Tetzave- Wearing the Pride of “Kodesh LaHashem”

Amid a discussion of the vestments of the כהנים and the כהן גדול, one garment stands out in its short description. After 15 pesukim describing the חושן משפט, the divine breastplate of the כהן גדול, and before the five that discuss his כתונת/robe, one passuk mentions one of the most symbolic garments of the Head Priest:

וְעָשִׂיתָ צִּיץ, זָהָב טָהוֹר; וּפִתַּחְתָּ עָלָיו פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם, קֹדֶשׁ לה’
And you shall make a headplate of pure gold, and you shall engrave on it, engraved like a signet ring, “Holy to Hashem” (שמות כח:לו)

The ציץ is some type of golden head plate attached to the hat of the כהן גדול and its symbolism is very clear; wherever he, arguably the holiest Jew in the world, goes, he must remind those around him of the purpose of the life of a Jew- to be קודש לה’.

Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra expands on this idea in his description of the what the ציץ looked like. He describes it as a head plate attached to a headdress worn by many Jews in Muslim countries, such as Persia, Egypt and his native Spain. While the כהן גדול had the words קודש לה’ spelled out on his headdress, it’s clear that the Jews of the ancient Middle East wore headdresses for a similar reason- to project the message of “קודש לה'” to the world, to be separate from their neighbors and to be proud of this separation, of being an אור לגויים. The headdress, even minus the golden head plate, serves as a reminder of our uniqueness and responsibility as G-d’s chosen people.

This custom of Jews’ covering their heads has continued from Ibn Ezra’s time to ours as well. Even though societal norms have reduced our head coverings from larger turbans and headdresses to smaller kippot (though some modern-day Breslov kippot could arguably be bigger than Spanish turbans), the message still remains the same. Whenever we interact with other people, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, or even when we walk around in public, we have a responsibility- to be קודש לה’. On a higher level, this requires a standard of conduct, but on a more basic level, the starting point is wearing a head covering, proudly showing the world that we are קודש לה’, G-d’s chosen people.

While the Jewish People are in exile, living among our enemies, we have a responsibility to be an אור לגויים, to proudly represent our Creator to a godless people. As long as we still live in the countries of the other nations, we have to remain separate and holy, and there is no better way to accomplish this than covering our heads and telling the world that we are קודש לה’. Even in our days of the beginning of the redemption, when Jews no longer have to suffer a demeaning life of living among other nations, a life in the exile could very easily be justified as the Jews of the Diaspora serve as crucial ambassadors between their nation and their neighbors, showing that our people is Holy to G-d. As long as a Jew living outside of Israel can proudly walk the streets of his city projecting קודש לה’, then there is still purpose to him living there.

In the past few years, it has become increasingly obvious that this minimal standard is not the case anymore for the Jews of France and most of Europe. For many years already, it has been dangerous for groups of Jews to walk the streets publicly displaying their religion- best case scenario, they got yelled at and spit upon. However, in the past few months, death threats and calls of “Vive le Palestine” have become the norm for Jews who are too obviously Jewish in the streets of Paris, and this has not only been the reaction of France’s large, highly influential, and extremely radical Muslim population- even French people of other backgrounds have picked up the catcalls, making it downright impossible for the local Jews to possibly be “קודש לה’.”

Last week, Israeli journalist Zvika Klein attempted a social experiment of walking around all parts of Paris wearing a kippa and tzitzit for ten hours, with a hidden camera following him the entire way to document the locals’ responses. He did not end up lasting that long, however, as ominous stalkers forced him to abort mission after a few hours. The shocking video, which can be found on YouTube, shows all types of French people screaming profanities at Klein, spitting at him, and threatening his life. This is the Paris that French Jews of 2015 have to live in, and these conditions are not safe or pleasant, to say the least.

At a unity rally in New York last week, the Chief Rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, met with American Jews to tell them of the plight of their French brothers. Times of Israel reports that Rabbi Korsia’s main point in his speech was to discourage French Jews from making aliyah (or even leaving France for the US), quoting Prime Minister Valls’ sentiment that “France will no longer be France” if the Jews were to leave. While this may be true (others would say that a France which encourages catcalls and Anti-Semitism through silence is already no longer France), Rabbi Korsia is forgetting the purpose of French Jewry- aside from trying to live a prosperous and safe life there, French Jews are supposed to be a good influence onto their neighbors, an אור לגויים. If, in our times, they cannot safely fulfill the baseline requirements of קודש לה’ by wearing kippot and being outwardly Jewish in public, then there is no reason to stay there. Or, in response to the now well-known message of the French government, I say: “French Jewry will no longer exist if they stay in France.” It is time to leave a people who clearly no longer want us there, and a government who only began to react ten years too late, and come home to where being an אור לגויים and קודש לה’ is not dangerous or difficult.

This week we will be reading פרשת זכור, in commemoration of Amalek’s attack on our ancestors after we left Egypt. Amalek is a nation described as godless, with no respect for our beliefs- it would not be too much of a stretch to say that Amalek, the polar opposite of our nation, would do anything to defile our mission of קודש לה’. We have a responsibility to remember Amalek every single day of our lives, and at the beginning of Adar, as we prepare to celebrate our victory over Achashverosh and Haman, it is an opportune time to defeat our modern-day Amalek’s.
For the Jews living in inhospitable cities where they cannot be קודש להשם, defeating Amalek doesn’t mean wiping out all of the locals- it could simply mean getting up and leaving a people who are clearly not G-d fearing and are very against our way of life, and moving to a place where we can serve G-d properly.

With Hashem’s help, each of us will defeat our local Amalekim in at least this most basic way, and move home to Eretz Yisrael, where we can truly and proudly be קודש לה’.