There are a number of key themes running through the building and equipping of the Mishkan (tabernacle), the altar with its incense and impact on the senses designed to remind us of the need for constant prayer, and the eternal light filling the area with light indicative of G-d’s presence eternally with us. We also now read of commandments to make garments for Aaron, for the priesthood. The Mishkan in all its glory and beauty would be ineffectual if the priesthood didn’t take up their role and calling and function before the Lord as they should. Aaron as the first High Priest had very special garments made for him. And again, we notice, these were commanded by G-d and made for him, he didn’t do this himself. The garments that marked him out in his special role were designed in Heaven and made on earth. G-d gave him this calling, and G-d equipped him with the garments to fulfil it.
What then is the point of this beautiful construction and the specially clothed priests? The point is that G-d has designed the place where He is to be worshipped as something wonderfully beautiful and visually powerful, as also those called to function there. The articles and clothing are declared to be ‘things of glory’. But the critical point about this is as Maimonides also saw, that the articles were to bring G-d that glory not man. This was not to exalt a person, nor even the place in itself as if somehow the garments or construction had some external mystical qualities. No, the visual impact was to evoke a response in people to worship G-d and give HIM all the glory. Once again we see that the visual external things are so designed by G-d to lead us into a closer walk with Him and give Him glory. And these things are GIVEN by revelation by G-d to us, they are not things we design or have input into, we are shown, commanded, told how to do it.
We live in an age where we have lost the sense of all this. People don’t connect any more with the fact that G-d has the right to lead us into worship and give Him the glory in the ways that He alone wants. He takes the external, visual prompts seriously as they reflect on Him. It does MATTER where we worship, how we worship, with what we worship. When man gets his hands on these things, rather than listening to G-d, he fails to see the deeper connections, trivialising that which actually has huge importance.
And the importance is this: G-d gives us designs, garments, buildings, talents and gifts which are meant to be used for His glory alone. It all comes FROM Him and we are to function within it as He designs and sets out. In fact, this is made even clearer in the text this week. When G-d calls for the ordination of Aaron and his sons He doesn’t tell them how grand they will look all dressed up, how much respect they’ll get from the people because they look so special. No, He doesn’t focus on the garments at all because those are for Him alone. The focus in the ordination is somewhere else. The Hebrew used here for ordination is ‘limaleh yadim’, to fill the hands. The traditional understanding is very instructive here, that the hands of the priests would be full of the offerings being brought by the people to the altar of HaShem. In other words, the ordination was directly linked with serving the people, allowing them to worship and offer sacrifices to the Lord. Literally, the priests and leaders of the people would have their hands full with that job!!
We see this reflected in the offerings commanded at the ordination too, unleavened bread. Unleavened bread reminds us of servitude, being a servant or slave. We keep the Matzah even today during Pesach precisely because it reminds us that we were slaves to sin and have been bought to now be the servants of G-d in righteousness. At Shavuot we eat leavened bread in the offering because we have been set free to follow G-d in the commandments He gave. Also, the priests had no means of support for themselves, they were directly dependant on the offerings given by the people to live; this represented again the fact that they served the people. As the priests served the people and so served G-d, they led the people closer to G-d. A crucial and critical role to have, and one that is very serious. If it worked, then G-d would get all the glory, which was and is His desire even today.