Sunday, February 14, 2016

Tetzaveh: Uneasy the Head that Wears the Priestly Mitre; or, Aaron's Soliloquy

Tetzaveh

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

            Call me Aaron ben Amram v’Yocheved. I am the middle child, born following Miriam, the Bechorah, my Sister, who is the First-Born, the Passed-Over One, the Dancer-and-Singer, the Poet-Prophetess, who will speak Truth about our sister-in-law, Tziporah, and receive her punishment from the One True Judge, alone, while I will escape punishment, holy man that I am, and will remain.

            And then, there is my baby brother, Moses—he of the Spiritual Heights, the Climber, the Mounter-to-the-Skies, who alone ascended Sinai’s lofty peaks (though I hear there are higher mountains in Moab, which, by comparison, would dwarf our Israelite hillock), and there, took down the Decalogue, which the Ineffable One inscribed on Tablets of Stone, with a fingertip of Lightning. He alone—Moses, that is—judges, prophesies, leads, punishes; he, with God’s help, chooses who will stand and who will go, who will spy out and who remain; who will chop wood, and who draw water—

            While I, Aaron, the High Priest, the Holy Man of God, day after endless day, make my Offerings: Sheep, goats, cows; doves, chickens, the occasional lamb—Passover looms large in our collective tribal memory, of course—and wait for the Holy Light to appear over the smoke and flames of the Sacred Fatlings. I and my Levite Crew, my Sons Nadav and Avihu among them, slaughter, dress, and stretch out, bloody limb after bloody limb, on the brass-and-copper Altar we are commanded to serve. Endless rows of bloody meat, as sacrificial offerings, offerings, off….

            To what Purpose? Why, that of the Highest: to convey the tithes of our People; to present their Thanksgiving-offerings for a bountiful birth of cattle and poultry; to cover up the sin of a Guilt-offering, and the myriad shades of Human Behavior in between. Adultery, theft, suspicion, anger, covetousness? Jealousy, manslaughter, ritual uncleanliness, consuming the Forbidden? Moving a boundary-stone, disobeying one’s parent, ignoring the commands of an Elder?
           
            Why, an Offering covers them all. I wonder; indeed, I do wonder at this—and, Mind you, I am a legend among our People; I am called “Aaron, Lover of Peace, Pursuer of Peace,” and spend my—highly limited—spare time, chasing Yosef and Ithamore in an attempt to get them to forget their petty squabbles, clasp hands, and be friends once again—“Hail Fellow, Well Met! True friends, all around, and let’s retire to the Hard Drinks Tavern-Tent, amid our Fellow Men, and quaff a mug of barley beer, or something a mite harder, hey?”

            I am, as I said, a Legendary Peacemaker. Yes. But come, Friend (whispering) to my tent, the tent of this legendary Peace-lover, Peace-pursuer, and you will find, all is not well.

No: something is rotten in Sinai, alas.

Who? Where? My wife? Ah—the wife of my youth, my own dear Elisheva! Well: she is not home: she has gone away. Whereto? Only my sister, Miriam, knows.

There are hints and rumors, I understand—for I have my spies, there among the ladies, too—of a sort of “City of Refuge” for departed Israelite wives, who cannot live at home comfortably, for having been—how shall I say it—neglected? By their—what was Miriam’s word?—workaholic husbands.

            I am one, it seems. Miriam has told me so, and how she warned Elisheva, and how Elisheva departed our home, leaving me with our grown and almost-grown sons.

And soon, she will tell the same to my brother, Moses, about neglecting Tziporah, our sister-in-law, our Midianite sister, whom he pays no attention to, what with all the busy-ness in which he is involved, affairs crucial to both God and Man. I fear her words. For I am a High Priest, but I am not God’s Favorite. Miriam had ought to watch her step.

            Why, you ask me? Well, it’s all well and good to keep a family squabble within the family—but when one goes outside the family, and makes private affairs into public information—especially when it concerns a Public Figure of Note, such as my Brother, Moses—well, Friend, things may go hard on Miriam.

            “Don’t say I didn’t warn you, My Sister,” I said to her, softly, when last we spoke of this. I am a prophet, too: did I not tell you that? Ah, yes—I did. I recall. I do forget so much, these days: all that smoke and fire will do that to a man’s memory and mind.

But she just tossed her curly mane of hair, my She-Lioness of a sibling, exactly as she did when we were little, and Mother Yocheved put her in command of Baby Moses, and Toddler Me—


            Miriam fears Nothing. And that, I fear, may be her Downfall….