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10 Adar I 5763 - February 12, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Royal Raiment

by R' Yerachmiel Kram

"And you shall make sacred garments for Aharon your brother, for honor and glory" (Shemos 28:2).

The Special Nature of the Priestly Raiment

This weekly portion enumerates the priestly garments of those who served in the Mishkon, of the kohen godol and the lay kohen. In these garments, as with the vessels of the Mishkan, are invested deep, esoteric ideas and mystic secrets that are beyond our understanding. Nonetheless, Chazal revealed to us some of these hidden aspects of the bigdei kehuna.

From their words we learn a bit of the exceptional segulah power of these garments in atoning for the sins of the people, each garment and its particular propensity. Taken altogether, this clothing had the collective power of atoning just as did the very sacrifices!

The tunic atoned for bloodshed; the trousers, for sins of forbidden relations; the headgear, for crass spirit; the sash, for improper thoughts; the choshen, for violations of law and justice; the eifod for sins of idolatry, the coat for sins of evil speech and the tzitz for brazen arrogance (Zevochim 88b).

The garments are a necessary condition for the priestly service: "When the clothing are upon them, their service is upon them. If the garments are not on them -- their service is not upon them" (ibid. 17b). In other words, a kohen's suitability and readiness for the avodoh is directly connected to his wearing the proper garments, for if not, he is considered like an outsider who is forbidden to do this service; if he serves anyway, the service is invalid.

The Priestly Garments Sanctify the Bodies of the Kohanim

The purpose of the priestly garments is to sanctify those who wear and serve in them. In his commentary to the Torah, the Netziv of Volozhin explains that the clothing of the Kohen Godol was specifically designed to invest him with an additional holiness, whereas the clothing of the simple kohen was designed only partly for honor and glory, as seems evident from the simple explanation of the text. He explains it in this way:

"It is necessary for Aharon to sanctify himself and to conduct himself devoutly and abstemiously, set apart from the body of Jewry. This is only possible if he is distinguished in the eyes of others, so that they know and understand that he is far removed from them in stature. But they must not think that they are an expression of haughtiness and pride. Therefore, the garments served special purposes and were considered garments of honor and glory. The people understood that Hashem sought to establish deference for the Kohen Godol, whose attire was distinguished from the clothing of the simple kohen. The latter was not specifically for honor and glory, except for the headgear. It was necessary, however, and proper, that the kohen godol be distinctive in all of his ways" (Ha'ameik Dovor, Shemos 28:2).

Further on, the Netziv adds that Aharon's garments were not designed only to lend him distinction and glory, but also to invest him with a special aura of holiness which pulsed within him as soon as he donned these priestly garments.

"And they made the clothing of Aharon to sanctify him" - - for after Aharon was commanded to sanctify himself, Hashem provided him with these garments to assist him in this matter. And it is known that everything to do with holiness requires first that it be done purely for its own sake. And the more one prepares for it to be done, purely for the sake of holiness, the more effective is the outcome. For this reason Moshe was commanded to warn the artisans who made the garments, who were themselves devoutly G-d-fearing, to craft the garments in a way that they be especially conducive to sanctify their wearer."

But, as we said, the Netziv maintains that only the garments of the Kohen Godol were designed to sanctify the Kohen Godol in his service, while the garments of the regular kohen were not designed to sanctify the wearers.

The Malbim explains, however, in Yechezkel that special segulah properties existed in all of the priestly garments. The prophet Yechezkel prophesies about the third Beis Hamikdash and depicts the donning and doffing of these bigdei kehuna.

"And when they go out to the outer courtyard to the people they shall remove the garments in which they served and deposit them in the offices of the kodesh and they shall wear other clothing. And they shall not bless the people in their [sacred] clothing" (Yechezkel 44:19).

Rashi explains according to Yonoson ben Uziel's translation, that the text meant to say that the kohanim shall not mingle with the people whilst wearing their distinctive priestly garments but should remove these garments as soon as they complete their service. But the Malbim explains:

"The reason why they were not permitted to go out to the people whilst wearing their bigdei kodesh is so they don't sanctify the people in these garments, for their holiness increased to the point that they were unable to approach the people in these garments."

We see, thus, that according to the Malbim, these garments embody a special power to sanctify those who wear them, even though the prophet might only have been referring to the future, to the third Beis Hamikdash.

Bigdei Kehuna -- for Honor and Glory

There was a special office in the Beis Hamikdash ordained for the ongoing care of the priestly garments. The person in charge of it was responsible for preparing those garments for their use. Situated to the right of the Nikanor Gate (through which one entered the Ezras Yisroel Courtyard), it was called the Office of Pinchas the Clothier. Here all the garments were stored in an orderly fashion to be available for ready use.

