Glorified Garments

Download Audio file

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            We’ve all the heard old adage, “Clothes make the man.” Like many old sayings, there is much truth in this one, clothes do in fact make the man on many levels, including how his clothes impact his relationship with himself, how they affect others, and ultimately how they affect his relationship with God.

            The subject of Parshat Tetzaveh is clothing, specifically the garments the High Priest is to wear when he performs the service in the Beit Hamikdosh. In describing these garments, the Torah tells us they should be worn lechovod uletiforet/ for glory and for splendor. In what way do these garments impart glory and splendor? In that they resemble the garments of royalty, notes Ramban.

            Interestingly, garments, especially royal garments figure prominently in the story of Purim as well. Most notably, when “Mordechai left the king’s presence clad in royal apparel… then the city of Shushan was cheerful and glad. The Jews had light, and gladness and joy and honor.” So what is kavod/glory/honor, and what is significant in that Ahashuerosh flaunted the wealth of the kavod/glory of his kingdom at the party lasting 180 days? Is there a connection between the priestly garments and the royal garments of Ahashuerosh, which Chazal explain were donning the clothes of the Kohen Gadol?

             Our commentators tell us that there is indeed a strong connection between these ideas. All the world knew of the prophecy that the Babylonian exile resulting from the destruction of the First Holy Temple would last seventy years. When that term expired, the Jews would return to their land and rebuild the Temple. By Ahashuerosh’s calculation, those seventy years were now concluded, and the Jews were never returning to their homeland. They would forever remain his subjects. The Temple, he reasoned, would never be rebuilt, and so he displayed and used all the vessels of the Temple in celebration, donning the priestly garments in n boastful brashness.

            Rabbi Fryman z”l in Shaarei Derech raises a very pertinent question. Aren’t luxurious garments a sign of the physical and mundane, often an outer manifestation of importance for those who lack an inner sense of their own worth? Why would priests, the very symbols of spirituality, whose service to the community is so necessary, need garments of this nature? With these questions we can begin our discussion of the threefold purpose of these garments.

            A kohain could perform his service in the Beit Hamikdosh only while wearing these garments. Rabbi Belsky zt”l explains that indeed, these garments reflected prestige, but it was not arrogance. After all, people dress in accordance with the groups they identify with and how they view themselves. Someone who advocates following the norms of society will dress differently from those who see themselves as “free spirits”. A self- respecting individual will always be cognizant that his appearance must reflect respect. Further, people dress not just for themselves, but also for others and for particular situations. The kohain is entering Hashem’s presence; should his attire not reflect the honor he accords Hakodosh Boruch Hu? Donning this attire puts him in the proper frame of mind to perform this holy service. One dresses differently when going to a wedding, or for an audience with the president, for example, than when going to the playground with children. Apparel creates an attitude, both within himself and in the way others view him.

            In contrast, in Noam Siach Rav Shneur Kotler zt”l points to the very telling verse in the Megillah that Ahashuerosh displayed the riches of his kingdom [and donned the priestly garments]. Ahashuerosh did not possess an innate sense of royalty and glory. He needed to display his wealth and impress others. Throughout the Megillah, Ahashuerosh not only flaunts his importance beyond the seemly, as when he demands that Vashti appear before him, but he constantly seeks out the advice that will make him acceptable to the people. He has no real independence of his own. He does not display innate royalty.

            Continuing the contrast, Rabbi Belsky notes that when Mordechai wore the royal garments, they reflected his true essence, while when Ahashuerosh and his courtiers wore such splendor, it was a disguise (how appropriate for Purim!) that concealed their true vile nature and was meant to fool the world. The clothes did not change Ahashuerosh. They merely concealed his inner emptiness. When Mordechai donned his royal clothing, they were a reflection of his inner, royal, honorable essence; he became royalty as he went out before the King. He worked on himself to be worthy of appearing before the King. [Similarly, when Queen Esther prepared to approach Ahashuerosh, the Megillah says, “Vatilbash Esther malchut/Esther clothed herself in royalty.” It does not say, “Bigdei malchut/In royal garments.” Her bearing now became regal. CKS]

            Returning to discussing the priestly garments, we saw how wearing these garments affected the kohain gadol himself. We can now explore how the garments affect others, the “audience”, specifically Bnei Yisroel. When Bnei Yisroel would see The kohain gadol in all his glory, his appearance would instill in them awe of Hashem and they would be moved to repent, writes Rabbi Sternbach. People in positions of influence, Rabbis, rebbeim, and teachers must appreciate the effect they can have on others and must strive to dress in honorable fashion.

            Rabbi Svei z”l discusses the priestly garments and the purpose of each garment in great depth. In Ruach Eliyahu, he writes that just as the korbanot/sacrifices were agents of atonement, so too could each of these priestly garments become agents of atonement. For example, the me’il/robe could atone for sins of loshon horo and the tzitz/headplate could atone for sins of brazenness and chutzpah. When Bnei Yisroel would see the High Priest dressed in these vestments, they would recognize in the High priest the embodiment of yirat shamayim/fear of Heaven, even without the service itself, and they would be moved to repentance. They observed the breastplate, and realized that the twelve stones near the High Priest’s heart symbolized his carrying the weight and the problems of all the members of the twelve tribes near his heart. Observing this, all Bnei Yisroel were moved to empathy, to value and respect each other, and regret any wrongs they had already done. These garments not only atoned, but influenced proper behavior in those who observed the High Priest wearing them.

