Parshat Tetzaveh: You Are What You Wear

These are the vestments that they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a knitted tunic, a turban and a sash” (Shemot 28:4).

Upon reading the list of Aharon HaKohen’s holy garments, one can’t but notice that the most significant article is missing. Where is the forehead plate (tzitz), the crown which the High Priest wore on his head? The tzitz was made of pure gold with the holy letters of the name of God engraved upon it saying “Sanctified to The Lord”.

Our mystical tradition teaches that the priest’s garments have symbolic meaning. Clothing both reveals and conceals. On the one hand, the linen pants, are intended to “cover their nakedness” (Shemot 28:42), whereas the ornamented garments reveal “honor and beauty”.

Symbols point beyond their literal form towards a deeper, ineffable reality.

For example, the ‘tzitz’ worn on the forehead of the high priest says “Sanctified to the Lord’. Literally this states that the priest is holy and able to fulfill his duties. However, the symbolic meaning explains why the priest is worthy to fulfill his holy duties. Symbolically the tzitz indicates that the priest’s inner thoughts and consciousness are always attached to God.

The order in which the Torah lists the clothing is not arbitrary and the exclusion of the tzitz in the initial list is not an oversight. The order is a road map for enduring spiritual progress.

The tzitz represents “God consciousness”. But the Priest can’t skip steps. First the priest must don the sky-blue robe. The color techelet – sky-blue, points towards the heavens and symbolizes fear and awe in the presence of the transcendent God. It is for this reason we never find the expression “Love of Heaven,” ahavat shamayim, only “Fear of Heaven,” yirat shamayim.

Similarly, the thread of blue in the fringes, which Jews wear today, symbolizes this fear of Heaven; it is a constant reminder that in order to be holy we must be scrupulous in our behavior, both moral and ritual. The sky-blue robe which covers the priest’s body, symbolizes that in our actions must be guided by the fear of Heaven. Only after rigorous spiritual labor, can the tzitz then be placed on the forehead of the Kohen.

This does not merely mean that because the priest has exercised scrupulous spiritual behavior he merits to wear the tzitz. That is true. But one could say much more; the priest actually becomes the tzitz. Through strenuous spiritual labor, he is transformed, he is what he wears, he becomes Holy to the Lord.

Yesterday, a sign in a fashionable clothing store caught my eye; it read “You are what you wear.” My guess is this was not quite the idea they had in mind, but in the spirit of Purim, I’ll credit them with the title of this short essay.

I would like to bless my son, Aron Noam, who becomes a bar mitzvah this week, that he merit to continue to labor in Torah and Mitzvot l’shem shamayim and become ‘kodesh laShem’.

About the Author
Batya Hefter is founder and Rosh Beit Midrash of The Women’s Beit Midrash of Efrat and Gush Etzion and the founder of the Women’s Beit Midrash of Cleveland. She holds a Masters in Rabbinic Thought from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After being the Executive Director of the Women’s Beit Midrash for 21 years, she is now the director of the newly emerging Transformative Torah Project whose focus is to transmit the teachings and spiritual path of the hasidic masters for the seeking modern Jew.
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