When contemplating the portion Tetzaveh in terms of voting and elections, at first blush few portions would seem more at odds with democracy. The portion starts with instructions for lighting the Menorah regularly then proceeds to describe the various elements of clothing of the High Priest. Of course, the High Priest is the head of one part of a caste system which divides ancient Israelite society into three elements: priests, Levites, and Israelites. The High Priest is not an elected position, but rather – like sometimes it seems in Chicago politics – passing down from father to son. However, it is not fair to expect ancient Israel to reflect our government organization of today, so the fact that the leader of the society is not selected democratically we can forgive. If we look at the the figure of the High Priest as the leader and then see what his clothing—his mantle of leadership—says about the attributes of a leader, then we can get some guidance on how we might select a leader in the forthcoming election. There are two elements to which I would draw our attention: the ephod and the breastplate.
As we contemplate the ephod, we must first acknowledge that we do not fully understand what the word ephod refers to. Here it would seem to be a robe, but the same word is used in the story of Gideon in the Book of Judges and there it seems to be almost an idol. Gideon makes it out of gold and sets it up in the town square. However, for our purposes, it does not matter what it actually is because we are going to be concerned with the shoulder pieces that hold the ephod up while the priest is wearing it. These shoulder pieces are where the weight of the garment reside, and we can imagine the heaviness of the ephod pulling down on each of the shoulders of the High Priest. Our Torah instructs that on each shoulder piece there should be a stone on which are engraved the names of the all of the tribes of Israel—six on one shoulder and six on the other. The Torah then says that these names are put there for remembrance of the Israelite people. In other words, the leader is weighed down with the collective responsibility of all of the people taken together.
The second vestment that we contemplate here is the breastpiece. The full Hebrew name is sometimes translated as the Breastpiece of Decision or the Breastpiece of Judgment: Choshen Mishpat. Here we again have stones with the names of the tribes of Israel, but instead of them being taken together, there are twelve stones on the breastpiece, each with the name of one of the tribes. For the High Priest, this breastpiece is where the Urim and the Thumim are held. The Urim and Thumim are mysterious; somehow they help the High Priest make decisions, but we do not understand how nor do we even understand what they are. Nachmanides, the 13th century Spanish rabbi, describes them almost like a battery charging the breastpiece so that when the High Priest asked a question, the letters spelling out the answer would light up. For our purposes, what is important is that each individual is represented on their own. When the leader makes a decision, the impact of that decision on each is considered.
And so, as we approach the election of the next mayor of Chicago, although our Torah does not tell us that we should elect our leaders, it does show us what our leaders should be like. We should choose a mayor who feels the weight of representing all of the different communities within Chicago and who makes decisions by considering the individual needs of those different communities. When we go to the polls, we should select a person we believe fulfills those requirements. May it be God’s will that the next mayor of Chicago be one who will lead us into a bright future.
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