Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Clothes Make the Man - Part II


Our disucssion of the high priest's clothes until this point, as a means for achieving atonement, should help explain the length and detail the Torah devotes to their design.  Atonement is one of the central purposes of the mishkan and the high priest (see Leviticus 16:15-18). This interpretation also harmonizes well with the structure of Exodus 25-30.

Throughout these chapters, the Torah commands the design and building of the mishkan, and lists the necessary materials and personnel.  The order breaks down as follows:

i) 25:1-9 – the command to construct the mishkan and collect materials.

ii) 25:10-22 – the ark.

iii) 25:23-30 – the table.

iv) 25:31-40 – the menora.

v) 26:1-30 – the curtains and pillars of the mishkan.

vi) 26:31-37 – the inner curtain.

vii) 27:1-8 – the altar.

viii) 27:9-19 – the external courtyard and its curtains and pillars.

ix) 27:20-21 – the command to collect olive oil and kindle the menora.

x) 28:1-43 – the command to designate priests and the manufacture of their clothes.

xi) 29:1-37 – the induction ceremony for the priests and the first operation of the mishkan.

xii) 29:38-46 – the command of daily sacrifices and description of God's meeting with Israel at the mishkan.

xiii) 30:1-10 – the golden incense altar.

xiv) 30:11-15 –the collection of money for the maintenance of the mishkan.

xv) 30:17-21 – the lather utilized by the priests when they enter the sanctuary.

xvi) 30:22-33 – the command to manufacture "anointing oil" to sanctify the priests and vessels.

xvii) 30:34-38 – the command to manufacture the incense.

At first glance, the order of the parashiot (Torah portions) appears strange. Sections i through viii, the main body of Parashat Teruma are concerned with with the physical structure of the mishkan and its vessels.  Sections ix and on seem to represent a change in theme.   From this point on the priests and all matters related to the priests form the central theme.  However, for the sages, this presents many difficulties. 

For example, they wonder why is the kindling of the menora mentioned first before the selection of the priests?  Why are the "golden incense altar" and the "lather," sections xiii and xv respectively, mentioned in the segment pertaining to priests as opposed to the segment detailing the vessels of the mishkan, in Parashat Teruma?

In fact, the sages argue, the transition at the beginning of Parashat Tetzave, delineated as section ix above, should be viewed not as a transition to the general topic of priests and matters related to the priests but as a move from structure to operation.  Sections ix through xvii begin to outline the critical operations of the mishkan and the materials and objects necessary for those operations. Consequently, the segment opens with the daily kindling of the menora, a critical daily operation. 

This understanding also helps explain the placement of the sections detailing the lather and "golden incense altar."  Their primary role is to function as part of certain daily operations the priests perform in the mishkan (Exodus 30:7-8 & 30:19-21) rather than as part of the physical structure of the mishkan, the tabernacle and house of G-d. Consequently, they are mentioned in the operations section, rather than in Parashat Teruma.

This brings back to the garments of the high priest.  Just as the kindling of the menora is a crucial operation of the mishkan, atonement is a central and critical operation of the mishkan. In fact, the very first vessel mentioned in Parashat Teruma, the ark, is covered by the kaporet, the place where the high priest sprinkles blood in order to atone, (le-kaper) for the sins of the nation (Leviticus 16:14-17).   In a similar vein, the operations section, Parashat Tetzave, dwells extensively on the garments of the high priest, clothes that are critical for the daily kapara operation of the mishkan.


Like the theme of atonement, the garments are intertwined with the multiple inscriptions present in the high priest's apparel.   If we follow the chronological order of the text, the first of these is the engraving of the names of the tribes of Israel on the avnei shoham, (shoham stones) which are attached to the shoulder straps of the ephod and which Aharon carries on his shoulders (28:11-12).  The second is the engraving of the names of each tribe on the stones of the choshen.  

Aharon carries these on his heart (Exodus28:29).  The third inscription is the formula of "Holy to the L-rd" engraved on the tzitz, the head-piece which Aharon bears on his upper forehead right beneath his hat (Exodus 28:37-38).  Our sages ponder the significance of these particular locations?

