Is God easily startled? It sounds like an odd question until you examine this week’s Torah portion. In describing the clothes the priests are to wear, the Torah says, “Aaron shall wear it while officiating, so that the sound of it is heard when he comes into the sanctuary before the Lord and when he goes out, that he may not die.” Is Aaron supposed to tie a bell or some sort of collar around himself to announce his presence? Certainly there is great value in knowing what’s coming, who’s coming, and when they’re coming.
If in fact God wishes not to be startled, I can sympathize. I startle very easily. I tend to zone out extraneous noises, usually because I end up so focused on whatever I’m doing. However, that means that I could be so intently working on a project that I miss the sound of someone walking into the room, and suddenly I jump because there’s someone behind me. At these jumpy moments, my heart startles and races, my adrenaline is pumping, and it takes me a good few minutes to calm back down. And no matter how often this happens (or how often I remind the rest of my family I startle easily) someone or something still manages to get me at least once a week. The only one in our house that doesn’t need to announce himself is our dog Stanley. The tags on his collar jingle so loudly that I can hear him coming from the other end of the house.
In Parshat Tetzaveh, the Torah portion we read this week, God gives the commandments for what clothing the priests will wear, how they should be fashioned, and the materials that should be used in their fashioning. The priests are designated to wear special clothing that distinguishes them from others in the service of God. These clothes are meant to add an aura of holiness to the priests as they complete their work. Since these vestments and garments are to be used for such a unique purpose, God also gives a special instruction regarding who is to make them. Aside from these verses on apparel, the remainder of the parshah is mostly centered around the role of the priest.
But of course to me the most interesting thing we learn from this section is that it’s forbidden to enter a room without first announcing your presence. Sometimes we suggest, in a variety of circumstances, that “half the battle is showing up.” Well in this case, along with the notion of respect that comes from announcing yourself, the Torah teaches us that showing up is pretty darn important. Both you and the person you are meeting should be equally aware of the encounter about to happen, and each “meeting” we have is also an opportunity to encounter the divine. Affording our interactions this extra level of formality is another way the Torah lifts up the mundane and helps us find meaning in everything we do.