Jewels on the Heart

The Weekly Parsha

By Ilana Grinblat

Published February 25, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

On Sunday, my daughter, Hannah (who’s almost three), had her first ballet class. When we arrived, Hannah was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, while all the other children wore pink leotards and tights. Hannah enjoyed the class and immediately asked for dance clothes. I thought we’d go buy them sometime during the week before the next class, but she wanted to go right away. Somehow, she sensed that the class was incomplete without the proper attire.

At the dance clothes store, she chose a lavender leotard — which she wanted to be sparkly. She tried on the outfit with a shiny hair band and ballet slippers. She smiled from ear to ear while spinning around and admiring herself in the mirror. Now, she was really a dancer.

Later that afternoon, I took my kids to the Purim carnival at our synagogue. Kids were dressed up in a wide array of costumes, and some adults were too. Our head security guard, who normally wears a suit each day to work, wore instead a basketball player’s outfit. Most adults wore jeans and casual attire, except the rabbi, who wore a button down shirt and slacks. Whether in dance class, at the Purim Carnival, or at our daily jobs, I wonder why the outfit is such an essential part of the experience.

This week’s parasha too is focused on outfits — the priestly robes including that of Aaron, the high priest. Aaron’s robe was purple (with shades of blue and crimson) and extremely sparkly. The robe, covered with gold chains and rings, was filled with gold embroidery, a gold breastplate with twelve colored stones, and complete with a headdress and sash to boot. (Hannah would love that outfit!)

The Torah almost never describes what people are wearing, and we don’t normally think of the Torah as appearance oriented. Whereas a modern novel will often give details of how the characters look and what they’re wearing on a given day, the Torah doesn’t typically tell us anything about the appearance or attire of the patriarchs and matriarchs. Why then does the text describe the outfit of the high priest in such inordinate detail? Why does the high priest need to wear such an elaborate getup to perform his duties? This practice seems at odds with the Torah’s general focus on humility.

Like the rabbi at the carnival, the high priest showed respect for his task through the clothes he wore. The unique uniform reminded Aaron that his work was a sacred duty of the highest magnitude. The most important part of the outfit was the breastpiece containing twelve colored stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. God instructed Aaron to carry the names of the tribes on the breastpiece over his heart “as a remembrance before God always.” Likewise, he wore a band on his forehead engraved with the words “holy to God.”

Earlier in Exodus, God instructs the people to be “a nation of priests and a holy people.” This verse teaches that each of us should be engaged in sacred work every day. Being a good friend, spouse or parent are sacred jobs. Everything we do — even what we wear — can remind us that our most mundane daily tasks are holy to God. Like the high priest, each of us carries precious jewels of the people we care for in our hearts. Surely the image of Hannah dancing in her tutu is one that I will keep in my heart forever.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.