One of these locations is a place where matters of great importance are kept.  In Sefer Bemidbar, when Moshe divides the oxen and wagon donated by the princes among the Levites for the purpose of transporting the mishkan, Moshe refrains from distributing any to the Levites descended from Kehat. The text explains:

To the sons of Kehat he gave none, because the work of the sanctuary (kodesh) belonged to them, they bore it on their shoulders (ba-katef yisa'u). (Numbers 7:9)

The sons of Kehat were charged with transporting the holiest components of the mishkan, the actual vessels of the sanctuary.  Consequently, in accord with the honor and sanctity of the objects, they were required to carry them personally, on their shoulders, rather than by means of beasts of burden. This sheds new light on the Torah's demand that the high priest carry the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders (ve-nasa … al shtei k'teifav) (Exodus 28:12).  Apparently, the names of the tribes of Israel are objects that are holy to the high priest and therefore he bears them upon his shoulders.

The places of heart and head also appear in another context in the Torah. Earlier on in Sefer Shemot, when commanding the people to forever remember the day that God redeemed them from Egypt, Moshe informs them:

…it shall be for a sign upon your hand and a remembrance (zikaron) between your eyes…with a strong hand G-d brought you out of Egypt. (13:9)

This of course is the command of tefillin.  The people are commanded to place certain texts, in this case one relating to the redemption from Egypt, on their hand and between their eyes, traditionally understood as the upper arm near the heart and the area of the upper forehead.  Interestingly, the choshen and tzitz also involve writing placed adjacent to the heart and head.   Furthermore, just as tefillin are termed a zikaron, a remembrance, so too the Torah repeatedly utilizes the term zikaron to describe the functioning of the garments of the high priest.  What is the meaning of the parallel of the choshen and tzitz to tefillin?

In the case of tefillin, the purpose of the device is to function as a zikaron, a reminder to the wearer of the content of the text, to know in both his heart and head that G-d redeemed him from Egypt.   Apparently, the choshen and tzitz function in a similar manner.  Placing the names of Israel and the formula of "Holy to the L-rd" on the heart and head of the high priest serve to remind him of his dedication to Israel and G-d.  The priest carries consciousness of Israel in his heart and of G-d in his head.

In sum, we can discern a second theme present in the Torah's description of the high priest's garments. The zikaron is not only to remind G-d of Israel but to remind the high priest of Israel and G-d.   Israel must be holy to the high priest and hence he carries them upon his shoulders.   Israel must be located in the heart of the high priest and hence he carries them upon his heart.  The high priest must remember his dedication to G-d and his function as a device to dedicate and elevate Israel to G-d and facilitate the relationship between God and Israel..  Hence he carries the statement "Holy to the L-rd" engraved upon his head.

The garments of the high priest define the function of priesthood.  The clothes make the man.   The priest serves not for himself, not as part of his own religious quest, but as a bridge between G-d and Israel.  As his garments indicate, he serves to elevate Israel and atone for their sins, to repair and maintain the relationship between G-d and His people. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Clothes Make the Man - Part I


(I am greatly indebted to R' Chanoch Waxman for many of the ideas presented here).

In this past week's parashah (Torah reading) all of Exodus 28:1-43 consists of an extensive and detailed description of the garments of the kohen gadol, the high priest.  A question that is of great interest is why the Torah goes to such great lengths to describe the garments in such great detail.  This is a question that we will explore in this post.

Rather than investigating the general question of the significance and importance of the priests' attire, we will begin by focusing on the specific question of the meaning, function and purpose of the garments, garments which are unique to the high priest.


One of the general themes discernible in the description of the high priest's clothes may be understood by focusing on the last of the specific garments mentioned, the tzitz, head-plate or crown.  After commanding the inscription of the words kodesh laShem, Holy to the L-rd, on the tzitz and detailing its fastening to the forehead of the high priest, the text states the following:  

. . . and Aharon shall bear (ve-nasa) the iniquity (avon) of the holy things that the children of Israel consecrate . . . and it shall win acceptance (le-ratzon) for them before (lifnei) the L-rd. (Exodus 28:38)

While a term based upon the stems 'nsa' and 'avn' can sometimes mean "bear the iniquity" in a negative sense (cf.  Leviticus 5), the Sages understand that most often such a term carries connotation of "carrying the sin" for another, removing the sin and achieving forgiveness.   For example, G-d is described in the thirteen attributes of mercy (cf. Exodus 34) as nosei avon, meaning "forgiving sin." Therefore, the primary role of the tzitz appears to be atonement.   Rashi argues that in the formulation of the text, the message "wins acceptance" for the less than perfect people and their flawed offerings in the eyes of G-d.

