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Parshas Tezaveh


Clothes Make the Man

Rabbi Yosef Levinson

And you shall make sacred garments for your brother Aharon, for honour and splendour” (Shemos 28:2)

Before bringing any korban (offering) or performing any avoda (service), the Kohanim were required to don the bigdei Kehuna (priestly garments). As mentioned in this week’s parsha, every Kohen wore four vestments and the Kohen Gadol wore four additional garments. The purpose of the bigdei Kehuna, the passuk says, was so that the Kohanim should appear honoured and dignified. The Ramban adds that these are the same garments which are worn by royalty.

There are many reasons why the Torah wants the Kohanim to have a regal appearance. These reasons are relevant to both the nation as a whole and the Kohanim themselves.

The Kohanim teach us Torah. Their regal appearance in the bigdei Kehuna, engenders our respect which in turn enhances their effectiveness as teachers and our willingness to apply their lessons. Furthermore, the Kohanim’s exalted manner reminds us of the great awe that we should feel when entering the Beis Hamikdash. This encourages us to return to Hashem, thus fulfilling one of the main purposes of the Beis Hamikdash (Sefer Hachinuch).

The Kohanim themselves must also realise that more is expected of them. They should set themselves apart from the rest of Bnei Yisrael and aspire to loftier goals (Ibn Ezra, see also Emek Davar). Finally, the Sefer Hachinuch writes that at all times their avoda should be performed with the purest of thoughts. This is a difficult task. The Kohen’s holy garments serve as a constant reminder of his mission.

Unfortunately, we do not have the Beis Hamikdash today, and most of us are not descendants of Aharon. Nevertheless, these lessons are still applicable. HaRav Avigdor Miller Shlita, points out that Bnei Yisrael is a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation. Therefore we must also dress in a dignified manner. Wearing tzitzis and avoiding wearing garments made of shatnez (linen and wool) adds to this dignity. Even if the nations of the world fail to appreciate the holiness of the Jewish people, our dress code is a reminder to ourselves that we are Hashem’s nation - we are in His presence continually and we should act accordingly. As the morals of society erode, we must strive even harder to maintain these high standards.

There is another important sentiment conveyed by the bigdei Kehuna. Each of the Kohen Gadol’s garments atones for a different aveira. The turban atones for haughtiness, the me’il (cloak) for lashon hara, the trousers for adultery, the tunic atones for murder, the belt for improper thoughts, the breastplate for miscarriage of justice and the ephod, apron, atones for idolatry (Zevachim 88b). These are all aveiros (sins) that stem from bad middos (character traits). The Malbim explains that the commandment to make the bigdei Kehuna was given twice. Firstly, it was directed to Moshe Rabbeinu and then to the craftsmen. The craftsmen and tailors actually assembled the priestly garments, but Moshe had to first instruct Aharon in ways to perfect the character traits that they represented. This character development is the ultimate bigdei Kehuna. For just as our wardrobe covers our bodies, so too, our middos cover our neshamos (souls).

The Hebrew word for character trait, midda, also means “measure”. There was a mitzva that the bigdei Kehuna had to be a perfect fit - made to measure (mido vad, his tunic should be made k’midoso, according to his size, Yoma 23b). So too, we must aim to achieve the correct measure of each character trait. It is certainly not easy to perfect one’s character or to know how to respond appropriately in each situation. It is therefore no surprise that Moshe Rabbeinu was the one entrusted to impart this knowledge.

Since we are a priestly nation, it is imperative for us to reflect on the lessons that our clothes teach us. We must also perfect the wardrobe of our neshamos and see to it that our middos are a source of honour and splendour. For ultimately these are the clothes that make the man.

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