Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tetzaveh - Clothes make the man

Parshas Tetzaveh gives the command to make the clothes for the KohenGadol. The word for clothing,בגד [Beged], is the same root as the word for traitor. Clothing is designed to hide flaws and to present the image that one wants others to have. A uniform is designed to impress the publice with the importance of the office that the wearer holds as well as to impress the holder of the office with the seriousness with which he must treat his position. Ronald Reagan would always wear his suit in the Oval Office and insisted on conducting his business while wearing his jacket and tie. It was not to impress others with the loftiness of the position, but to show that he took the position with the seriousness that it required.

Often the uniform becomes so integrated with the position that it is immediately recognized at once. When this happens, a person who wears this uniform is invested with the status imparted to that position by all those who have worn it in the past. Examples of this are the Vatican Swiss Guards, the British Buckingham Palace Guards, the United States Green Berets. Noone who has not earned the right would dare wear those uniforms.  On the other hand, a uniform which attempts to impart a status which has not been earned will cause a counterproductive reaction. An example of this is the attempt by Richard Nixon to create "impressive" uniforms for the White House Guards. These uniforms were ridiculed as "comic opera" uniforms and caused the same response as the rows of medals that dictators awarded themselves as they stood in uniform to review the troops.

The Bigdei Kehuna [ clothing of the High Priest] were desingned to show the onlookers the importance of that position as well as reminding himof what hewas supposed to represent.

The Torah tells us

2You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory.ב. וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי קֹדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת:
3And you shall speak to all the wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they shall make Aaron's garments to sanctify him, [so] that he serve Me [as a kohen].ג. וְאַתָּה תְּדַבֵּר אֶל כָּל חַכְמֵי לֵב אֲשֶׁר מִלֵּאתִיו רוּחַ חָכְמָה וְעָשׂוּ אֶת בִּגְדֵי אַהֲרֹן לְקַדְּשׁוֹ לְכַהֲנוֹ לִי:
The purpose of the clothing was to reflect the "honor and glory" of the position of High Priest. In fact, a priest became elevated to the position by donning the "uniform". The talmud tells us that if a priest was appointed to serve on Yom Kippur because the Kohen Gadol was not able to perform the service that day, he could never go back to serving as a "regular" priest. In the send Bais Hamikdash, since the anointing oil was no longer available, a priest was inaugurated by putting on the "eight garments".

The Talmud in Maseches Shabbos 104a discusses the words for Truth (אמת - Emes) and Falsehood (שקר - Sheker). It points out that truth is made up of the first, middle and last letters of the alphabet. Each letter has a broad base and stands on its own. The letters are far apart because truth must be searched for but hold the entire world together. Maharal  notes that removal of the first letter of "emes", aleph, which as the first letter of the alphabet has a numerical value of one, the smallest numerical value, would leave the word "mes", meaning dead. If one deviates from the truth even one iota they have removed themselves from the everlasting reality and even though the majority is still true, the totality is false.

Falsehood on the other hand are the three letters before the end of the alphabet. They block off the last letter of truth from the rest of the letters. Each letter is on a point so that it cannot stand on its own. They huddle together so as to force their impression upon the onlooker. Other discussions of the meanings of two of the three letters reinforce these points (such as רק - rak meaning "but")

The three letters of "clothing" (בגד) have similar points applied to them. The second, third, and fourth letters of the alphabet are there to shield the intrinsic meaning of the person (the "aleph") from the rest of the world  The bais has a broad base standing firm and representing the "house" (bayis)  in which a person's soul lives. The Gimmel has two legs on which to stand ready to stand firm or to move in whichever way it must to protect the person. In some ways of thought, it represents the material world. The third letter the Dalet, has only one point, like the letters of sheker. It too cannot stand alone but symbolizes the "door" (delet) through which a person can interact with the world or through which the world can perceive the personality of the wearer.

The first clothing that we see in the Torah is that which Hashem made for Adam and Chava. It was only after the sin that they required external clothing. Before then, the light of their souls was so bright that the body was regarded as we regard clothes today.

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