The theme of atonement is also apparent in the instructions for the ephod-choshen, ephod and breastplate.  The Torah informs us that Aharon will carry (ve-nasa) the names of the tribes of the children of Israel, which are inscribed on the stones set into the choshen, le-zikaron lifnei HaShem tamid, for remembrance before the L-rd continually (Exodus 28:29).   Similarly, in the very next verse after commanding the insertion of the urim ve-tumim into the choshen, the Torah states that Aharon will carry (ve-nasa) the judgement of the children of Israel lifnei HaShem tamid, before the L-rd continually.

Earlier, Aharon had been commanded to carry (ve-nasa) the avnei shoham (shoham stones) engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel on the shoulder straps of the ephod as a remembrance (zikaron) before the L-rd (lifnei HaShem).  As pointed out previously, the term nasa, "bearing" often carries connotations of atonement.  Likewise, the conjoining of zikaron, remembrance, and lifnei hashem resonates with a near identical note.
In Bemidbar (Numbers) 10:9-10, G-d commands the sounding of the chatzotzrot, the trumpets, in both times of war and trouble, and on holidays.   In the case of war, the purpose is to be remembered (ve-nizkartem) before G-d (lifnei HaShem) and subsequently, be saved.  In the context of holidays, the purpose is to be remembered by G-d (ve-hayu le-zikaron lifnei HaShem) and to have the holiday offerings accepted.  A "remembrance before G-d,", in other words, arouses G-d's mercy and action on behalf of the children of Israel.

Not only does the terminology of the text express connotations of God's mercy and forgiveness, and hence atonement, but also the materials used to craft the ephod-choshen.  The centerpiece of the choshen consists of four rows of precious stones, twelve all together, with the name of one of the tribes of Israel engraved on each individual stone.   Each stone is framed in a gold setting (vv. 17-21).

Interestingly enough, in Sefer Yechezkel (Ezekiel) 28:12-13 the prophet develops a strikingly similar image involving nine of the twelve stones utilized in the choshen.   Yechezkel laments:

You were the seal of perfection full of wisdom and flawless beauty.  You were in Eden, the garden of G-d, every precious stone was your adornment: carnelian, chrysolite, and amethyst; beryl, lapis lazuli, and jasper; sapphire, turquoise, and emerald; and gold beautifully wrought for you.

In the passage, which also strongly alludes to HaSatan (The Adversary), Yechezkel informs the sinner that once he had been the perfect work of a Divine Craftsman.  Once he had been in Eden and existed in a pure state before having sinned.

Sefer Bereshit (Genesis) 2:11 confirms the linkage of the central materials of the ephod-choshen and Eden.  One of the four rivers that emerges from Eden, the river Pishon, leads to the land of Chavila, the place of gold and shoham stones.  These are some of the exact materials collected for and utilized in the construction of the ephod-choshen in Sefer Shemot (Exodus 25:7, 28:6,9-11,13-27).

Apparently, the engraving of the names of the tribes of Israel on the precious stones of Eden (28:9-11,17-21) and their framing in a golden setting (28:11,13-14,20, 22,24) may be understood as a symbolic re-enactment of an Eden-like state in that it figuratively transforms the tribes of the Children of Israel into the man who was the perfect work of the divine craftsman, the man who still deserved adornment with jewels and gold, the man who had not yet sinned.  By carrying the names of the tribes of Israel before G-d (lifnei HaShem) adorned with the setting of Eden, the high priest finds favor for Israel in the eyes of G-d and achieves mercy and atonement.

What does the ephod-choshen atone for? The text does not say explicitly.  But our Sages offer a few suggestions.  Some argue that the key may lie in the phrase choshen mishpat, the proper name of the choshen.  Normally, this term is translated as "breastplate of judgement," a translation reached by following the standard meaning of mishpat.   Perhaps atonement is necessary for the children of Israel's errors in keeping the mishpatim, the judgements commanded by G-d in Parashat Mishpatim (cf. Exodus 21:1). 

Alternatively, perhaps atonement is necessary for errors in justice, the process of mishpat, whereby divinely ordained norms are applied to human reality. Yitro had already advised Moshe that the process of justice was too heavy for him to bear alone and that he required others to help him carry (ve-nasu) the burden of teaching and applying the laws of G-d (18:14-16,22-23).

