This parsha displays the vast and varied details of the making of the priestly garments. One of my favorite themes found here is in the fact that the hems of the tunic are to be decorated with an alternating pattern of pomegranates and golden bells. The Beit Yaakov shares that these dangling ornaments symbolize the tension between the emptiness and fullness of our lives. The bells symbolize emptiness – where the hollow crown allows for the sounding of “kolot”, the voices that are born out of the encounter with the void. And then there are the pomegranates – bursting with brilliant red seeds - the archetypal Jewish symbol of fullness and fertility. Indeed, this alternation between fullness and emptiness dangles at the hems of all of our lives. The poem below is written in the voice of the wife of the soon-to-be-suited priest. It hints at the hidden vacillations between her personal sense of fullness and of lack. She relishes in a fullness of pride and support for her priestly husband...as well as wonders over the nagging sense of emptiness around her own personal calling and service in the world.
This poem was written at the emotion-laden intersection between my life and the text. It is transparent to my most intimate of issues:
My relationship with my husband, with my sense of calling, with Torah law and women''s roles in our tradition, and in the end, my relationship with God and the trust I place daily in the Divine as the essential provider and decisor of my life path.
The Wife of the Priest
Let me stitch the priestly suit for you, my husband.
After all, didn''t you always fashion
me a seamstress
crafty and homey
maternal, amid materials
always wished I''d knit you keepas
and wooly sleepers for our little ones
All the while I was too busy
organizing the women,
singing praises or staging protests
- but never mind...
I''m ready now,
to sit, to sew, to stew,
pensive and grounded
at the quiet vortex of me and needle and fabric.
My fingers will fumble, I assure you.
I will sop the fabric with sobs of frustration
the blue will seep through to my skirt
my nails, dyed burgundy
with the blood of clumsy punctures.
But I want to paint my hands for this
for you, for us...
to weave-in your becoming
to believe-in your calling
to suit and suture you strong in sacred yarns of service
Our five year plan – suddenly a five-thousand year plan...
And I fight off my resistance
in the face of the eons
Though in all honesty, sometimes I''m impatient
and my faith well-tested
- after all, what kind of a living does a priest make?
And what fate for our descendants
generations of shekle-sparse priests
with a wealth of spirit, but meager means?
Our lineage for all time
will live -- off of what?
donations? - the generosity of a stingy clan?
''What''s the gematria of “501c3” anyway?''
- Or is it grace?
So here I stand,
ready to thrust our stability straight into the
sweaty palms of another person''s spiritual impulse
to trust in a sense of abundance
to count on the communal will to give and to grow
and to gown ourselves in nothing but this hope...
So, let me at the garment
I want to pray over every stitch
And maybe with my needle-work
I will work out my own needless doubts
I will knit the vision together
and My service will be to
seamstress-in Your service
to materialize the earthy expression
of our otherwise ethereal faith
And in the final hours as I finish the garment
in the candle-light and the silence
of the sleeping children
I will step curious to the mirror
and slip on the sounding tunic
of bells and pomegranates
with a wistful mirror-gaze
And wonder why you were chosen to be the priest
and not Moses...
or deeper still, why you were chosen
and not me?
And in the silent roll of the scroll
I will breathe deep
and lay down next to you to sleep
Accepting that the commandment
was meant for you, not for me
and robe myself instead
in garments of yearning
with pomegranates and bells
- the empty and the filled
As the tunic lay folded, waiting
for the waking of your feet
my hands dyed techelet
- painted in honor of the priest