One of the most powerful experiences of living a Jewish life is the way in which tradition, values, and physical artifacts are passed down from generation to generation. To say a prayer and know that my great-great-grandparents also said that prayer, and know that generations that come after me will say it opens up an intense feeling of connectedness and peace in my heart and soul.
The connection of l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, is one of the founding pillars of Judaism. There’s a reason that so many moments marked throughout the Torah and the rest of the Prophets and Writings use the phrase “As God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” It is because our ethical, moral, and cultural behaviors are more than a story; they are a way of living that’s passed from one generation to the next.
We see some of the first elements of this in our Torah portion this week. Our Torah reading comes from Parshat Tetzaveh, which details the specific articles of clothing a priest and those close to him are to wear. This is special attire that distinguishes them from others in their service to God. These clothes are meant to add an aura of holiness to the priests as they complete their sacred duties. Since these vestments and garments are to be used for such a unique purpose, God also gives special instructions regarding who is to make them. After we receive these specifics, we learn about the details of what is on each garment.
When Aaron and his sons are elevated into the priesthood, Aaron is tasked with passing down not just the priestly vestments, that physical reminder of their place in society, but also the ethical role the priest will play. In other words, what Aaron is to leave as a legacy to his children and all the generations that come after him is more than a tangible, touchable artifact. It’s also the way in which they should act in the world as leaders, upstanders, and moral exemplars for the nation.
I have beautiful physical possessions handed down to me from relatives, and I cherish them and look forward to handing them down to my children. But I also take comfort and pride in the knowledge that I’ll be handing down the values, experiences, and life lessons that my parents passed to me.