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Parashat Tetzaveh sets Aaron and his sons up as the priests and goes into great detail regarding their vestments and their consecration as priests. We are also given very detailed instructions as to how to build the altar.

Another voice

Tetzaveh by Steve Miller :: 5773

Steve is a social entrepreneur and community activist. Founder of Tzedek and Restore Community Projects. Steve has helped to transform organisations and communities, and supported the individuals who make these transformations sustainable. Limmud co-ordinator in the 1980s and still involved.

“… like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel … like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind.” (Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, 1968)

Shabbat Zachor – the Shabbat of memory – is the second of a series of four special Shabbatot. The commandment comes in Mishnah Megillah 3:4, “Bashniyah zachor” (on the second Shabbat we read the section of zachor). Matis Weinberg teaches us that zachor or remembrance is about remaining aware of something and speaking of it.

Our Rabbis instituted Shabbat Zachor in order to remember Amalek – and he is linked to Haman, and thus Purim, in our tradition. But I’m intending to stretch zachor in a slightly different direction.

When we enter the realm of memory we are in mysterious territory. Memory is both about perception and imagination. It involves emotion and also informs our rational behaviours. “Some memories are shaped by language, others by imagery. Much of our moral and social life depends on the peculiar ways in which we are embedded in time. Memory goes wrong in mundane and minor, or in dramatic and disastrous ways.” (John Sutton)

This year is the fortieth anniversary of the publication of “The Jewish Catalog”. This book was a part of a trend – not quite a movement – that irrevocably changed modern Jewish life. The Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education (CAJE) started in Rhode Island in 1976 and this, in turn led, of course, to the first Limmud conference in the UK in 1980. Each different but each essentially about developing an empowered Judaism – as The Jewish Catalog phrased it a “do-it-yourself” approach to Jewish life.

Every page of The Jewish Catalog is crammed full of practical suggestions, pictures, marginal notes and links as well as challenging philosophical and mystical ideas. As Steve Jobs described its similar secular predecessor, “It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along.” But on page 137 of The Jewish Catalog there’s just a lot of white space with four words on it …



These four words have worked their magic on me. Each year as Adar approaches this phrase pops into my mind … a successful educational tool perhaps or a clever trick but it also, in a puzzling way, changes me – I consciously and unconsciously seek the celebratory and the enjoyable in this month leading up to and around Purim.

We also remember more distant events. We remember we stood at Mount Sinai – not just those who were physically present but all of us “in every generation” in some unknowable way. So, what are we to make of the ‘memory’ of the fabrication of the priestly vestments as described in the sedra this week? Complex elements are placed with detailed instructions to ensure that it is all done correctly. Clearly this is more than just random decoration. Like many of our personal memories it hovers, tantalisingly close yet its meaning is obscured in a grey mist.

As a people we are blessed – or cursed – with a variety of memories. We continue to speak about even those memories which we struggle to understand or which hurt us or which are morally challenging. At different stages in our lives – as individuals and as a people – different memories become important to us, and we understand our memories in different or evolving ways. What we can’t do is avoid them.


More by Steve Miller

Another voice by Limmud On One Leg Team

Today is/was (depending on your time zone) the fast of Esther, normally on the 13th Adar but put ahead because of shabbat this year. Everyone knows that we fast because Esther ordered the Jews of Persia to fast before she came to the see the King. We reenact the story of Purim by fasting before celebrating.

What fewer people might know is that it wasn't until the post-Talmudic period that the fast of Esther was observed. In fact, in the days of the Mishnah and the Talmud, there was a holiday celebrated on the 13th Adar: the Day of Nicanor, commemorating the Maccabees' great victory against the Syrian Greek general Nicanor (see Megillat Taanit).

As Jews in the last 2000 years, we've moved from remembering a national victory to remembering what it was like to be powerless in the face of imminent repression and death.

How will our deeds be remembered in 2000 years' time?


More by Limmud On One Leg Team

Other Divrei Torah on Tetzaveh

  • 5766 (Chaim Weiner)
  • 5766 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5767 (Marc Saperstein)
  • 5768 (Julia Neuberger)
  • 5768 (Micah Gold)
  • 5769 (Shlomo Riskin)
  • 5769 (Natasha Cowan)
  • 5770 (Ellen Flax)
  • 5770 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5771 (Lea Mühlstein)
  • 5771 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5772 (Eliezer Shore)
  • 5772 (Daniel Lichman)
  • 5774 (Joanna Bruce)
  • 5775 (Shlomo Riskin)
  • 5775 (Miriam Edelman)