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Two Minutes of Torah

>Two Minutes of Torah: Pekudey (Exodus 39:1-20) – Living in a Material World

>At the beginning of this week the world went Oscar crazy, as people around the world watched to see who would be the big winners. The primary focus of the evening was primarily on the films, the actors and the hundreds of men and women behind the scenes. But the second focus was on the clothes which all of the celebrities were wearing. On Monday morning on the BBC website, alongside the report about the winners and losers, there was a “picture special” about what the women were wearing. It was not just the outfits which were mentioned, but also the designers; Natalie Portman wore a Rodarte dress, Amy Adams was in a L’Wren Scott dress and Anne Hathaway, among other outfits, wore a Valentino gown. I don’t know who any of the designers are, but I do know that the Oscars are a time of the year when you don’t just wear the dress, you essentially wear the designer.

It seems appropriate that at the end of this week we read in our Torah portion about one of the most elaborate outfits ever designed. ‘Of the blue, purple, and crimson yarns they also made the service vestments – as Adonai had commanded Moses’ (Exodus 39:1). Aaron and his sons had to look the part when they were going to serve in the Tabernacle; everyday clothes were not appropriate, a special outfit was necessary. There were various elements which were important as parts of the High Priest’s outfit, and the stones in the breastplate ‘corresponded to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve corresponding to their names’ (Exodus 39:14).

While in the specific section we read this Shabbat the names of the designers are missing (except for Adonai, the supreme designer) at the very beginning of the Torah portion we are once again reminded of the people behind this wonderful outfit. ‘Now Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, had made all that Adonai had commanded Moses; at his side was Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, carver and designer, and embroider in blue, purple, and crimson yarns and in fine linen’ (Exodus 38:22-23).

The Torah portion of Pekudey and the Oscars are reminders that there are people behind the clothes that we wear; in both cases they emphasise the designers, who put their names on the outfits, but we should also not forget that for every Rodarte, L’Wren Scot and Bezalel creation, there are a whole variety of other people involved in creating the clothing. Just as the Oscars celebrates those behind the camera as well as the more famous people in front of it.

The breastplate, which the High Priest wore, was a reminder of the entire Israelite community, whom the High Priest was representing and serving, but it can also be considered the label representing all of the people who were involved in creating his clothing. The whole community of Israel was invited to make donations to the Tabernacle project, and those who had the correct skills were involved in the creation: ‘and all the skilled women spun with their own hands’ (Exodus 35:25). The breastplate was a prominent way of thanking the entire community for their hard work.

Bezalel and Oholiab should be rightly celebrated as the leaders of the project, but we should also remember that the entire Israelite community pitched in to help. And perhaps when we buy an article of clothing today we should note the designer, but also try to make ourselves aware of the other people behind the scenes: the people who did the stitching, the dyeing, the weaving and a variety of other tasks. Making sure that we purchase clothing from places where they get the credit (or at least the salary) which their work deserves.

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