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Parashat Tetzaveh

February 20, 2008

Parashat Tetzaveh
By Rabbi Aryeh Meir

This week Qassam rockets fell on the Israeli town of Sderot, severely injuring two brothers. The rockets, fired by Palestinian militants from just across the border in Gaza, have been raining down upon Sderot and environs for months and years, terrorizing the populace and perplexing Israel’s leaders.

And this week, some of the people of Sderot and their supporters stopped traffic on the main road to Jerusalem and marched to the office of the Prime Minister to demonstrate their anger and frustration with the inability of the governments to end the rocket fire.

This coming Shabbat, in the synagogues of Sderot, as in every other synagogue in the world, Jews will be reading and discussing the Torah portion detailing the vestments of the Kohanim, the priests, in the ancient desert sanctuary.

What is the connection between Sderot and the vestments of the Kohanim? Among the garments of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, was the Hoshen Mishpat, the breastplate of Justice that he wore over his heart. (Ex. 28:15-30) On this breastplate were embroidered twelve precious stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. As he performed the sacred rites in the sanctuary, the Kohen Gadol carried with him, upon his heart, the destiny and the prayers of the entire nation. He was dressed as a king and was to understand that whatever authority and power he possessed derived from both God and from the people.

Similarly, the leaders of Israel today derive their authority, their power to rule, from the people who elected them. The Winograd Commission recently reported on the failings of both government and army in the Lebanon war of 2006. In its report, the commission strongly criticized both political and military leaders for that war, viewed by most Israelis as a disaster for their country. David Grossman, whose son Uri was killed in that war, writing recently in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, called for a new kind of political leadership in Israel, one that could renew the faith of Israelis in their government, revive the ideals and dreams upon which Israel was created, and inspire the people to overcome their deep cynicism and to once again believe in their leaders.

This Shabbat, as we sit in our synagogues, let us not forget our fellow Jews in Sderot. As they listen to the Torah reading and to the chanting of the Shabbat prayers, they also listen for the alarm warning them that they have twenty seconds to take cover. Another Qassam has been launched from Gaza.

Until the people of Sderot can live their lives in peace and security, neither can we. All of us, all the tribes of Israel, are sewn into the breastplate of Aaron, the Kohen Gadol. In a sense, we are all citizens of Sderot.


Rabbi Aryeh Meir is Dean of Admissions at The Academy for Jewish Religion.