I'm not much of a Biblical scholar, but I recently had the pleasure to contribute a short essay to the collection Unscrolled: 54 Writers and Artists Wrestle with the Torah, edited by that redoubtable Man in Blazer, Roger Bennett. The conceit: take up a portion of the Torah, and reinterpet it in the manner of your choosing. Aimee Bender, A.J. Jacobs, Sam Lipsyte, and Adam Mansbach were among the luminaries to take the bait. And yours truly, of course. As a representative of the design world, I was assigned the section T'Tzavveh, in which the Lord dictates to Moses the specs for unifoms to be worn at the Temple. That piece is excerpted bellow. If you are a Biblical fundamentalist or easily offended, be warned you should continue no further.
On the Line with God's Tailor
“If we’re telling client horror stories, I’ve got an all-time classic for you.”
“Okay. So it’s a cold January morning, totally forgettable day, and some guy in a cape and sandals bursts through the door and starts barking at Sheila—he’s got a voice like a thunderclap—and it’s her first week and she’s already in tears before I can get my fabric guy from Hong Kong off the line. So I rush over and I’m like, ‘Welcome to Murray’s Wholesale Fashions, how may I help you?’ And the guy looks at me like I’m some kind of cockroach and says, ‘I come with an order from the Lord.’”
“Now ordinarily I kick a guy like this right out on his tuchas, but this one…something seems different. That cape has gold thread running through it, and not the imitation stuff. So somehow I keep it together. ‘Okay.’ I tell him. ‘We’re used to demanding clients here at Murray’s. But maybe you could start by telling me your name?’ And he says ‘Moses.’ And I’m like, “Okay Moses, what exactly is your Lord looking for?’ And it turns out they need to outfit all the priests for their new temple. So now I'm interested.”
“Exactly what I’m thinking. But then he starts telling me about these priestly vestments, which have some very, shall we say, esoteric instructions. Crazy ostentatious. The taste level, if I may be frank, is fresh off the boat.”
“Do you know what an ephod is? No? I didn’t either. Turns out it’s kind of like a smock, but a holy version. So he tells me he needs an ephod, and he needs it to be in linen and it needs to be gold, blue, purple, and scarlet, with gold-braid shoulder straps, a blue cape, and a pair of onyx stones in gold settings engraved with the tribes of Israel. Oh, and there’s jewels everywhere. Emeralds, sapphires, beryl, agate, jasper, carnelian—on and on.”
“Exactly. It’s waaaaay too much. So I wonder suggestively if maybe he’d like something a bit more...restrained? A more subtle palette? Some cool tones to set off the bling?”
“Big mistake. He just gives me a death glare and continues. You can’t imagine. The whole getup is like something drawn from the mind of a six-year-old girl: a train wreck of colors and jewels and every gaudy thing you can imagine. All that's missing is a pink pony, and he probably has one of those on order.”
“Maybe someone slipped something into his Manna?”
“Who knows. But what can you do? The customer is always right, and we’d make a few extra shekels, so why argue? So I don't. Cut ahead, and now he’s done giving me the order. I add up the figures and, let me tell you, it’s a big number. I read it to him and he nods approvingly, looks me straight in the eye, and says, ‘This is for the Lord, so of course there will be no charge.’ Just like that. Matter of fact.”
“And what did you do?”
“What am I meshugenah? I told him I’d knock off twenty percent and he can either take it or go wander the desert for another forty years, his choice. So we made the sale. And that’s how I got my place in Boca.”
Excerpted with permission from Unscrolled: 54 Writers and Artists Wrestle with the Torah (Workman).