In fact, Yitro grasped only part of the problem.  The very act of mishpat, teaching and applying the transcendent Torah to mundane human reality, is inevitably fraught with error and requires atonement.  Perhaps this is the burden of mishpat that Aharon carries in order to achieve divine favor and atonement (cf. Rashi on Exodus 28:15).

There exists yet a third possible interpretation. In contrast to the standard translation of "judgement" and the resulting translation of "breastplate of judgement," the term mishpat can also be interpreted as "decision," yielding a translation of "breastplate of decision."  As Rashbam points out (on Exodus 28:15), the sections that describe the ephod-choshen system close with the command to insert the urim ve-tumim into the choshen.

The mysterious urim ve-tumim constitute a type of oracle, a sort of decision-making device (see Rashi, Ibn Ezra and I Samuel 28:5-7).  The first conversation between G-d and Moshe concerning Moshe's death and the impending transfer of leadership testifies to this interpretation. G-d informs Moshe that national decisions will be made in a slightly different manner after Moshe's death.

Yehoshua will lead with the assistance of Elazar the high priest and will consult "the decision (mishpat) of the urim before the L-rd" (Numbers 27:21).  By this means, the intermediary of the high priest and urim ve-tumim, decisions will be made about war and other matters of national importance.

Accordingly, the "breastplate of decision," the ephod-choshen system, constitutes the point of G-d-Israel interaction on matters of national importance and survival.  When the high priest and leader request guidance from G-d, it is attempted in a context that displays the names of the tribes prominently, a context that may even set them in Eden, while adorning them with the purity of Eden. In other words, the ephod-choshen attempts to arouse the mercy of G-d (via remembrance), and achieve atonement for Israel in preparation for receiving guidance from G-d.

The theme of atonement surfaces not only in the specific passages that describe the tzitz and ephod-choshen, but also in the interaction and joint symbolism of the three pieces of apparel.  The Rashbam (Exodus 28:36) claims that the tzitz and its inscription of "Holy to the L-rd" function and achieve atonement by virtue of their relation to the engraving of the names of the tribes of Israel at other points on the high priest's body.

As mentioned previously, the names of the tribes of Israel are engraved on the stones of the choshen, to be located at the high priest's heart (Exodus 28:29). The choshen is then fastened tightly to the kitphei ha-ephod, the shoulder straps of the ephod, by means of golden rings and chains (Exodus 28:22-28).  These shoulder straps once again carry the names of the tribes of Israel, engraved on the shoham-stones located at the top of the straps, on Aharon's shoulders (Exodus 28:9-12).  The final engraving occurs near the highest point on the body of the high priest, his forehead.

Here G-d commands Moshe to engrave not the names of Israel, but the formula of "Holy to the L-rd." The inscription of "Holy to the L-rd" constitutes the peak of a pyramid that begins at the heart of the high priest.  So, we observe that the names of the tribes of Israel merge upwards into the declaration of "Holy to the L-rd" thereby elevating, sanctifying and consecrating the tribes of Israel to G-d.  By virtue of this elevation, the high priest achieves atonement for the children of Israel.

In sum, when the High Priest dons his garments and serves before G-d, he transforms his very body into a device for achieving sanctification and atonement for the children of Israel!  Are we not aware of Someone else, in another priestly order, Who has done the same, and yet has achieved what no earthly priest ever could? 

(To be continued  . . . .)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Afraid of the One

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."  (cf. Matthew 10)

A good friend shared with me the words of a man he had heard recently:

The man had said: “I can’t believe that the G-d I love would give me an ultimatum: do this or go to Hell.”

Quite revealing.  Does not the comment serve to illustrate a common misconception: the idea that G-d is threatening us with eternal misery if we don’t do things as He would like it?  The truth, however, is that apart from G-d there is no happiness, only misery. It isn’t a threat, it’s a warning.

“I alone am the One Who can make you joyful and fulfilled; turn to Me or you will never find true fulfillment!” Those who reject the idea of Hell seem to want G-d to say, “You can find joy by coming to Me, without taking the step of coming to Me”. It doesn’t work. To come to G-d means to come to Him.

To not come to G-d means eternal misery.