Parsha

For the week ending 8 February 2014 / 8 Adar I 5774

Parshat Tetzaveh

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

This Parsha deals primarily with the special garments worn by the High Priest and the regular priests during their service in the Tabernacle. Abarbanel offers several interpretations of the symbolism of these garments. One of those interpretations is as follows:

Four of the garments were worn only by the High Priest and were considered to have greater importance: the breastplate, the apron, the robe and the headplate. The other less important garments were the turban, the sash, the trousers and the tunic. The four special garments worn by the High Priest were worn opposite the four main components of the body: the head, the heart, the digestive area and the reproductive area. The headplate signifies that all of his thoughts should be directed to G-d. The breastplate over his heart indicates that all of his prayers should be for the benefit of the entire nation, which is why twelve precious stones corresponding to the nation’s twelve tribes were set in it. The apron encircled his abdomen, indicating that he should eat and digest only those foods that G-d permits. Finally, the robe covering the reproductive organs indicates that our desires must be constrained by the dictates of the Torah, both publicly and privately. The golden bells attached to the bottom of the robe remind us that we cannot hide our private behaviors. Everything eventually becomes known within the community of Israel.

These four garments also correspond to the four types of service that the High Priest performed. The garments of the head correspond to the inner sanctuary, or Holy of Holies, which the High Priest entered only on Yom Kippur. Here the intellect is represented by the Ark and the Tablets of the Law. The second service was the lighting of the Menorah, or candelabra, which was in the inner courtyard just outside the Holy of Holies. The breastplate with its twelve precious stones corresponded to the Menorah since the letters engraved on the stones would prophetically light up in response to questions that the High Priest would ask of G-d. The third service was the arranging of the loaves of bread on the table, which naturally corresponds to the apron covering the digestive tract. The fourth service was the lighting of the incense on the golden altar. Just as the smoke from the altar announced the presence of the incense, likewise the bells on the hem of the robe announced the presence of the High Priest.

The four garments of the regular priests were much simpler. Rather than employing the gold, silver, precious stones and expensive colorful fabrics of the High Priest’s garments, these garments were made of simple linen and were much easier to make. They also corresponded to less religiously significant parts of the body: the skin, the bones, the flesh and the sinews. Finally, although the four specialized garments worn by the High Priest were indicative of his pre-eminence among the people, the fact that he also wore the four simple garments indicated that he still retained his humility and remained connected to the other priests as one of them. Furthermore, in times of need he was expected to perform all of the duties of the regular priests and on Yom Kippur, when he was serving on behalf of the entire nation. He further demonstrated his humility and connection to all the people by wearing only the four simple white linen garments.

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