

In the aftermath of October 7th, as we think about our brothers and sisters in Israel and how we can help, one of our tasks is to bear witness to their stories. One of the most powerful ways that we can do this is by traveling to Israel, to help in any small ways we can, to sit with them, to listen, to be present, and then to return to our community and share what we heard and saw with one another.  That is what Rabbi Peltz and other members of our community will do this Shabbat morning as they share reflections from the recent TBS Mission to Israel.  I hope you will join us on in shul this Saturday morning.  And for me personally, I am eager to travel to Israel this Sunday on our South Jersey Jewish Federation Mission.  My goal: to wear the breastplate of those we meet al libi, on my heart.  To hold close and to raise up the stories; from the heart-wrenching to the heart-warming.  I look forward to sharing these stories upon my return.

Shabbat Shalom.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784