Last Shabbat we learned about the phrase, ”Humanly holy”; a phrase taught by the Kotzker Rabbi. The Kotzker taught that each of us holds a portion of the Mishkan, the Sanctuary built for God’s Presence on earth, in our hearts – and we create that mini-Mishkan by bringing holiness into our own choice about our behaviour, our daily humanity. Tetzaveh teaches one very specific way that idea of humanly holy is brought to bear here in Victoria.
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This week our Torah reading is Tetzaveh. We read about the garments that will be worn by the Kohanim, the priests during Temple services. Last year I wrote about how we bring an iteration of these garments forward in our burial practices, where members of the Chevra Kadisha dress our metim, the dead, in traditional shrouds or tachrichim.
We read very early in Tetzaveh the exquisitely detailed instructions God gives to Moses with regard to the “garments of sanctity” – his be’gdei kodesh, garments that will be made by wise-hearted people to dress the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol.
The Chevra Kadisha continues to use these garments today – by the same name – michnasyim, k’tonet, avnet, and kittle. These are the garments worn by the dead to transform them into their sanctity for their journey ahead. The garments in Tetzaveh, described so beautifully, are more elaborate than the simple white linen or cotton garments worn by the dead today. Yet, it is always a special moment after gently washing a meitah, after pouring nine kavim of water over her, when we then begin to dress her. First we put on her mitznefet, her bonnet, then almost at the same time her michnasayim, trousers, and k’tonet, a long under shirt. We tie bands just under her knees and then we gently pull her kittel over her headdress, tie her avnet and finally tie her apron to the avnet. If it has been her custom to da’aven with a tallit we then wrap the tallit around her, cover her face in lace (a local minhag we learned from the women in Nova Scotia), and then we lift her gently into the aron, wrap a white sheet around her, the sovev, and close the lid.