By Amichai Lau-Lavie
Verse Per Verse
As the race intensifies, more and more about each candidate for the presidency is revealed, often, below the belt. In light of the weekly Torah episode that will be broadcast at a synagogue near you this coming Saturday, one wonders about important details regarding the makings of leaders – including what kind of underwear they wear. Briefs or boxers, Barak? And what DOES Hillary wear down there? These are important stylistic decisions that tell much about a person’s character. The Bible understood this as does Mr. Romney. See, in this week’s Torah there is a long description of the sacred garments that are provided for the spiritual leaders of the nation – the Kohanim, or priests. After a long list of special and fantastic garments, including an oracle and bell festooned linen tunics, the Divine commands the makings of sacred priestly underwear, thigh to hip, to prevent the priestly private parts from being publicly displayed as the men climb the steep stairs of the altar. Practical. Like many other glories of the Hebraic Priestly Cult that have vanished with the destruction of the Temple 2,000 years ago these sacred vestments were forgotten and disused. Or so I thought. A recent search, prodded by a close reading of this week’s Torah text in Exodus revealed that the ancient undergarments are alive and well – in Salt Lake City. Known as ‘magic underwear’ or ‘Temple Garment’ this two piece underwear set is quite common among adherents of the Latter Day Saint Church. In one Mormon source it is referred to as ‘the garment of Aaronic Priesthood’.
Wow. Who knew? (check out John Safran vs. God for amazing short vid live from SLC)
Anyway. Romney’s undies don’t really matter anymore and I don’t really want to know what McCain wears (though I’ll bet its military issue boxers) what I am really interested in is the bizarre biblical focus on these details. From a deeper, mythic level there is more here than just mention of practical couture. According to some teachings, every detail about the Tabernacle and its makings reflect a mapping of the human soul and journey, representing our notions of sacred space. So why do the undergarments of the priests really matter? The Torah doesn’t elaborate, but a hint is dropped casually in the Talmud, during a discussion about the protocol for the biggest Temple Celebration of the Year. The Water Drawing ritual, conducted on the full moon of the fall – the first night of Succot – included live music, elaborate choreography and the lighting of every lamp in the Temple. ‘What wicks should be used?’ asks somebody in the Talmud, and someone else replies- ‘the discarded undergarments of the priests are used for the making of wicks for this celebration only.’ (Mishna, Succah 5:2)
Thus, curiously, it appears that our ancestors in Jerusalem recycled Levitical undergarments in order to light up the night of the great prayer for rain, for life. From the deepest deep comes a plea for sustenance from the highest high.
Having said that, If anyone has any info on candidates’ lingerie choices, please share.
(And, hm, Happy Valentine’s y’all. Keep away from those edible panties.)
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Parashat Tetzave: Romney’s Underwear
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