Pekudei: The “Crown” of the High Priest

Do the clothes make the man or vice versa?

Wearing a written message to myself can be highly effective in becoming the person I aspire to be.

Table for Five: Pekudei

Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

And they made the showplate, the holy crown, of pure gold, and they inscribed upon it an inscription like the engravings of a seal: “Holy to the Lord.” – Ex. 39:30

Rabbi Michael Barclay, Spiritual Leader of Temple Ner Simcha

There is a folk tale that tells of a kingdom in which everyone had drunk from a poisoned well and gone crazy. The king and his chief minister, who drank different water, faced a conundrum. They didn’t want to go crazy, but if they did not drink from the well, they would be unable to have relationships with the people. So the minister suggested that they both drink the water, but that he and the king each first put a mark on their foreheads to remind them of the truth of their situation. Each time they saw the mark on each other, they would remember the truth of their situation and their deeper values beyond the craziness of the world they lived in.

This verse is the root of that story. By keeping the reminder to be “Holy to the Lord”, Aaron and his descendants would always remember their true purpose as spiritual leaders. They are to be servants of God and the people.

Would that all of our leaders today in politics and religion kept a reminder of their purpose like this engraved crown in front of them – that our jobs are to serve and guide the people, not be dictatorial authoritarians consumed in our own glory; that by choosing leadership, we should be choosing to serve God and not ourselves.

May all our leaders, especially in these crazy and turbulent times, remember the values and responsibilities of leading with kindness and empathy, compassion and service.

Aliza Lipkin, Writer and educator, Maaleh Adumim, Israel

When the nation of Israel arrived at Sinai, God adjured them to heed His covenant and then they will, in turn, be a kingdom of priests. The people responded we will do!

However, right after they accepted their mission the nation rejected direct communication with God. As soon as God began reciting the ten commandments they trembled, stood at a distance, and said to Moses “You speak to us and we shall listen; let not God speak to us lest we die.” The people demoted themselves from being a nation of priests to a nation that required priests to intervene on their behalf.

The Kohen Gadol’s distinguished garments served a dual purpose. It was both an aid for the kohen to achieve a proper mind-frame and sent specific messages to the people. The Tzitz, the holy crown, worn on the forehead of the Kohen Gadol was inscribed with the words Kodesh laHashem, Holy to the Lord. These are the precise words God used when he requested of the people at Har Sinai to be a kingdom of priests. God wants the people to see these words and internalize the message that we, too, are holy unto God.

The golden headband placed on the forehead indicates that if only we put our mind to it, we ourselves can connect directly with God. The Kohen Gadol indicates that if we as a nation truly know and act holy unto God, we will achieve our mission as a kingdom of priests.

Cantor Michelle Bider Stone, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America

I’m a proud member of #headbandnation. #Headbandnation is a group of traditional egalitarian women who have feminized the custom of head covering by wearing headbands instead of traditional kippot. Wearing a headband allows me to express myself and my Jewishness in a way that feels authentic to me as a woman. While some members of #headbandnation wear a headband all the time, I don’t. I wear one whenever I show up as a cantor. It is a reminder of who I want to be in that moment.

In our verse, the high priest’s headpiece is inscribed with the words, “Holy to the Lord.” Who or what is holy to the Lord? Is it the headpiece or the high priest? I think it refers to neither alone, but rather the two of them together. When the high priest puts on the headpiece, he takes on this status, and the headpiece is a reminder of who he needs to be. The Talmud in Zevachim teaches that the headpiece, specifically, reminds him to be humble.

Similarly, when I wear a headband, its presence on my head is a reminder of who I am showing up as and what is expected of me. We all have a variety of roles we play in our lives, and our attire often signals to others how we want to be perceived. It is important that we act consistent with that signal and examine how our attire informs how we act and what is expected of us.

Rabbi Aryeh Markman, Executive Director, Aish LA

The showplate was worn by the Kohen HaGadol/High Priest who must wear the full regale of 8 distinct pieces of clothing. The clothes were a constant reminder of his purpose, so his mind wouldn’t wander. Because in order for his service in the Temple to work, he needed proper intent or all the different sacrifices, libations, incense burnings he performed would be invalidated. Like a quarterback in football being distracted by what’s on the Jumbotron in the midst of a play. Disaster!

One thing the showplate did, when worn by the High Priest, was purify people offering sacrifices in the Temple who didn’t know they were impure. God gave them a free pass. Similar to a Covid doctor, unknowingly infected, wandering into a nursing home and yet not spreading the virus.

The showplate was only effective as long as it was worn on the High Priest’s head. Yet there is a Talmudic opinion it still worked even if he did not subsequently wear it!

The lesson here is once you do a mitzvah, the holy affect it has on you still remains even though you return to mundane pursuits. It’s a seed planted, sensitizing you to do even more mitzvoth.

Think back to your childhood memories of lighting a Chanukah menorah or attending a Passover Seder. It has a lasting effect.

And that is why we have children experience Judaism at a young age. Eventually it pays dividends, ensuring their connection to our heritage as they grow older.

Yehudit Garmaise, Reporter, teacher

How do we remind ourselves who we are? How do we signal to others that we respect Hashem and ourselves, and work to fulfill our missions in life? The Kohan Gadol, with his glorious and colorful levush provides the answer: complete with eight, bejeweled layers that are elegantly and practically hemmed with alternating turquoise and purple pomegranates and golden bells, so as to gently announce his arrival.

The elegant, royal clothing the Kohan Gadol put on before starting his holy service in the Mishkan and the Temple tells us something important about how a Jew should take care to dress daily, from head to toe: to serve Hashem, care for our families, and use our skills and talents for parnassah, to help others, and to express ourselves.

Rabbanit Yemima Mizrahi writes, “When the Kohanim wore their vestments, they were transformed into people of higher caliber. Just wearing them gave them this distinction.”

Similarly, Jews dress respectably every day because we take ourselves seriously. We perform useful tasks with kindness and represent Hashem, who continually oversees, orchestrates for the best, and provides assistance.

Hashem told Moshe to make a hat for the Kohan Gadol “for honor and glory,” just as Jewish men wear kippas in every color, black hats in every variation, shtreimals, and baseball caps. Similarly, frum women wear stylish hats, elegant sheitals, colorful scarves, and crowns like Queen Esther’s, to express what was inscribed on Aron’s zitz, or the holy crown, of pure gold, which was: “Holy to G-d.”

With thanks to Rabbi Michael Barclay, Aliza Lipkin, Cantor Michelle Bider Stone, Rabbi Aryeh Markman, and Yehudit Garmaise

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