From the Acting Head of Jewish Life
Shabbat 12 February 2022
Zikaron זכרון – Visual reminders and collective memory
The words used in the Torah have always fascinated me; the order, the specific word choices; duplications, repetitions, unusual spellings, juxtapositions and so on, and I often try to think more deeply to see what underlying messages or ideas can or have been gleaned by them.
In Parashat Tetzaveh, which is occasionally read on the same Shabbat as a paired parasha with Terumah, our last week’s portion, we continue to delve into seemingly excruciatingly detailed instructions about the Mishkan, the mobile temple in the desert. This time the attention is focused on the special vestments and anointing of the Kohanim (the priests) and the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, who was the spiritual and religious direct connection between the People and God.
Through the intricate, magnificent attire of the Kohen Gadol, we find guidance on how to encourage and support a healthy and thriving community or society, such as the special one we have at Emanuel. (You are welcome to explore this idea more, if you wish, by reading my short Dvar Torah from assembly this week, here.!)
At this point, Moshe is instructed to carve two lazuli or onyx stones, each with the names and tribal symbols of six of the tribes, to symbolise the equal importance of the Collective; the people as a whole – and the responsibility for this People that the Kohen Gadol literally bears on his shoulders. In the last detail about these two shoulder-pieces of the “ephod” (the apron), there is one word I would like to discuss with you, that appears twice in one verse, (Shemot/Teztaveh, Chapter 28, Verse 12)
וְשַׂמְתָּ֞ אֶת־שְׁתֵּ֣י הָאֲבָנִ֗ים עַ֚ל כִּתְפֹ֣ת הָֽאֵפֹ֔ד אַבְנֵ֥י זִכָּרֹ֖ן לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְנָשָׂא֩ אַהֲרֹ֨ן אֶת־שְׁמוֹתָ֜ם לִפְנֵ֧י יְהֹוָ֛ה עַל־שְׁתֵּ֥י כְתֵפָ֖יו לְזִכָּרֹֽן׃
“Having bordered them with frames of gold, attach the two stones to the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, as stones לזכרון, lezikaron, for remembrance for the Bnei Yisrael (the Jewish People), and Aaron shall carry their names before God upon his two shoulder-pieces לזכרון, lezikaron, for remembrance.”
This seems an unnecessary repetition. Or is it?
Consider the subject and object connected to each זכרון and the purpose of each specific remembrance or reminder. The first reminder is “for the Bnei Yisrael” and the second “for God”. This can be understood in a number of ways (perhaps you’ve already considered one or two!). The first can be understood as a reminder to the Kohen Gadol that he is not in this role for the prestige or the power, rather as a representative to God of the whole people, and so he must think and act with that responsibility always literally on his shoulders. It can also be a reminder to the Jewish People, when they see the Kohen Gadol in all his finery, that he is their spiritual emissary rather than just a figurehead.
The second mention of זכרון is for God – an invocation to be mindful of the People with whom God has entered into a covenant and in whose merit the Kohen Gadol comes before God.
In Judaism, זכרון plays a vital role in everyday practice as well as on festivals and Shabbat, as a reminder yet also part of our collective Memory. The mezuzah, tzitzit/tallit and some of our daily prayers are specifically reminders of our connection to God and the mitzvot; the Kiddush blessings over the wine on Shabbat and Festivals, and the whole Pesach (Passover) Seder summon us to delve into our collective Jewish memory and use that to remind us how to live in the present.
Point to Ponder: What element of your lives, be it everyday items or events, or rarer artefacts or occurrences, serve as both a reminder to you about something significant to you AND as a sign, symbol or reminder to others about its importance to you or the importance OF you?