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.
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.
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