Shabbat Commentary

26/27 Feb :Tetzaveh : Shabbat comes in 5:20 pm, ends 6:24 pm

Parashat Tetzaveh: The Presence of the Divine 

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Tetzaveh, we are in the midst of the preparations of the mishkan (the portable Temple of the wilderness). The aim of this endeavour is to bring the presence of God into the midst of the people. We turn this week to designing the beautiful, holy clothing of the people who dedicated their lives to serving in the mishkan. 

And it is also the Shabbat immediately after Purim. In an interesting contrast with the Torah portion, the Book of Esther is famous for being the only biblical book that does not mention God even once. God is not an active character in the story, and nobody talks about God. It is as Godless as possible, so to speak. Of course, there’s an assumption that God is present in the background of the story, pulling strings to ensure the survival of the Jewish people – however, the presence of the Divine remains subtle and unmentioned. 

One of my favourite verses in the Book of Esther calls to mind the ritualistic adornments of the priests in the mishkan. This verse occurs in the turning point in the story – the point at which Queen Esther decides to reveal herself as a Jew in an attempt to save her people. The verse states that Esther ‘clothed herself in malkhut’ (Esther 5:1). There appears to be a word missing in this verse – she’s clothing herself in sovereignty, rather than in bigdei-malkhut, in ‘clothing of sovereignty’. Many commentators claim that this is simply a scribal error. However, according to Rabbi anina (Talmud Megillah 5a), the wording of the text is deliberate: in preparation for risking her life to save her people, Esther pulls the divine presence around herself. Esther clothes herself in the sovereignty of God.  

Esther doesn’t have the ritual specificity of the Temple, and she doesn’t even appear to know how to call on God by name. But in this powerful scene, we see Esther decide that she’s not going in there alone. God will be there with her. Here, Esther acts as a model for faith – not that everything will be okay, but that we do not walk to our fate alone.  

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Natasha 

February 22, 2021