“Take the vestments, and clothe Aaron with the tunic, the robe of the ephod” Exodus 29:5
I’m sure many of us struggle with the seemingly endless Torah descriptions of the Tabernacle, and the rigid rules and hierarchy of its associated priesthood. Despite their almost complete irrelevance to the way we now practise Judaism, the weekly sidrah for a good part of the year concerns itself with the priesthood and Tabernacle.
In its early years, the American Reform movement chose to expunge all references to any yearning to rebuild the Temple, and to rid itself of any remnants of the hereditary leadership of the Kohanim and the Levites.They distanced themselves from “all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity and dress”.
It didn’t really stick. Over the last 100 years, even the most “modern” Reform Jews have re-evaluated their connection to tradition, returning to rituals, even if sometimes reinterpreted with modern eyes. But in support of the egalitarian sensibilities of the early reformers, I am not thrilled by the modern tendency for congregants to turn themselves into passive “observers” of services. They turn the rabbi into a type of priest, perhaps the only learned person in the community, who leads the entire service. Is the priestly model of leadership really something we want to perpetuate?
So, how do we resolve that not-quite-weekly struggle? We can benefit by looking at one of the meanings of the special passage read for Shabbat Zachor in this week before Purim. We are told, zachor, not to forget, to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.
Remember to forget/blot out! Surely that is a paradox if ever there was one. That is the Jewish way, to constantly struggle with our tradition, to think about it, examine it. It is not for us to discard everything with which we have to struggle. This burning urgency to remember, and the accompanying questioning, is perhaps the main thing that still defines us as a people.