The instructions given on the making of the priestly vestments in T’tzavveh are so extraordinarily detailed, a tailor and metalworker would have no problem following them. Interestingly, so many Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe to Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century worked as tailors in the East End of London, in Glasgow and elsewhere. It is as though a shadow of the Torah passed by. Why was God so particular in what He wanted made and in how he wanted to be honoured? Perhaps one reason was because, in this way, He also honoured the Israelites. To be a priest dressed in magnificent robes and carrying on his person the engraved names of the tribes of Israel was a sacred duty. It was also a sacred honour.
This two-way honour continues in Ki Tissa with instructions on making the washstand, the anointing oil and incense. It is focussed on the persons of Uri and Ohaliev, the architects blessed with wisdom, understanding, knowledge and craftsmanship. They are joined by other talented and creative people, all blessed with God’s wisdom. And then what happens? From the heights of divine inspiration we plummet to the sin of the Golden Calf. It is curious that, when Aaron had all the gold given by the people to make a god melted and cast, what came out was a calf. A calf! Not a bull or a lion of power, not a mythical, inspiring beast like a sphinx, or a human body topped with an animal head, as one might expect from a people recently parted from Egypt, but a baby cow. What a pathetic falling is this.
Yet Ki Tissa does not end in pathos. Having started with the creative divine, it rises again to the sublime. Moses witnesses God’s presence. A second set of tablets are made and the parsha ends with a description of Moses’ face filled with divine light. A parsha packed with drama and resonance. To experience more, come along this Saturday at 10.30. Pat Lipert, who has an eye for a good story and two for an excellent one, will unpack some more drama and resonance for us.