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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

To Aaron

As we leave the family story behind and the story of the exodus from Egypt the Torah begins to delve into descriptions of the Mishkan. Parshat Tetzaveh is exclusively about Aaron, who acts as the high priest, and the clothing he is to wear, which is described in great detail in the parsha. This Parsha brings up all sorts of questions about clothing and makes me wonder about how uniforms that we wear change us outwardly into a different character? That will be a different post, but in this poem I want to think about how Aaron's clothing separates him from others and puts him into a position not only of unique responsibility, but also great vulnerability because God is very strict about adherence to the detailed laws of sacrifice.

I try here to imagine not Aaron's pride in his position, but in the absolute terror of being responsible for the sacrifice. I have focused in specifically on the breastplate that Aaron was instructed to wear over his heart. The breastplate, fashioned of gold and semi precious stones, represented each of the twelve tribes.

To Aaron,

You wear history over your heart

Twelve jewels chosen carefully

Twelve burning memories

Rights and wrongs

Creation and destruction

Revelation and redemption

Wanderings and returns

Beginnings and endings

Life and death

Our past and future

Smelted in gold

weighs on your chest

Stand up straight

despite the weight of the twelve.


You are bejeweled, adorned,

a sight to behold

You are different from the rest

your shoulders pulled back

to balance the weight over your heart

This breastplate elevates you, burdens you

You are Hamavdil, the divider

You, a mere human,

stand between heaven and earth

a conveyer of fragrant smoke

Feel that separation

feel the awesome power

close to your heart

Aaron, you are an older brother

a son, a husband, a father

You are human.

You surely feel fear You tremble as you don your robes

multilayered and tasseled

Your fingers are icy

as you fasten the heavy breastplate

honoring you, burdening you

setting you apart

You are a holy representative

A sacrificer

A target

Are you afraid of missteps?

Do you tremble

under the weight of your clothing

which God designed?

The weight of the past is upon you

You carry the burden of sacrifice

The power of God inspires awe

The power of God elicits fear

Yirat Shamayim

You carry it on your chest.

Do you fear the future of you and your children?

Your heart, beating wildly, echoes in your ears

Even so, you step forward

Carrying the weight of God on your chest

וְנָשָׂ֣א אַ֠הֲרֹן אֶת־שְׁמ֨וֹת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בְּחֹ֧שֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּ֛ט עַל־לִבּ֖וֹ בְּבֹא֣וֹ אֶל־הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ לְזִכָּרֹ֥ןלִפְנֵֽי־יְהוָ֖ה תָּמִֽיד׃

Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel on the breast piece of decision over his heart, when he enters the sanctuary, for remembrance before the LORD at

all times.

Exodus 28:29 Translation from Sefaria

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