"You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory."
In this week's Torah reading of Tetzave, Moshe and the children of Israel are instructed to fashion "holy garments" for Aharon, the high priest - the Kohen Gadol. The wearing of clothing is almost as old as humanity itself. Adam ha-rishon - the first man - received his first set of garments from G-d, as he was being exiled from the garden of Eden. All throughout the ages clothes have been worn for protection against the elements, for protection in battle, for reasons of modesty, for physical adornment, as fashion statements, for ceremonial purposes, and simply to conform to societal norms. The garments that were to be fashioned for Aharon were for none of these reasons. They were to be fashioned "for honor and glory." (ibid) As inaccurate as these words are translated into English, (kavod - "honor" - more accurately alludes to the manifestation of the Divine presence on earth, and tiferet - "glory" - more correctly describes a sublime harmony, a supremely peaceful and tranquil expression of beauty and splendor), it is clear that the holy garments to be fashioned for Aharon are intended to serve a purpose unlike those of ordinary clothes.
The honor and glory with which the priestly garments are commanded to embody, are not the honor and glory of Aharon, nor of any future high priest that would one day wear them. The honor and glory they are meant to evoke is the honor and glory of G-d. Again, unlike all other garments which are intended to draw attention to the wearer, the priestly garments are meant to envelop the wearer in the Divine presence and splendor of G-d. And this truly was the purpose of the creation of man, the crown of G-d's creation - to reflect and to establish the Divine presence in this world.
What exactly is it about the "holy garments" that enable them to achieve these lofty goals? Is it the aristocratic blues and purples of the threads used in weaving the high priest's tunic, (me'il), and ephod? Is it the pure golden tzitz - the "crown" which the high priest wears upon his forehead, or the golden threads woven into the ephod? Or is it the twelve semi-precious stones set in gold upon the breastplate? Or perhaps the seventy two golden bells and woven pomegranates with which the high priest's tunic's hem is adorned? The answer to all of these questions is yes, but the reason is not merely the radiant beauty which is created out of these highly valued materials and the exquisite craftsmanship of their design. Much more essential is the understanding that every detail, every embellishment of the garments of the high priest is a reference to the particular limb or organ of the high priest's body upon which it is placed. The breastplate, which the high priest wears over his heart, serves to refine and perfect his ability to make judgment. The golden tzitz upon his forehead serves to guard him from haughtiness, the ephod from the sin of idolatry, the linen breeches from sexual transgression. And so on and so forth concerning all the details of the garments. Only the high priest's feet remain unshod, reminding his of his own humble origins from the dust of the earth upon which he now stands.
By reflecting upon, rather than covering up the very strengths and potential weaknesses of the human condition, these priestly garments extol G-d, presenting before Him, in Divine service, man, as G-d created him. For the man that G-d created - Adam - stood before Him without guile and without shame. He wore no clothes for he had nothing to hide, and in this way, his naked perfection was the ultimate reflection and tribute to G-d and the perfection of His creation. The garments of the high priest are the primordial clothes that Adam wore before he ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and before he was exiled from Eden. These are garments that do not cover up nor conceal the wearer, but, on the contrary, lay bare his true essence before the Creator.
What a contrast to the manner in which clothing is employed in the scroll of Esther, which we read this Motzei Shabbat, (Saturday night), as we celebrate Purim. Haman,the arch villain, the descendant of the hated Amalek, we are told by Midrash, had fashioned for himself a magnificent cloak, which had subtly woven into its pattern, an image of Haman's pagan god. By this cunning, Haman, who insisted that all who pass before him bow down to him, could compel his god, and by extension, himself upon all others. Unlike the holy garments of the high priest, whose very splendor paid homage to G-d and inspired humility upon their wearer, the vainglorious conceit and narcissism of Haman's ignoble cloak, merely exposed the smallness of his spirit and his own self-loathing. It comes as no surprise that Mordechai, who with every move and with every breath, was determined to return to G-d the glory of His Great House, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, refused to bow to the evil Haman.
Clothes make the man, and, as we see in the scroll of Esther, clothes shape history. We are what we wear, is the common wisdom, but in the unique case of the Kohen Gadol - the High Priest - we wear what we are. The High Priest's garments don't cover up the man, but rather illuminate the Divine purpose with which he was created. In this manner the Kohen Gadol stands before G-d, in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and performs the Divine service "for the honor and glory" of G-d.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven prepare for the spiritual high of Purim with Torah insights galore. Yitzchak and the Rabbi also unveil plans for an upcoming International Temple Mount Awareness Day to be held on the first day of Nisan, Tuesday March 16th. To participate in this effort to assert Jewish rights at the holiest spot on earth, see below.