Since the garments were expressly made for honor and glory, they had to be new, pleasing and immaculately clean (Rambam, Hilchos Clei Hamikdash, chap. 8:4). If a kohen performed the service in a garment that was too long or too short for him, his service was invalid. The priestly garments were never washed; all soiled or frayed garments were disqualified for further use and were made into wicks for lighting the areas of the courtyards. This was the fate of all the priestly garments save for the garments of the Kohen Godol, which had to be buried intact. The material of the trousers and the sash was used to make wicks for the lamps that illuminated the Simchas Beis Hashoeva [and produced a prodigious light that lit up the entire city] while the wicks for the Menora were fashioned from the tunics of the kohanim" (Succa 51a).

We can see the extent to which the Torah was meticulous about the cleanliness of these garments from the words of Meshech Chochmoh which come to reconcile a well-known comment of the Mishneh Lamelech commentary on the Rambam. The latter dwells on the words of the mishna in Yoma describing the order of the Kohen Godol's immersions on Yom Kippur: "He descended and immersed himself, emerged and dried himself" (31b). Why, he asks, does the mishna mention the act of drying? We would take this for granted and not regard it as a required halachic function.

The Mishneh Lamelech comments that one might think that the water is a chatziza, an intervening layer between the garment and the flesh, which would thus disqualify the service and that is why it was necessary for him to dry himself. But the Meshech Chochmoh explains in Acharei Mos that a Kohen Godol must be careful not to let his garments get wet, even slightly, from the water lingering on his body, because the slightest amount of water would dull the sheen of the white linen. It was therefore imperative that he first dry himself thoroughly.

When the Torah comes to command regarding the fashioning of the bigdei kehuna, it explicitly states their purpose: "And they shall make the garments of Aharon to sanctify him to serve Me" (Shemos 28:3). In other words, the function of these garments are to set the kohen apart from the rest of the people and to define his function as a kohen, be he the High priest or a lay priest.

A garment often serves as a sign declaring the function of its wearer. In this aspect, the priestly garments are similar to the white coat worn by a doctor, lehavdil, or to a policeman's uniform. Different divisions in the army and navy also have their distinctive uniforms. There is the uniform of the artillery and the uniform of the air force. Indeed, clothing is very significant and distinguishes the wearer; clothing makes the man to a great extent.

It is not the man who makes the garment, but the garment that makes the man as a well known, and very true, saying goes. We cannot ignore the fact that people's attitude towards others is determined by the way they dress. This is why the amora R' Yochonon used to call his clothing mechabdosai, that is, they accord him honor (Shabbos 113a). Indeed, the garments a person wears create the attitude others have towards him; they determine the relationship others will exhibit towards him, whether positive or negative.

Service of Hashem Must be Done in a Splendid Manner and with Regal Raiment

It is understood, therefore, that if the Torah saw fit to designate a special set of garments for the service of the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash, it stands to reason that this attire must be for the glory and honor of that office. The kohanim are, after all, the servants of the King and it is only seemly and fitting that this service be carried out in splendid garments, as the Ramban explains in his commentary.

"Holy garments were to be made for Aharon in which to serve for the honor of Hashem Who resided in their midst, for the glory of their Stronghold, as is written, `For You are the glory of their strength' (Tehillim 89:180. And it is further written, `Our holy and beautiful House where our fathers praised You' (Yeshaya 64:10). `Holy' is the honor and `beautiful' is the splendor. And it is further said, `Strength and beauty are in His Sanctuary' (Tehillim 96:6). Also, ` . . . to beautify the site of My Sanctuary, and I will make the place of My feet glorious' (Yeshayohu 60:13).

"The site of the Mikdash had to be glorious and splendid and the place of Hashem's feet, which is the Beis Hamikdash where He resides on earth, was distinguished with the glory of Hashem. And thus, Hashem wishes to glory in His sons, Yisroel, that He designate His glory upon them. Therefore it is said below that all of the garments of His sons be for honor and glory. And it is said regarding the sacrifices, `They shall ascend with favor upon My altar and I shall glorify the House of My glory' (Yeshayohu 60:7)."

According to the Ramban, the priestly garments were made for honor and glory, in the same manner as were the rest of the vessels of the Mikdash also designed for splendor and majesty, as is only fitting and proper for the palace of the King. Since the kohanim are the servants in this House, it is only right that they wear royal raiment.

Priestly Garments Remind the Kohanim Before Whom They are Serving

According to Sefer Hachinuch there is an additional purpose in wearing these distinguished garments.

"From the roots of this commandment we derive the principle that is established for us, that a person is treated according to his deeds first, and afterwards according to his thoughts and intentions. The emissary that atones for Israel's discrepancies must mobilize all of his thoughts and concentrated intentions upon his Divine service. Therefore, it is advisable that he don special clothing for it, so that wherever his gaze falls upon his body he is immediately reminded and roused in his heart to be cognizant of the One Whom he is serving" (Mitzva 99).

