There’s something mysterious and inspiring about uniforms. The Torah’s first uniform is described in all its majestic glory in chapter 28, but according to a thought-provoking Midrash, it’s a uniform that’s been around as long as there have been people to clothe. The “leather tunics” which God dresses Adam and Chava in after the sin (Breishit 3:21), according to Midrash Tanchuma (Toldot 12), are none other than the vestments of the high priest.
What does a uniform signify? If you think about ‘men in uniform’, the first images that may especially come to mind are policemen or soldiers. On these uniforms, three locations in particular are used to symbolize rank, stature, and role- the head, heart, and shoulders.
The same is true of the high priest’s uniform. On his heart, he wears the choshen, inscribed with the names of the tribes, on his shoulders, two precious stones with a similar inscription, and on his forehead, the tzitz, inscribed with the words “Holy to God.” These three are all connected by the root ‘nasa‘, to bear; the Kohen Gadol literally bears the burden of his office on his shoulders, and in his heart, and it is on his mind at all times.
What is the nature of this burden? The purpose of the priestly garments is described in one verse as ‘to sanctify them to serve me’; and in another to be ‘for honor and glory’, and there is no contradiction between them. Honor, in Hebrew, is kavod, related to kaved, heavy. The Kohen’s glory is not a result of his fancy, expensive clothing, but rather of the heavy load of service that he takes on. A uniform expresses a person’s commitment to something larger than himself. The Hebrew kutonet, tunic (which is related to the English ‘cotton’) may be connected to the word katan, though spelled differently (see this Balashon post for the linguist’s explanation).
If by nature, there is an unbearable lightness to our being, a uniform represents a person making themselves small in the service of something great, paradoxically making life all the more weighty, filling it with kavod, but thus making it bearable. This was the glory of the priestly uniform, and this was God’s message of grace to Adam and Chava (see Sota 14b).
“In the Torah of Rabbi Meir, it does not say ‘leather tunics’ but ‘tunics of light'”.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il