The Garments Atone for Sins

Another important quality of the priestly garments is that their very presence, worn by the priests during the Temple service, serves to atone for the sins of Israel. It is taught that just as the sacrifices facilitate an atonement for sin, so do the priestly garments (BT Zevachim 88:B).

This is one of the deeper aims of wearing these garments, and something for the priest to ponder while they are upon him. For his everyday actions in the Temple transcend his own personal idiom and take on a more universal theme... he makes atonement and spiritual rectification for all humanity.

Thus we are taught (ibid.):

  1. The tunic, which covers most of the priest's body, atones for killing.
  2. The pants atone for sexual transgressions.
  3. The turban, worn on the head, atone for haughtiness.
  4. The belt, wound about the body and worn over the heart, atones for "sins of the heart" - improper thoughts.
  5. The breastplate atones for errors in judgment.
  6. The ephod atones for idolatry.
  7. The robe atones for evil speech.
  8. The High Priest's crown atones for arrogance.

 

"For honor and for beauty"

The rabbis established that G-d's command for the priestly garments to be "for honor and for beauty" teach us that they must be new and dignified. If the garments were soiled, stained, or ripped, the priests may not conduct the service while wearing them - and if they did, the service would be invalid.

Another aspect of "honor and beauty" means that the uniform must fit each fit perfectly. It was forbidden for the pants, for example, to be too long or too short. The garments were made to order for each priest, tailored to fit his measurements exactly.

This tells us something of the tremendous work force needed to turn out these garments in such quantities that every priest in Israel could be supplied with his own garments. As we shall learn with regard to the incense offering, there were so many priests available for duty in the Holy Temple that no priest ever offered the daily incense service more than once in his lifetime, and it was offered twice daily for many hundreds of years! Yet each had his own garments.

 

The Garments Were Not Washed

Furthermore, although the priests were extremely neat, just as they were diligent and careful - still, they were working with the sacrifices. Any garment which became soiled to the extent that its stains could not be removed, those garments were not washed. When they became disqualified from use in this manner, they were shredded and used to fulfill another of the Creator's commandments! The tunics were used to make wicks for the menorah, and the belts and pants, wicks for the oil lamps of the Festival of the Water Libation which took place in the Women's Court during the Festival of Sukkot. This applies only to the garments of the ordinary priests, of which there were a great many. When the High Priest's uniform became unusable through wear and tear, it was not destroyed, but hidden away so that no other man could ever wear it.

 

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