Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Parshat Chukat

Elazar's New Clothes

In this week's parsha God tells both Moshe and Aharon that they "will not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them" (Bemidbar 20:12).

Soon afterwards, Aharon dies on Mount Hor. However, immediately beforehand, God tells Moshe to "Strip Aaron of his garments and dress Elazar his son with them" (ibid 26).

There are other similar examples in the Bible of someone dressing another in his clothes.

When David volunteered to fight Goliath he was not a soldier and had no armor. Therefore King "Saul dressed David with his garments, and he placed a copper helmet on his head, and he dressed him with a coat of mail (I Shmuel 17:38). David however, was unaccustomed to the heaviness of the armor and so removed it as he thought it would hinder him in battle.

Another example is that Eliyahu (Elijah) the prophet. God had told him that his service was over and that he was to appoint Elisha to replace him. "He found Elisha, the son of Shafat, as he was plowing…and Elijah went over to him and threw his mantle over him" (I Melachim 19:19).

In all these cases, a second person is wearing the clothes of another. The meaning is clear. The person wearing the new clothes is inheriting the previous owner's role. In the case of David and Saul, we see that David was not yet ready to take over, but nevertheless, by Saul giving David his clothes was perhaps an unconscious symbolic act that David would eventually succeed him.

This issue was highly important in the ancient world. In today's world we all know what our leaders look like. With photographs, newspapers television and the electronic media, we can recognize them even when they are not in their officiating robes. Indeed, perhaps for this reason officiating robes are becoming less important.

However, in the ancient world, most people did not now what their leader or officials looked like. Therefore, the leaders and their representatives needed symbols that would affirm their authority in the eyes of the people

On the whole, the symbol that gave the person the authority was their robes. When an Israelite saw David in Saul's armor, he would have recognized him as the king as he would have recognized the official robes not the person wearing them.

Therefore, clothes in the ancient world were an important symbol of authority. Hence, when Moshe dresses Elazar in Aharon's clothes, all Israel would now recognize him as the High Priest and the inheritor of Aharon.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Chukat, entitled: "The Deadly Serpents" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Chukat, entitled: "How Red was the Red Heifer?" appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Chukat, entitled: "The Red Heifer and Sefer Bemidbar" appears at

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