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A D'var Torah for Parashat Tetzaveh

This portion is so anti-intellectual and has so little in of interest
even to the traditional community, that rabbis have commented that "it
is one of the very few in which Moses is not mentioned". What it
consists of is the ordination of Aaron and his descendants as priests
and vast descriptions of the vestments that the priest should wear and
the law of the half-shekel temple tax. This segment was probably
rewritten in King Josiah's time, and again during the exile, and again
upon the return to conform to what the priests were wearing at that
time. Nothing in this parasha survived the destruction of the Temple
in Judaism, even in traditional Judaism. It is important in Christian
Catholic and Orthodox tradition as the vestments of the bishops and
the idea that bishops can ordain priests are implicit. As far as I
know Apple computer has not announced a device which will allow users
to connect to God via the internet for the expiation of sin and called
it the E-phod. Jews have chosen to dress the Torah in a mimicry of the
priestly vestments.

So two questions arise-

1) What about this process called ordination.

2) How can we revalue the ancient traditions concerning the priesthood

The answer to the first is found and justified in the next parasha
where the Talmud concludes one cannot appoint a rabbi without
consulting the congregation.

The second question requires to know exactly what rituals the priests
had which survived the second temple and how can we revalue them.

Of all the priestly duties only two have survived the destruction of
the temple-

The priestly blessing which we have dealt with well and creatively and
is leading edge in that others are adopting our customs and the
"redeeming of the first born" pidyan haben which I propose we can deal
with creatively.

The priestly blessing was transferred to the home as the parental
blessing. In the synagogue there are variations. This ceremony is
traditionally performed daily in Israel (except in Galilee), and among
most Sephardi Jews worldwide, during the repetition of the Shacharit
Amidah. On Sabbath and festivals it is also recited during the
repetition of the Musaf prayer. On Yom Kippur the ceremony is
performed during the Neilah service as well. On other fast days it is
performed at Mincha, if said in the late afternoon.

In the Diaspora in Ashkenazic Orthodox communities, the ceremony is
performed only on Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Rosh
Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. German communities perform it at both
Shacharit and Musaf, while on Yom Kippur it is performed at Neilah as
well. Eastern European congregations only perform it at Musaf. On
Simchat Torah, some communities recite it during Musaf, and others
during Shacharit, to enable Cohanim to participate in the custom
of drinking alcohol during the Torah reading between Shacharit and
Musaf. On weekdays and Shabbat, in Ashkenazic diaspora communities,
the blessing is not recited by Cohanim. Instead, it is recited only by
the shaliach tzibbur, or a chazzan, after the Modim prayer, towards
the end of the Amidah, without any special chant or gestures.

In Conservative Judaism, the majority of congregations do not perform
the priestly blessing ceremony, but some do. In some American
Conservative congregations that perform the ceremony, a bat cohen
(daughter of a priest) can perform it as well

Orthodox Judaism requires male cohanim , in continuity with the
requirements of the Temple. The Masorti movement in Israel, and some
Conservative congregations in North America, require male cohanim as
well, and retain other restrictions on cohanim. In Reconstructionist,
and other liberal congregations, the concept of the priesthood has
been abandoned, along with other caste and gender distinctions. Thus,
this blessing is usually omitted or simply read by the hazzan . Where
Jews omit the Musaf service, if they choose to include the priestly
blessing, it is usually appended to the end of the Shacharit
Amidah. We have the custom of the congregation spreading their
tallitot over each other and blessing each other that way. This
revaluation respects the tradition.

More problematic is pidyon haben:

In the traditional ceremony, the father who is not a Cohen or Levi
brings the son at the age of one month to the Cohen and recites a
formula. The father responds to ritual questions, indicating that this
is the Israelite mother's firstborn son, that she has no previous
miscarriage, and the birth was vaginal and not caesarean, and he has
come to redeem him as commanded in the Torah. The Cohen asks the
father which he would rather have, the child or the five silver
shekels which he must pay. The father states that he prefers the child
to the money, then recites

Baruch , Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvo-tav,
v'tzivanu al pidyon haben .

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us
with His mitzvot, and instructed us regarding the redemption of a

Baruch , Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, sheh-he-che-yanu v'kee-yimanu
v'hee-gee-yanu laz-man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has kept us
alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

He hands over five silver coins (or coin or bullion of at least 117
grams silver). The Cohen holds the coins over the child and declares
that the redemption price is received and accepted in place in the
child. He then blesses the child with the parental and priestly
blessing and returns him to the custody of his family. Because there
is doubt as to who is really a cohen, the cohen either donates the
money to Tzedakah or returns it to the parents.

The ceremony traditionally takes place amidst a minyan of 10 men. The
child is sometimes presented on a silver tray, surrounded by jewelry
lent for the occasion by women in attendance. The event is accompanied
by a meal, and guests in some places are given cloves of garlic and
cubes of sugar to take home which have been placed on the tray with
the baby; these strongly-flavored foods can be used to flavor a large
quantity of food which will in some sense extend the mitzvah of
participation in the ceremony to all who eat them. In 1993 The
Conservative Movement rejected the idea of a ceremony for a first born

To which our first reaction is feh!. Having said this we can ask:What
can we recognize about this event that is important and worth
noting? How can we do this in such a way that the ancient rite is
respected and yet it is not offensive?

What is important in a first born is it marks the beginning of new
generation and as such should be marked. Secondly, the idea that a
family would in principle desire give its best and dearest to lifelong
service of the community. Both of these needs can be met by a simple
ceremony which would respect the tradition and be valid to the
traditional and mark a new start in life.

When the child is one month old or the final adoption papers were
valid for one month the parents bring the child before the
congregation (or a group of ten friends) just before or just after
Shabbat, and one of them asks -Is this your first child, the start of
a new generation amongst the Jewish people? Do you wish to assign
this child to lifelong service to the community or wish to redeem
him/her? I wish to redeem him/her so he/she can be educated by us and
decide him/herself how much of him/herself , he/she wishes to
dedicate to the value of community service which we hold dear? The
parents recite

Baruch ata Adonoy, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu
bi'mitzvo-tav, vi'tzivanu al pidyon haben/habat.

Blessed are You, our God, Sovereign of the universe, who sanctified us
with mitzvot, and instructed us regarding the redemption of a child.

Baruch ata Adonoy, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, sheh-he-che-yanu
v'kee-yimanu v'hee-gee-yanu laz-man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has kept us
alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

The designated person then accepts tangible assets worth at least 117
grams of silver which is donated to a social justice cause. Then in
true Jewish tradition-- everybody shouts mazal tov and eats . As among
this group of friends there is likely to be a cohen, or if no cohen, a
levi or if no levi, a first born, the traditional ritual is satisfied
and the revaluation has taken place.
Eric Mendelsohn is a member of Congregation Darchei Noam and was a
commentator for the Kol Haneshamah series of siddurim
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah