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Two Minutes of Torah

>Two minutes of Torah: Tetzaveh (Exodus 28:28-29:9) – Kissing the Israelite Badge

>When Fernando Torres recently signed for Chelsea Football Club, a number of Liverpool supporters went out onto the streets and burned shirts with Torres’ name emblazoned on the back. For them these shirts had become valueless the moment that he put pen to paper on a contract with a rival football team. Whatever a person might think about the rights and wrongs of the Torres transfer, I was struck by a comment he made in his first Chelsea press conference; he said he did not kiss the Liverpool badge and he would not kiss the Chelsea badge. ‘Some people like to kiss the badge. They can do it. I only want to score goals and do my job and achieve all the targets the team has.’

I remember my first Liverpool football shirt and the pride which I took in the shirt, in its colour and especially the club badge upon it. The badge is the club’s logo, but it is more than this. The badge represents the football club and its community; it is about the history and the players who have worn the shirts with pride. And it is about the supporters who pay their hard earned money to wear the shirt and support the club. This is the same across all sports in each and every country.

Following on from the design of the Tabernacle in last week’s Torah portion, this week we read about the uniform which the High Priest will wear when serving God as the peoples’ sacred emissary. ‘And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and an embroidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle, and they shall make holy garments’ (Ex. 28:4). The elaborate and ornate clothing ensured that there would be something awesome about the sight of the High Priest; his outfit would reflect the stature of his position. We can imagine that when he put on the decorative items, he was made aware of the fact that he served God.

But of all the various items described, the most striking for me is the breastplate, as it states: ‘And Aaron shall bear the names of the people of Israel in the breastplate of judgement upon his heart, when he goes to the holy place, for a memorial before Adonai continually’ (Ex 28:29). The High Priest’s clothing ensured that he was not just aware of the fact that he served God, but also of the fact that he represented the people. The entire Israelite community was not just on his clothing and therefore in his mind, but it was directly upon his heart.

Of all the different elements of the High Priest’s outfit I think that the breastplate is his equivalent of the club badge. The breastplate is the item which embodies the people and through that the religion, the history and even God.

I am not sure whether the High Priest ever kissed the breastplate as part of the ritual in either the Tabernacle or the Temple, but I am struck by the symbolism of the breastplate. In our Jewish community, which is all too often characterised by fractures and divisions, the breastplate offers us a glimpse of a situation where the entire Israelite community could be united together.

I do not seek a return to the sacrificial system of the Temple and the position of the High Priest, but I do want to return to the breastplate. I want us to find a way in which we can recreate what the breastplate symbolised, and then together as one Jewish family, maybe then we can kiss the badge.

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