Tetzaveh: Do The Clothes Make The Man?

The unique garments of the High Priest.

What happens when we don the garments of our parents?

Table for Five: Tetzaveh

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

The holy garments that are Aaron’s shall be for his sons after him, to be exalted through them and invested with full authority through them.

-Ex 29:29

Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Freelance Rabbi & Scholar-In-Residence Aish/JMI

When it comes to safety, we try any and all scare tactics in order to ensure that our children “don’t run into the street.” At the same time, we feel a deep responsibility to transmit life wisdom to them. We try to impart and instill self-esteem, respect, compassion, courage, faith, and other elevating values that will provide our children with an unparalleled quality of life. Eventually, the emphatic “don’t run into the street” is replaced by a whole series of recommended “do’s and don’ts” as our children grow and encounter the sometimes dangerous and confusing “streets” of life.

But woven into the parent-child relationship is a huge challenge. As children develop into independent, self-thinking individuals, they also need to assert their own identity, make their own mistakes and draw their own conclusions. So the question is, what’s the best strategy for successfully transmitting life lessons to our children?

Our verse offers a subtle yet revealing answer to this question. Aaron’s “holy garments” were worn by his sons after him and his sons were exalted through them. In life, it is not enough to talk a good game. Our children’s antennae are always up and they can sniff hypocrisy or indifference a mile away. As parents and as Jewish ambassadors to the world, we need to talk, walk and wear our values. If we do, our children will take on our garments and be exalted through them. If we don’t, they may try on other garments. Shabbat Shalom.

Marcus J Freed, Actor, Writer & Marketing Consultant

George Michael’s “Freedom 90” music video gets me close to tears, as his iconic leather jacket from the “Faith” video goes up in flames. The lyrics hint at personal struggles that later contributed towards his death, as he sings “I just hope you understand, sometimes the clothes do not make the man.”

Aaron’s sons are “invested with full authority” by holy garments (Ex.29:29). Donning these garments, according to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, is a transformative act that elevates the private citizen into a figure of holiness. In the “Ohr HaChaim”, Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar recounts how the High Priest wore 8 garments, 4 made of white linen and 4 containing gold. The “Tikunei Zohar” explains the four golden garments represent the four-letter name of G-d (Y-H-V-H), whilst the white garments symbolize the name Ado-nai.

Judaism pays attention to clothing, including head coverings, prayer shawls, separating wool and linen, and dressing modestly. We can see this as restrictive, or we can view garments as a path to elevate our consciousness. Peter Parker, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne wear suits to become superheroes; the priestly uniforms hint at our opportunity to use clothes as a step towards enlightenment. Rabbi Hirsch taught that Adam and Eve received the first gift of clothing on stepping into the world: “Clothing per se is a reminder of man’s moral calling,” which “characterizes a creature as a human being.”

After all, clothes do make the man.

Rabbi Natan Halevy, Kahal Joseph

‘His sons after him’ refers to high priests who come after him. They are inaugurated to high-priesthood and raised to dignity through these garments, which possessed immense significance. By wearing them, the wearer enjoyed glory and splendor in the eyes of those who saw him. These garments were the type worn by Royalty at the time when the Torah was given.

Hashem directed that eight garments were to be made for the High Priest, to enable him to obtain atonement for his people for the various imperfections that people are guilty of as a normal part of their lives. As the sacrifices were instruments of atonement, so too the priestly garments when worn at the right time in the right place by the right people were instruments helping the Jewish people to achieve atonement. This is why the description of the priestly garments was written next to the section dealing with the sacrifices.

Aaron’s wearing these garments enabled the Israelites to achieve their proper place in the higher regions. The golden headband corresponded to the crown worn by kings. The breastplate atoned for sins committed erroneously by judges. The robe atoned for loose use of one’s tongue. The checkered tunic atoned for blood spilled inadvertently. The headgear worn by the High Priest, brought forgiveness for haughty bearing. Learning about these matters helps us achieve the spiritual effect inherent in them. We pray the Temple will be rebuilt speedily in our days, amen.

Rabbi Mari Chernow, Senior Rabbi / Temple Israel of Hollywood

You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation. So goes the advertising campaign run by the luxury watchmaker for over 25 years. It suggests that a watch is not a piece of jewelry; it is a means of forging connection between generations.

Even those of us who are not likely consumers of a 5-figure timepiece can appreciate the message. What could be more intimate than clothing? And what could be more of a tribute than wearing another’s clothing? Consider young children who wear their parents’ shoes. Consider couples who repurpose the engagement diamonds or wedding dresses of their forebears. These actions not only place value on family history; they convey an intention that the future will be linked to the past.

The priestly garments, of course, carried meaning beyond personal heritage. Per the commentators, they conferred dignity upon those who wore them. They signified priestly authority and by implication, the blessing of God. They carried sanctity in and of themselves. I can’t say which comes first. Does God imbue certain garments with holiness? Or do they become holy as they are used and cherished by generations? I can’t say that it matters. Lehavdil, I have asked that my kids each ski one run on my skis after I am gone. I hope that they’ll woosh down the hill and laugh as they spray each other with snow. I hope they’ll feel my love in every turn.

Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at AJU

The Torah calls for an elaborate priestly ordination ceremony consisting of gemstone ornaments, silver and gold, oil for anointing, and, through this verse, special clothing – all to create a holy transitional moment.

This is not the first time that clothing plays an important role in the biblical narrative. Adam and Eve covered themselves in clothing in the encounter with God after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Joseph’s coat of many colors is highlighted in his brother’s jealousy and malice. And Tamar sheds her widow’s clothing, dons a veil and identifies Judah through his seal, cord, and staff.

The specific description of clothing makes sense in a time where the people believed God stood in the Holy of Holies bearing witness to each step of the ordination. Yet, as Spanish commentator Sforno explains, the hereditary status of the priesthood rendered the entire procedure (clothing included) unnecessary for future generation. For the priests, elevation of the person and the moment to one of holiness is passed down one generation to another irrespective of the ceremony or clothing itself.

While sacred garb continues to be one of the expressions of Jewish identity, the essence of this verse invites important questions. What does it mean to stand in front of God? How do I dress for such a moment? How do I want to present myself? Does my outer garment reflect my inner values? What can I do to elevate the moment to one of meaning and holiness?

With thanks to Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Rabbi Mari Chernow, Rabbi Natan Halevy, Rabbi Cheryl Peretz and Marcus Freed

Image courtesy of Chabad.org

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