Divrei Torah


Clothing has an important place in the Jewish world. In this week’s parsha, the Torah describes for us in detail the uniform of the Kohein Gadol – the High Priest – and the uniform of the regular Kohein. The Torah teaches us that the Kohein Gadol wore eight special garments while performing the service in the Bais Hamikdash. Those garments were: a breastplate, an apron-like garment, a long coat, a long shirt, a miter, a belt, a head plate and special pants. Rashi provides a detailed description of the garments. If you want a visual aid, the book “The Tabernacle” is an excellent choice.

The apron and belt had an unusual characteristic – they were made of wool and linen. Although garments containing wool and linen – a mixture known as Shaatnez – are not permitted to be worn, the Torah here gives a special dispensation to the Kohanim to wear Shaatnez while serving in the Bais Hamikdash.

The long coat was called the “M’eil.” It was a blue coat that almost went to the feet of the Kohein Gadol and covered the Kohein Gadol in his front and back, but not his sides. There was a slit that separated the front and back of the M’eil. The bottom of the M’eil was designed with bells and woven pomegranates. 

Last year, somebody from out of town called me with a question: Why didn’t the Kohein Gadol wear tzitzis with his special garments? After all, the M’eil was a four-cornered garment and four-cornered garments must have Tzitzis. I thought he asked an excellent and well-thought question. He had already stumped his teacher, his shul rabbi and now his grandfather. So, I had to think of an answer to the question of my four-year-old grandson in Baltimore.                                                                                                                                                                

There are a few of solutions to his question. Firstly, not everybody agrees that the M’eil had four corners and therefore was not obligated to have tzitzis. I did not tell him that answer. G-d willing, when he will be a bit older, he will be able to understand that there is more than one opinion.

Secondly, the M’eil had bells on the bottom. Those bells made noise as the Kohein Gadol walked, constantly reminding him that he was performing the service of G-d. The Torah teaches us that the purpose of tzitzis is to remember the Mitzvos – thereby remembering G-d. So, the bells and the tzitzis served similar purposes, negating the necessity for tzitzis.

There is yet another reason why the Kohein Gadol did not require tzitzis. The Torah states, “make for yourselves fringes on the four corners of your garment . . .” The requirement for tzitzis is for your garment – not one that belongs to the Bais Hamikdash. Similar to the reason just mentioned, when wearing personal garments, a person needs a reminder that G-d is around and keep Him in the forefront of our thoughts. However, when wearing the clothes of the Bais Hamikdash, no reminder was necessary. The Kohein Gadol was in the House of G-d performing the service of G-d. There was no reminder necessary. The location and the clothes of the Kohein Gadol provided him with a constant reminder to G-d and the Torah.

We find a similar idea regarding the mitzva of tefillin. We do not wear tefillin on Shabbos. The Torah calls the Shabbos a “sign” between G-d and us and calls the tefillin a sign between G-d and us. The sign of Shabbos replaces the sign of tefillin. Both are not necessary. They serve the same purpose.

The clothes of the Kohein Gadol teach us the importance of our constant awareness of G-d – that He is all around us. In fact, we learn in Pirkei Avos that if a person would always keep in mind an awareness of G-d – that He sees all, hears all and remembers all – we would never sin. It would be impossible because we would know that we cannot get away with anything.

Perhaps, that is also a connection to the holiday of Purim. With rare exception, Parshas Titzaveh - that we read this coming Shabbos - is always read on the Shabbos before Purim in regular years and the Shabbos before Purim Katan in leap years. With a cursory view of the Megilla, the story of Mordechai and Esther seems like a number of coincidences all falling into place at the right time.

Vashti is executed . . . of all women, Esther is chosen to be queen . . . Mordechai overhears a plot to kill the king, reports it but is not immediately rewarded . . .  the king can’t sleep and is reminded about Mordechai saving his life, just as Haman is walking into the room to ask permission to hang Mordechai . . . Haman is hanged on the gallows that he prepared for Mordechai. It seems as though it is one coincidence after another – a group of puzzle pieces that unbelievably fits together. 

However, we know that it is not the case. There are no coincidences in life. G-d arranges everything so that all actions will lead to an awareness that G-d has programmed everything – as though He has one super computer. G-d programs everything in a way that hopefully we will come to the realization that He is in charge. It can’t be coincidence. There are too many events that “just happen” at the right time.

Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet “the apparel oft proclaims the man”, or as Mark Twain said, “Clothes make a man.” The Jewish uniforms tell the world for Whom we play and more importantly – reminds us Whose team we are on. Purim, the clothes of the Kohein, Tefillin, Tzitzis, Tefillin and Shabbos are there to remind us that G-d is Omnipresent. That is essential knowledge for the spiritual growth of any Jew – from the 4-year-old child to the oldest of all men and women.