BY RABBI ELANA ERDSTEIN PERRY / AJT//
The Torah portion this week, Tetzaveh, focuses on the advent of the priesthood of Aaron and his sons. The passages provide a detailed description of the vestments of the priests as well as an equally detailed description of the ritual for ordination.
These lengthy accounts reflect the importance of the priestly role, the high status they held in the community and the respect they received from the Israelites.
Of course, being that the priests were symbolic exemplars of piety and virtue, one might think that the Torah would devote a little more time to describing their character – but we learn virtually nothing about the inner qualities necessary for Aaron to serve as a priest.
At least in Pirkei Avot 1:12 we find some clues about such qualities. The text states:
“Be a student of Aaron, loving and pursuing peace, loving people, and drawing them near to the Torah.”
Aaron apparently possessed these noble traits and passed them on to his disciples. The question now, then, is how does the priestly position promote peace, love, and engagement with Torah?
Both the duties the biblical priests performed and the clothing they wore for such duties had to be meticulous. In fact, the midrash of Ecclesiastes Rabbah states that if even one letter were missing from the inscription on Aaron’s garment, his garment would be invalid (7:2); this suggests that he could not complete his sacred tasks without the full inclusion of all whom he represented.
In other words, in order for Aaron to assume his priestly role, it was imperative that every single member of the community be counted and recognized. Perhaps this is why Pirkei Avot encourages us to be more like Aaron; perhaps this is a spirit of inclusivity from which all of us can learn.
Do we, in our own congregations and institutions, ensure that all members of our communities are recognized and included in the fold? For example, are our facilities fully accessible to people with disabilities?
Does our institutional language speak only in heterosexual terms, rendering homosexual members invisible? Is our programming oriented only toward couples and families, leaving singles to feel excluded?
We need not be priests to examine ourselves and the way we represent our communities. If we neglect to include anyone, we invalidate our sacred purpose.
So let us all be students of Aaron. Let us be inclusive, exemplifying a pursuit of peace, demonstrating a love of others and helping to draw more people near to the Torah.
Rabbi Elana Erdstein Perry is a rabbi at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs and a member of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.