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    An eternal statute – T’tzavveh

    The sidra not only tells us about the place of worship but about the people involved. One of their distinctive features was their vestments.

    Wearing official robes was a major feature of the ancient priesthood. According to the Torah (Ex. 28:43) the robes are chukkat olam, “an eternal statute”.

    What an interesting word olam is. Sometimes it means “time” in the sense of eternity. Sometimes it is “world”, conveying a spatial sense.

    That in our verse it means “eternity” is indicated by the parallelism of the text – the vestments are chukkat olam and also lo ul’zar’o acharav, “for him (the kohen) and his descendants after him”.

    Rabbi Arthur Marmorstein pointed out that the general rule is that in the Bible, olam is eternity, whilst in the Mishnah it is world. Both ideas come from a Hebrew root that means to hide or conceal. Eternity has no time bounds; the world (in the sense of the universe) likewise (at least in the science of those times) is limitless.

    The distinction between the two senses of the word is especially notable every time we come to sing the theological hymn, Adon Olam. What does the phrase Adon Olam mean? Does it mean “Eternal Lord” – or “Lord of the World”?

    Since it is a medieval hymn (we are not certain of its authorship), it probably implies the second sense, indicating not so much God’s eternity as His universality.

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