In this coming week’s Tetzaveh, we read of the בִּגְדֵי כְּהֻנָּה , bigdei kehunah, the priestly garments, and the many precise descriptions concerning the garments and their manufacture.
The priests could perform the service in the מִשְׁכָּן —Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and the בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ —Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, only when they were wearing the garments. The כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל –Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, usually wore eight garments, sometimes called בִּגְדֵי זָהָב –Bigdei Zahav, gold vestments, since some of the materials contained gold, whereas the ordinary kohanim wore only four, mostly linen, vestments.
The lay priest’s four garments consisted of: (1) The כְּתֹנֶת —k’tonet, a robe made of white linen with a checkerboard design. The white, of course, represented purity, and stood for the priest’s opposition to social transgressions and murder. (2) A second garment worn by the kohain was the אַבְנֵט —avnet, which was a belt, made of multi-colored woven threads. The belt was worn to separate between the upper part of the kohain‘s body and the lower part of his body, to place a “barrier” between the heart and the mind and the sexual organs, and stood for opposition to alien thoughts, especially during prayer. (3) Both the lay priest and the High Priest wore a head covering, made of a long linen ribbon. The High Priest’s hat, known as a מִצְנֶפֶת —mitznefet, was designed to be a little more elaborate than the lay priest’s hat, מִגְבַּעַת —mig’baat. According to the commentators, the hat represented opposition to conceit. (4) Mentioned briefly are the pants, the מִכְנָסַיִם –michnasayim,
The Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, wore four additional garments: (1) On top of the robe, he wore a מֽעִיל —meh’eel, a poncho-like garment, made of תְּכֵלֶת —t’cheilet, sky blue thread.
On the bottom of the meh’eel was a series of alternating pomegranates and bells, both woven and made of metal. The meh’eel represented the mantle of duty for those who serve the Holy Nation. The bells would tinkle as the High Priest walked, representing the Kohain Gadol’s opposition to gossip and לְשׁוֹן הָרָע —Lashon Harah, evil speech. (2) On top of the meh’eel, the Kohain Gadol wore an אֵפוֹד —ay’fod, an apron-like garment with shoulder straps onto which was attached the חֹשֶׁן —cho’shen, the breastplate.
The ay’fod was similar in appearance to a garment which was commonly used by idolaters, but in this instance it represented the priest’s fierce opposition to idolatry, and the Jewish people’s dedication to holiness. (3) The cho’shen, the breastplate, woven of threads of many colors, had four rows of three precious stones set into it, one stone representing each of the twelve tribes. Letters were etched on the stones, and, according to tradition, the High Priest was able to receive messages from God concerning the People of Israel by having the letters light up. Tradition maintains that inside the cho’shen, was the אוּרִים וְתֻמִּים —Urim V’tumim, the sacred name of God, which gave the breastplate its spiritual power. The breastplate is generally considered to represent the firm commitment to law and legalism in Judaism. (4) The final, eighth garment that the High Priest wore was the צִיץ —tzitz, a rectangular gold plate that the priest affixed to his forehead. This gold plate had the words קֹדֶשׁ לְהשׁם –Kodesh la’Shem, Holy unto God, inscribed on it. The tzitz represented the priest’s opposition to עַזּוּת פָּנִים —azut panim, obstinacy, and firm commitment to the service of God.
Clothes have played an important role in Judaism and in Jewish history. Recall how important clothes were in the life of Joseph: the coat of many colors, the cloak that Mrs. Potiphar tried to remove from him, and the royal garments that he eventually wore. Shabbat Shalom