In sunny California, where almost all work climates have shed the suit, (unless you go to court) and almost every day is casual Friday, the majesty and formality of garb is fast becoming a relic of yesteryear. In Tetzaveh however, the parsha of priestly garb, one enters a whole different world.
Among the Kohen Gadol’s (High Priest) majestic garments, two literally share intertwined fates. They are the only duo of his clothes that
a. explicitly possess sha’atnez (the forbidden combination of wool and linen) (1)
b. are sufficiently complex to receive the title ma’aseh chosheiv (a weaver’s/thoughtful craft)
c. contain special stones
and most significantly, these two garments are
d. halachically required to remain connected, the strings of one in the rings of the other; actual separation of these clothes violates a negative Torah prohibition and incurs lashes.
Wherein lies the connection between the choshen (breastplate) and the ephod (apron)?
First, a fascinating Kli Yakar (16th c. Torah commentator) question: Hashem commands Moshe to relate (to Bnei Yisrael) their obligation to fashion the garments [Shemos, 28:4]:
These are the garments that they shall make: a breastplate, an eiphod, a robe, a checkered undershirt, a turban and a sash-belt. Have them make sacred garments for your brother Aharon, and for his sons, to serve Me [as kohanim].
Yet in presentation [Shemos, 28:6,15] and actual implementation, the order is switched [Shemos, 39:2,8]
He (Betzalel) made the Ephod gold …He made the Choshen of a weaver’s craft
Hashem commands choshen and then ephod while Moshe prioritizes ephod over choshen. Why?
For Kli Yakar, the solution resets upon two gemaras, one that adds a new dimension of meaning to the Kohen Gadol’s clothing [Zevachim 88b]:
R. ‘Inyani b. Sason said: Why are the sacrifice sections and the priestly clothing close together? To teach: as sacrifices make atonement, so do the priestly clothing. The coat atones for bloodshed, … The pants for lewdness … The turban for arrogance… The sash for [impure] meditations of the heart, … The breastplate for perversion of justice. The ephod for idolatry, The robe for slander…The headplate for brazenness:
Of course, the clothing does not exonerate the individual murderer, idolater and philanderer – but they serve to spiritually purify the communal climate. We’ll leave the spiritual metaphysics and the specific clothing-sin symbolisms for a different day.
Another gemara hones in on the special relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael. [Berachot 6a]
R. Nahman b. Isaac said to R. Chiya b. Avin: What is written in Lord’s tefillin? — He replied: “And who is like your people Israel, a nation one in the earth”. Does the Holy One, blessed be He, sing the praises of Israel? — Yes… Hashem said to Israel: You have made me a unique entity in the world, and I shall make you a unique entity in the world. ‘You have made me a unique entity …as it says : Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. ‘And I shall make you a unique entity… as it is said: And who is like Thy people Israel, a nation one in the earth.
Our essential Jewish definition and special relationship to Hashem is marked by singularity and reciprocity, both notions best captured by the phrase: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (Song of Songs, 6:3- I am for my Beloved and He is for me). Our mandate and challenge: Ani l’dodi – to make Hashem the unique One of this (and our) world – a world within which we toil to see and demonstrate Him.
V’dodi li: Remarkably, the same is true for Hashem, who, as it He were saying – ein od milvadchem – mein tyre kind, my dear children, without you My world is meaningless.
Thus the Berditchever Rebbe explains that we call the (sooner-than-you-think approaching) holiday Pesach, while Hashem (in the Torah) calls it Chag Hamatzos?! – for Pesach [passing over our homes] is what Hashem did for us, while Chag Hamatzos celebrates our great leap of faith; our ability to leave 210 years of baggage before the dough could rise. Appropriately, on that night, many sing the Song of Songs, for it is the night that I am for my Beloved and He is for me(2).
In Tetzaveh, the priestly clothing brings atonement. Hashem’s major concerns is for His suffering children, often victims of corrupt judges/judgments. He enumerates as first garb the choshen, the one that will rectify and alleviate His children’s pain. V’dodi li!
In implementation, the order is changed, why? Because in a thou-focused relationship, His greatest hurt, hurts more than mine; and there is no greater insult to God than ignoring/denying Him, (aka avodah zarah). Thus Moshe teaches Bnei Yisrael to first build the ephod – which atones for the terrible sin of idolatry. Ani l’dodi!
In Kli Yakar’s understanding of the Ephod-Choshen order switch can be found the sweet sounds of that great love song between Hashem and his people.
A final fascinating halacha: v’lo yizach hachoshen m’ei’al haephod(3), the choshen and the ephod must remain inseparable, (even after the Kohen has removed his clothing(4)). Many have sought to understand the why of this halacha; perhaps in the permabond between ephod and choshen, between Hashem’s desire to help us and our passion to acknowledge Him can be found the essential successful formula for our relationship with the Almighty(5).
A note – the nexus between the ephod and chosen are with their respective rings, evoking notions of marriage. Every morning, as we wrap the tefillin around our fingers, we recite the majestic betrothal verses in Hoshea [2:21-23]
V’eirastich li l’olam, V’eirastich li b’tzedek uv’mishpat …V’eirastich li b’emunah, v’yadaat es Hashem
And I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you to Me in righteousness, and in justice, … And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD.
It all clicks in. Mishpat and Emunah – Justice and Faith – Choshen and Ephod.
A real Marriage, – be it a Divine one, or one of the human variety, can only be realized when concern for the other becomes the essence of the quest.
1. The dyed wools and the sheish which was linen constitutes sha’atnez. Cf. Rabbeinu Bechayei. Radbaz believes that this is not Sha’atnez for technical reasons – but he is a lone voice amongst almost all halachic authorities. The sash also contains sha’atnez – but it is not explicitly mentioned.
2. Similarly, Kli Yakar brilliantly teaches, that in Parsha Matos [Bamidbar, 31], when God commands Moshe to fight against Midian for their seduction of Bnei Yisrael, He states nekom nikmas Bnei Yisrael (avenge for Bnei Yisrael) while Moshe couches the command as nekom nikmas Hashem (avenge for Hashem). A thou focus serves as the essence of the exchange.
3. The cryptic words of Sefer Hachinuch regarding the rationale of this prohibition compel one to probe deeper:
משרשי המצוה, שרצה השם לטובתינו לזכותינו בהגדלת אותו הבית הקדוש, ולהיות כל אשר בו מכוון וקבוע על מכונו, בין ענין כליו שיהיו בתכלית השלמות בין ענין כלי
המשרתים כגון מלבושים אלה שהם מלובשים בהן בשעת העבודה, שהכל יהיה נכון ושלם בתכלית השלמות, לא יחסר שום נוי בכל הדברים, וכאמת כי מנוי הענין הוא שלא יהיה החושן נע ונד על לוח לבו אלא יעמוד שם קבוע כמין חומר, ועד שמענו טוב מזה נחזיק בזה:
4. This appears to be the simple understanding of Makkos 22 and also the approach of Rambam [Kli Hamidash,9:10] /Ritva. See Sefer HaChinuch [mitzvah 100] who limits the prohibition on b’sha’as avodah. Cf. Minchas Chinuch who argues on this.
5. This might even explain the sha’atnez mystery, for in R. Hirsch’s conception, sha’atnez represents the binding of the spiritual [wool – for animals possess a soul] and physical [linen- plants don’t possess a soul] worlds. Thus the Choshen and Ephod as connecting Hashem and Bnei Yisrael admirably represent this notion.
Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.