Cantor Eyal Bitton shares a few thoughts on prayer and the parasha of the week.

All the World’s a Screen

2024-02-24 Parashat Tetzaveh

The Oscars

The Academy Awards will be taking place in a couple of weeks. The event is as much about the Red Carpet as it is about the awards ceremony itself. As the celebrated actors walk past the cameras and flash bulbs, the story is always about their clothes and how glamorous they look – or if people think they’ve missed the fashion mark.

The actors parade by. The television personalities pass judgment. A comment is made about how fabulous this one’s outfit is. Another comment is made bemoaning another actor’s wardrobe choice.It’s a veritable pageant.

The first part, outside the venue, is about people’s looks. The second part of the event, inside the venue, is about acknowledging people’s talents – those of the actors, the writers, the directors, and others. What an interesting contrast. Outside, it’s about their outward appearance; inside, it’s about the content of their work.

Yet, even in the Main Event, appearance still matters a great deal. After all, the Oscars is about the movies – generally, stories in which actors put on costumes and play make-believe. Indeed, everyone plays dress-up.

I suppose it’s a little like Purim.

The Purim Masquerade

Next month, Jews around the world will celebrate Purim by, among other things, playing dress-up. When I was a kid, only children put on costumes but now, even adults do it. It’s all in good fun.

We recall how Queen Esther played a starring role in her eponymous Biblical story. We recall how she hid her true identity. She masked her Jewish identity and eventually – and courageously – revealed the truth. Just as she wore a mask of sorts, we, today, emulate her in a masquerade.

My favorite rock group is KISS, with its Jewish founders and leaders, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. And boy, do they get dressed up! For them, every day is Purim. Every day is a costume parade! Every day is a day when they mask their faces and choose how the world will look at them.

Costume Design in Parashat Tetzaveh

Playing dress-up also extends to this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Tetzaveh

As Aaron and his sons are ordained into the priesthood, the kehuna, great attention is paid to the vestments they are to wear. God instructs Moses: “Make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron, for dignity and adornment.” (Exodus 28:2) Details are given about the breastpiece, the ephod, the robe, the tunic, the headdress, and the sash that Aaron and his sons are to don as priests, as kohanim. Many verses are dedicated to how each of these costume pieces are to look and how they are to be fabricated.

So here’s a surprise for many of us in this day and age: appearances matter! 

It’s not just what’s in our heart. At least, not for those who are to serve God. They have a sacred role to play. Not only that, but it’s also a public one. All eyes are on them. They must be aware of their public function. The masses will watch them and will be aware that these individuals are in service to God.

Outward Appearances – Who Cares?

We’ve all heard the argument that God doesn’t really care what we wear and how we look. That would be superficial.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter if God cares or not. It’s that WE CARE. Human beings care. Society cares. Whether or not society should care is irrelevant. Society does care. We all do.

This isn’t all about clothes. It’s about how we present ourselves to the world. It’s about how we conduct ourselves. It’s about what role we choose to play in this world. To misquote Shakespeare, “All the world’s a screen, and all the men and women merely actors.”

On October 7, the Palestinian terror group, Hamas, filmed themselves in a real-life horror movie. They cast themselves as heroes in their own story, relishing in the image they presented to us: fearsome characters, seeking to instill horror and fear in our people. Like many on-screen villains such as Jason in Friday the 13th or Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street, they aimed to make us cower and quiver. 

They did so with glee. They do so in the name of God. 

In contrast, when Queen Esther stripped her mask and revealed her true identity, it was to do good, not to commit evil. In doing so, she showed courage, risking her own death. She achieved greatness not when she was given the crown, not when she was given power, but at this moment. 

In Parashat Tetzaveh, Aaron and his sons continue to wear their costumes but their breastplates have the names of all the tribes of Israel inscribed on them. Lest they forget who they are serving and before whom they are conducting themselves, it is written across their chests. No, not God – their community. Their society. Their actions are equally accountable to the highest moral standard in the universe and to each and every individual who sees them.

In this day and age, whether we’re watching the big screen, the small screen, or the smaller screens on our desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones, all the world is on it. We are indeed players, actors, that appear on the world’s screen. As we approach Purim, it may be worth asking: 

What role will you choose to play in life? If all the world’s a screen, what costume will you choose to wear?