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Tetzave. Do Aesthetics Matter?

Do our Jewish institutions need beautiful buildings? Do aesthetics matter in Judaism?

Our parasha depicts the grand garments of the High priest. It opens with the lighting of the Menorah in the Temple. Why does the Temple need these symbols of grandeur and opulence?

“This is to enhance the Temple, impressing greatness and dignity in the minds of people who see it. Such is the way of people – to illuminate their homes with candles. And the grandeur of the Temple is to instill dread and humility in those who visit it.” (Sefer Hachinuch. Mitzva #98 - On the mitzva of lighting the Menorah)

Likewise, when the Torah mandates the practice of incense in the Temple:

“It is impossible to raise something in people’s minds unless the object is experienced in a dignified and noble manner as well as evoking a pleasurable and enjoyable aesthetic. It is well known that an attractive smell acts as a source of contentment to the soul, generating a sense of desire and activating a person’s inner world.” (Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzva #101)

In other words, engineering an environment that conveys greatness, dignity, aesthetic pleasure – all these are a portal to higher spiritual and experiential engagement with God.

The Rabbis talk about the value of “Hiddur Mitzva”, beautifying a mitzva, as enhancing God Himself:

It was taught: 'This is my God and I shall beautify Him' (Ex.15:2) - beautify yourself before Him in regard to mitzvot… a beautiful sukka and a beautif