What Is Your Digital Breastplate?© Vayakhel-Pekudei 2015/5775

What Is Your Digital Breastplate?©
Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh

About once a year, one of our teens sent me a You Tube clip of a new trend – a bar mitzvah invitation from a young man.  Last year, it was Sam’s bar mitzvah party.  To refresh your memory, the video was of a 13 year old boy surrounded by beautifully scantily clad women, on a large stage, performing a complicated choreographed dance.  It was ornate and over the top, but, to be honest, I didn’t have much of a problem with it because Sam seems like, overall, a really great kid.  His parents are long time members of their synagogue, he led the service at his synagogue and did a wonderful job, and, according to his rabbi, William Gershom, he also raised $36,000 for tzedakah! 

Now, let’s move on to the next video.  The next video is from Michigan, and it’s a new trend – a YouTube clip invitation to a bar mitzvah by Brody Criz. 

Here are some quotes from the video.  Regarding his family, he sings, “They’ll all do what I say; I’m allowed to be spoiled, shouting orders like a king, and you cannot make a fuss, even though you think it sucks – call me King Brody.”

He ends the invitation with a rendition of the famous song Blurred Lines, where he appears naked, and his private parts are blurred out. 

His invitation has gone viral, of course, written about in the Huffington Post, featured on the Today Show, and other places, and it seems everyone is cheering him on. 

Another video also came out that made news, from a fraternity, SAE, at Oklahoma University where some students aboard a bus, on their way back from a fraternity social, chanted a racist, and almost ritualistic song, that the whole bus knew – “there will never be an N-word at SAE, you can hang them from a tree but they’ll never sign with me.” 

The national organization of the fraternity distanced themselves from them, and so did the president of the University of Oklahoma, but the damage has been done.  Not only has Oklahoma been tarnished, but the national fraternity as well. 

In both cases, whether fair or not, people in You Tube clips by individuals or small groups are having an effect on a larger people. 

In our parashah, we review the past parshiot about the Mishkan.  We read again about the materials used to build the Mishkan – the beautiful gold, copper, and fabrics, we read about the Menorah and the altar, and we read again about the builders of the Mishkan; and then, we review the clothes that the priests wear.  My argument today is that these clothes are just as important as any other part of the Mishkan. 

Before we read what the priests will do in the Mishkan, we read about how they will dress, or be seen in public. 

To see the original commandment, we have to return to chapter 28, “You shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve Me as priests: Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron. 2 Make sacral vestments (V’asita Bidgei Kodesh) for your brother Aaron, (L’Chavod U’Tifaret) for dignity and adornment.

Sforno, a famous Medieval commentator gives an interesting commentary on the words, for kavod, dignity, and tifaret, adornment – Kavod, honor, is for God for whose service they are made, and tifaret, splendor, are for the Israelites, whose names are engraved on his heart and on his shoulders. 

Later on, we read about the breast plate which contained stones, each one representing each of the tribes of Israel. 

“12 attach the two stones to the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, as stones for remembrance of the Israelite people, whose names Aaron shall carry upon his two shoulder-pieces for remembrance before the Lord.”

Gersonides, a famous French Medieval commentator explains why the Torah brings up the idea of remembrance – so that Aaron should always keep them, the people, in mind. 

It is clear that there is a relationship between how the priest dresses, his relationship to the people whom he represents, and his relationship to God – they are interconnected.

Their clothes represent the values of their people and their God.

There’s an old saying, "Clothes make the man.”  Well, clothes certainly do seem to impress us human beings. Nothing tells you more about a person, or makes a greater first impression, than how one is dressed.  A person's entire character can be summed up by someone who does not know them simply by how they are dressed because we humans make such split second decisions based on appearance.

Now, our clothes are not as important as they used to be.  We live in a less formal society, people no longer wear suits to baseball games or even Broadway shows.  My argument is that our digital imprints are how we show others who we are and what we stand for.

This young man Brody is showing what many 13 year old boys and girls show – it’s their day, but what questions do we ask as we watch this video?  Who are this boy’s parents who would help him produce a video where he appears naked?  Who is this boy’s rabbi?  What shul do they belong to?  Do they also stand for the same values – it’s all about me?

When we saw this short clip of a couple of members of this fraternity, how many of us judged not only the fraternity, but Oklahoma University and even the state?!? 

This is where we all have to think – when I post something on my Facebook page, when I tweet something, when I make a YouTube clip, what message am I sending about my values?   What message am I sending to the people that I represent. 

Judaism is a faith that makes us think – we pause before we eat food and say a blessing, we have kavanah, intention in our actions, shouldn’t the same be said for our online identities? 

Later on, we will read the famous lines from Moshe – you, my people, are a Mamlechet Cohanim, a nation of priests.  If the priest represents God and the people, so does each one of you. 

So what do we want to put on our breast plates?  What do we want to adorn ourselves with?  These are the pressing questions of our time. 

Let’s look at our digital identities as opportunities to bring people together, to unify us, to be our breast plates, let’s see ourselves not as individuals, cut off from the rest of our family, community or history, but let’s think of ourselves as threads that make up a beautiful tapestry, representing not just ourselves, but those who came before us, those whom we share our lives with, and those who will come after us. 





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