Clothes and the Man

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Clothes and the Man

Adapted by Dov Karoll

And you [Moshe] shall command the children of Israel that they shall take to you pure pressed olive oil for light, to light the continual lamp. In the Tent of Meeting outside the Partition near the Testimonial-tablets shall Aharon and his sons arrange it [to burn] from evening to morning before God, an eternal decree for all generations, from the children of Israel.

And you shall bring near to you Aharon your brother and his sons, from among the children of Israel, to make them priests to me, Aharon, [along with] Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar, the sons of Aharon. And you shall make vestments of sanctity for your brother Aharon, for glory and splendor. And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the vestments of Aharon, to sanctify him to be a priest to Me. (Shemot 27:20-28:3)

In the opening verses of the parasha, the Torah repeats the word "Ve-atta," meaning "And you," three times: "And you shall command," "And you shall bring near" as well as "And you shall speak" (27:20, 28:1, 28:3). While Moshe's name is not mentioned here, the Torah is clearly emphasizing his role in the process. This point is further emphasized by two other second-person commands in this passage: the taking of the oil for the lighting of the menora ("And they shall take to you," 27:20), and the selection of Aharon ("Bring near to you," 28:1).[1] This stands in contrast to the beginning of last week's parasha, "And let them take a portion for Me," as well as, "And they shall make a Sanctuary for Me" (25:2, 8).


The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 37:4), opening an interpretation of the verse "And you shall bring near," cites a verse from Tehillim, "Were it not for Your Torah, my delight, I would have perished in my affliction" (119:92). The Midrash explains that when God commanded Moshe "And you shall bring near your brother Aharon," Moshe was saddened, but God comforted him saying, "The Torah I possessed I gave to you; had it not been for the Torah, I would have destroyed the world." The Midrash continues: This can be compared to a wise man who wanted to take another wife after his first wife was unable to bear children for ten years. He asked her to help him in choosing a new wife, explaining that he desired her permission. This is what God said to Moshe: I could have appointed your brother as High Priest without informing you thereof, but I wanted you to be his superior. The comfort for Moshe in this arrangement lies in the fact that he was the one receiving the Torah, so he still remains in a position of some superiority.


Why would Moshe be so upset with the fact that he was not gaining the position of Kohen Gadol (High Priest)? Moshe recognized the dangers of splitting the worlds of Torah and Mikdash (Temple). The Mikdash is the focal point for the service of God, with a universal message of bringing the world as a whole closer to God through His ordained worship. Torah, on the other hand, is "an inheritance to the congregation of Ya'akov" (Devarim 33:4), passed down through Moshe. Moshe was concerned that if the two positions were split between different people, these two aspects of Divine service would diverge, with people drawing the conclusion that they are irreconcilable. Accordingly, God came to Moshe to ask his permission for taking Aharon as the Kohen Gadol.


I believe this is also significant on another level. The fashioning of the priestly vestments is another activity that will not be performed by Moshe himself. The Torah emphasizes this point, as the verse states, "And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the vestments of Aharon, to sanctify him to be a priest to Me" (28:3). While in the verse immediately preceding this one, God tells Moshe, "And you shall make vestments of sanctity for your brother Aharon," He immediately clarifies that Moshe will not be the one doing the designing. Why is that?


When the Torah introduces the fashioning of the vestments, it immediately explains their purpose: "for glory and splendor" (28:2). The Kohen needs glorious vestments to perform the service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). One could ask, why is this necessary? Is this not an over-emphasis of outward appearance, of superficial exterior?


It seems that it is for this reason that Moshe himself could neither wear nor design the priestly vestments. For Moshe, given his lofty spirituality, garments were of no significance. He did not need the priestly vestments to achieve the level of "glory and splendor." However, God recognized that other people are not on the same level as Moshe, and they would need the external expression of the "glory and splendor" in order to properly appreciate what the Divine service symbolizes. Accordingly, God selected Aharon to be the one to wear the priestly vestments, and He appointed people "wise of heart," providing them with "a spirit of wisdom" to design these vestments to properly express this notion.


In fact, the Gemara (Avoda Zara 34a) states that during the Seven Days of Consecration described in this week's parasha (chapter 29), Moshe was the one who performed the Divine service. The Gemara explains that when Moshe performed the service, he did not don the priestly vestments. Rather, he performed the service wearing a plain white cloak. Given Moshe's lofty level, he was able to perform the Mishkan service without the regulations that bind all Kohanim, for he was able to relate to God in an unparalleled direct way.


Once the task of the Divine service would be transferred to the Kohanim, these vestments would play a central role in the service itself. The Gemara states (Zevachim 17b), based on verse at the end of this week's parasha, that "When wearing their appointed garments, they are invested with their priesthood; when not wearing their garments, they are not invested with their priesthood."


Furthermore, the Gemara (Zevachim 88b) derives from the proximity between the sections on sacrifices and the priestly vestments that the vestments themselves have a role in atonement comparable to the sacrifices. The Gemara explains, citing verses to back up each association, that the cloak atones for bloodshed, the breeches atones for lewdness, the turban atones for arrogance, the sash atones for impure thoughts of the heart, the breastplate atones for neglect of civil laws, the eiphod atones for idolatry, the robe atones for slander, and the headplate atones for chutzpa. Accordingly, we can see that once the service moves away from Moshe to the Kohanim, the vestments themselves play a crucial role in the Temple service.


This was the mistake of Nadav and Avihu (see Vayikra 10:1-2). They saw Moshe performing the Temple service for seven days without the priestly vestments, and they noted that he was able to transcend the very protocol that they were taught during those days. They thought they could do the same, that they too did not need the vestments, the requisite structures and limitations built in to the Temple service, to come close to God. For this chutzpa, they were punished. They were not on the same level as Moshe, and as such, they needed to follow the proper procedures and guidelines in order to approach God.

There is significance to clothing in Judaism, as an external expression of deep worship of God, as an expression of the glory that God bestows upon man. "Rabbi Yochanan used to call his clothing 'my honorers'" (Bava Kamma 91b). Similarly, in our parasha, the purpose of the vestments is "to sanctify him to be a priest to Me" (28:3), to enable the Kohanim to attain the status of Kehunna (priesthood).


Returning to the message of the midrash: the integration between Divine service and Torah, which concerned Moshe much, is essential. We need to develop both our internal world of devotion to God and our "clothing," the external expression of that internal devotion. We also need to beware the reverse problem. One ought not be merely a hanger for his clothes. We need to be very careful that our clothing is not a replacement for internal development, but rather that it gives expression to the appropriate honor and internal attitude.

To apply the model of integrating between Mikdash and Torah, we can turn to the prayer we say every day at the conclusion of the Shemoneh Esrei, "Yehi ratzon mi-lefanekha… she-yibbaneh Beit ha-mikdash bi'mheira ve-yameinu, ve-tein chelkeinu be-Toratekha," "May it be Your will… that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and our share shall be granted in the Torah" (based on Mishna Avot 5:20).

[This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat, Parashat Tetzaveh, 5763 (2003).]


[1] The Ba'al Ha-turim on our parasha (Shemot 27:20) points out that this is the only parasha from the beginning of Sefer Shemot until the end of the book of Bemidbar in which Moshe's name does not appear. He explains that this is a result of Moshe's statement in next week's parasha, "Blot me out of Your book" (32:32). The elimination of Moshe's name from this parasha is a partial fulfillment of that request, despite the fact that its conditions were not met. I would like to point that, notwithstanding the omission of Moshe's name itself, it seems that there is great emphasis on Moshe at the beginning of the parasha. The repetition of "And you" and the emphasis on "to you" makes it clear that he is very central.



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