Joseph Cox
Using the Modern to Illuminate the Timeless

Dressing for Holiness

A Pomegranate tree in Sde Ya'akov. Amnon s [CC BY-SA 2.0. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
A Pomegranate tree in Sde Ya'akov. Amnon s [CC BY-SA 2.0. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

The clothing makes the man, at least it does this week. This week’s parsha defines the clothing of the Kohanim (priests) and through them it defines the Kohanim themselves.

Perhaps it can even define us.

The first article of clothing is the ephod. The ephod has two stones engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel and wrapped with gold. Stones are timeless and they are encased with gold – the material that represents divinity. The pasuk says: “Aaron shall bear their names before the Hashem upon his two shoulders as a reminder.”

A Kohen is to dedicate himself to carrying the timeless relationship between G-d and people upon his shoulders.

The Choshen HaMishpat (the Breastplate of Law) is next. With the Choshen, the people are again rendered in timeless stone while the gold on the Choshen embraces the representations of the people and supports them. But this is the breastplate of Law. We are embraced because of our laws. Our laws enable us to overcome decay and loss and to draw close to Hashem. Finally, the Choshen is placed on the heart – the source of blood that gives us physical potential. The pasuk says: “And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a reminder before Hashem continually.”

A Kohen is to dedicate his potential to the timelessness of the people, so that they can be brought before Hashem.

The third garment is the Meil (robe). The Meil is made entirely of Techelet (sky blue) – and it is not torn. Techelet is the color of the sky and there is no death in the sky. The Meil has no loss, no impurity, no destruction. At its bottom, earthward, the Meil has pomegranates and gold bells. The fruit, through their fabrics, capture the divine gifts of purity and honor and faithfulness of Hashem. And the bells represent the voice of Hashem. The pasuk says: And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and the sound thereof shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before Hashem, and when he cometh out, that he die not. 

A Kohen is to wrap himself in divinity and continually listen to the voice of Hashem so that he can survive before Him.

Next is the Tzitz (head plate) It is worn on the forehead and on it is written “Holy to Hashem”. The pasuk says: “Aaron shall bear the burden of the holies, which the children of Israel shall hallow with all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before Hashem.” 

A Kohen is to bear the spiritual burden of the people’s holiness on his mind. This holiness is a burden because it only comes through the investment of the people.

Through these clothes we can understand that a Kohen:

  • Dedicates his will to carrying the relationship between G-d and the people.
  • Dedicates his potential to the timelessness of the people
  • Wraps himself in divinity and listens for the voice of Hashem
  • And always has in the front of his mind that it is the investment of the people – their spiritual burden – that gives them (and him) holiness.

All of this has relevance today.

Last week Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein passed away at 67 years of age. Rabbi Eckstein founded the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. I didn’t know Rabbi Eckstein, but I think, perhaps, that he was a modern-day Kohen.

  • He dedicated his will to the relationship between G-d and mankind.
  • His radio program was heard by over 20 million people a week; he committed his potential to sharing Torah values with the world;
  • He drove himself into a mission that nobody else believed in; perhaps hearing the call of Hashem.
  • And he gathered 1.6 billion dollars in donations, helping create holiness through investment in the timeless.

The Jewish people and have long struggled to defend their honor. We have long sought the acceptance and love of the world. And it seems this struggle has only grown more urgent recently.

But love and honor are best sought indirectly; if you chase them, they will run from you.

But those Rabbi Eckstein served honored and loved the Jewish people. Perhaps they did so because he donned the clothing of a Kohen Gadol. Ultimately, he served them, and not himself. The Jewish people are meant to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.

Perhaps the clothing of the Kohen Gadol, and the life of Rabbi Eckstein, can be used as an example for us all.

I would like to dedicate this dvar Torah to my mother, Chana bat Nechama, who taught me how to think. She is desperately ill and could use our prayers and our strength.

About the Author
I hold a degree in Intellectual History from University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Financial Analysis. In addition to writing weekly Torah Shorts, I am the author of the City on the Heights, a drama/thriller set in contemporary Syria and Iraq that explores how the Jewish people can positively influence the world around them. My books are available at TorahShorts.com.
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