When the author of the Chinuch speaks of "the principle that is established for us," he is alluding to something he wrote about in a different place and upon which he expanded. He is referring to what he wrote regarding Commandment 16, that no bone from the pascal sacrifice be broken while eating it. Since this is considered a basic principle in the teachings of the Rishonim, it is fitting to be quoted and delved into.

After he explains that the root of the prohibition to break the bones of the korbon Pesach is to promote the feeling that we are the sons of a unique chosen nation, princes for whom it is not seemly to break meat bones while eating as do hungry paupers -- he adds the following:

"And do not think, my son, to challenge what I propose and say: But why did Hashem command us to do all of these things in commemoration of that miracle [of the Exodus]? Would not one single act suffice to constantly remind us of it in our thoughts and not have it forgotten from our seed? But this is not a realization of intellect, and an immature thought seizes you to argue thus.

"And now, my son, understand and heed this and lend your ear to listen so that I can teach you to be successful in Torah and its commandments. Know that a person is affected by his acts. His heart and all of his thoughts are always drawn after the deeds with which he is involved, whether good or bad.

"Even a consummate sinner, who is thoroughly wicked in his heart and whose train of thoughts revolves around evil all day long -- if his spirit were to be moved to concentrate his effort and preoccupation in diligence in Torah and mitzvos, even for ulterior purposes, he would immediately find himself turning towards the good, and by virtue of his deeds, would slay his evil inclination. For hearts are drawn to one's actions. And even if one were to be completely righteous and his heart be straightforward and wholesome, his aspirations anchored in Torah and mitzvos -- but if he were involved in tainted deeds as, for example, he was appointed by the ruler to some evil-related occupation - - if he were involved in this all day long he would, eventually, turn away from the righteousness of his heart to be transformed into a consummate sinner. For it is tested and tried that every person is affected by his deeds, as we have said.

"Therefore did Chazal say: `Hashem sought to bring merit to Israel and therefore increased Torah and mitzvos' (Makkos 23b). This is in order to occupy all of our thoughts and to preoccupy us wholly, for our ultimate benefit. For through our good deeds we are inclined to become better and to merit eternal life. And Chazal alluded to this in saying: `Whoever has a mezuzoh on his doorpost and tzitzis fringes on his garment and tefillin on his head, is guaranteed never to sin' (Menochos 43b). Why? Because these are constant commandments that work upon a person to effect a positive reaction."


The Chinuch repeats this concept time and again in various places. For example, when he explains why a sinner must bring a sacrifice and does not suffice with a verbal confession of his sin (Commandment 95), and similarly, in this case, where it is the mission of the priestly garments to anchor within the soul of the kohen his status, his holy service and the awareness of before Whom he is serving.

One might think that it be sufficient for the kohen to make some verbal declaration before commencing his service that remind him what he is about to do [like some Hineni muchan. . . ], a reminder of "Know before Whom you are standing," but the internal impression of such a declaration would never approach the impact that is effected by the actual wearing of the priestly garments all the while.

Hearts are Drawn after One's Actions

And if this applies to the raiment of the kohanim who serve in the Beis Hamikdash, it applies equally to the servants of Hashem in our times, the Torah scholars who are immersed in Torah study. Some think that clothing only serves as a vessel or accouterment to cover a person's body and nothing more. They maintain that since this is so, so long as attire serves this purpose, its form, fashion and hue makes no difference, that is, as long as it is within the norm of the proper and modest. They see clothing as something external and secondary that is necessary only due to circumstances and as such, there is nothing wrong in wearing the identical styles of the street -- of the secular or gentile world. "What difference does what I wear make? So long as I am pure inside," they are fond of saying. Others will word this thought differently and may even mobilize choice sayings of Chazal to support their position, such as "Do not look at the vessel, only at its contents," and the like.

This way of thinking might be correct if, indeed, clothing did not influence and mold the spiritual image of its wearer. But what can we do? Man is not made like that.

There may be exceptions -- like Yaakov Ovinu -- who are not influenced from their proximity to evil men like Lovon. There may be exceptions who are impervious to the impact clothing can have upon the molding of their character. But generally, it is difficult to find such a person. If certain clothing imposes or conveys certain messages and typifies a particular image and identity, then even if a tzaddik will wear them he will eventually, sooner or later, be exposed against his will to those messages and identifications which those garments represent, and affected by them.

From the Chinuch's words we learn that "Hearts are drawn after deeds." When a person conducts himself like a prince, he withholds himself from grossly breaking animal bones in order to suck out the marrow inside. This abstentious act necessarily has an effect upon his soul and internalizes into his character, even if surely not from a single action, the awareness of royalty and dignity.

When a person is aware of his status of greatness and of his identity as a Torah scholar, and expresses this through his garments, he is necessarily approaching the goal which he wishes to state through his attire. The garment alone, to be sure, will not transform him into a Torah scholar, but it will draw him close to the society of the devout, those who esteem His name. He will be wearing the clothes that they wear which will be a constant reminder of who he is and with which society he identifies and what outlook is dear to his spirit.

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