            When Mordechai went out in the streets, clad in the techeilet/blue of the royal robes, the Jews envisioned the blue thread of the tzitzit wrapped around the white threads. They were reminded of the sea, the sky, and eventually God’s holy throne, and how Hakodosh Boruch Hu surrounds all that goes on in the world, orchestrating it all, writes Rabbi Reiss citing the Imrei Emes. Thus, began a great teshuvah movement climaxing in kiyemu vekiblu/a re-acceptance of the torah out of love.

            Ahashuerosh understood the power these garments had to influence others. Unfortunately, he hoped that when he wore them, he would influence others to follow his improper behavior. But the clothes also have an impact on the wearer himself. That is how Rabbi Wolfson explains Ahashuerosh’s directive to Mordechai and Esther at the end of the Megillah, to do with the Jews as they saw fit. After all, Ahashuerosh himself was a rabid anti Semite.  

            The first person to wear clothes was Adam Harishon himself. These were the clothes Hashem made for him after he sinned. These were the clothes Adam wore when he brought the first sacrifice, and these were the clothes he wore the first Shabbos of creation. This is what kavod is about, of bringing God’s presence back into the world through Shabbat, through service, and through the elevation of the mundane to the spiritual, writes Rabbi Goldvicht z”l in Asufat Ma’arachot. Everything in existence was created for His honor, and our task is to reveal its inner, hidden light. In the Beit Hamikdosh, the elevation of the physical was manifest in the water, the animals, the spices, the cloths – in everything associated with the Mikdosh. The clothing was a means to remind the High Priest of his elevated purpose. It was the symbol of the relationship between man and God and between all the world and God. As the Kohain Gadol was tasked with revealing God’s presence in the Beit Hamikdosh, so are we tasked with revealing God’s presence in the world.

            Adam before his sin was dressed completely in ohr/light (with an aleph). After the sin, he was dressed in ohr/animal skin (with an ayin). Hashem desires that mankind transform the animal skin back to light, writes Rabbi Rothberg in Moda Labinah. In the right person’s hands, that transformation happens. In the hands of Nimrod and Esau, these special garments were devoid of spirituality. But when Yaakov wore them to receive Yitzchak’s blessing, Yitzchak smelled the scent of Gan Eden emanating from them. Yaakov was to be the tikun/repair for Adam’s sin.

            These clothes again play a role in the philosophy of the Roman Empire, the descendants of Esau. Rabbi Feldman in The Juggler and the King relates that the Roman Empire placed value only on power, self – aggrandizement, building and enhancing only the physical world. Their philosophy was in complete conflict with the doctrines of Yaakov/Yisroel who believe that our purpose on earth is to create a relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu and to strive for spiritual perfection. When Rome reigned supreme, they formed a parade every seventy years. They would take an able bodied man symbolizing Esau, dress him in the original garments of Adam, and place him atop a lame man representing Yaakov. Thus, they were declaring that Rome was superior, that Esau won, and Yaakov would forever serve his brother. They felt that the beauty of Adam was Esau’s inheritance, denying that Adam’s original, real beauty was the light of spirituality.

            This is the struggle we continue to face today. Are we consumed by outer appearances only, or are we searching for the spiritual, inner essence? Are we interested in fleeting pleasure, or are we working toward a relationship with God?

            We can recognize the connection between Purim and the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh, most especially through the priestly garments and the holy vessels that Ahashuerosh flaunted so arrogantly at his party. Bearing this in mind, we can see a relationship between two famous calendar related adages: Mishenichnas Adar marbin bsimcha/In the month of Adar, (when we were saved from Haman and celebrate Purim) we increase joy, and, Mishenichnas Av mamitim bsimcha/In the month of Av, (when the Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed) we decrease joy.

            Rabbi Roth z”l in Sichot Eliyahu begins by explaining that the Beit Hamikdosh was the place of the greatest joy, for here the people could bring a sin offering and leave knowing they had achieved atonement. Once, the Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed, however, joy was automatically lessened as one could no longer bring the atonement sacrifice. When Ahashuerosh threw his extravagant party celebrating what he believed to be a final destruction, he mocked the service of the Beit Hamikdosh not only by dressing in the priestly garments and by using the holy vessels for drinking, but also by the names he called his officers. The Gemarrah discusses how each name was a distorted form or anagram of part of a holy service, further mocking God. Klal Yisroel had sunk to such a low level that they could sit and enjoy this party and watch the abuse of all that was holy to them. They had become so immersed in the physical enjoyment that was at the center of Persian culture that they reversed their purpose and were worthy of destruction. With their participation in the feasting, they forgot the Torah and needed to re-accept the Torah as their mission. With that acceptance, they learned the lesson of Av and were ready to experience the joy in Adar.

            Mordechai, upon hearing of the decree against the Jews, comes to the courtyard dressed in sackcloth and ashes. Esther sends him a proper set of clothes to wear, but Mordechai refuses. What is the real difference of opinion here? Esther wants Mordechai to take the royal clothing and transform it, writes Rabbi Rothberg. Invest them with the spirituality of Adam and Yaakov, not with the evil of Ahashuerosh and Haman. But Mordechai says he cannot do that yet, for Bnei Yisroel were not on that spiritual level. Bnei Yisroel must realize how far they’ve fallen and return their hearts to the pure spiritual realm. In re-accepting the Torah, they elevated themselves again to that spiritual level. Now they could enjoy Shabbat and Yom Tov and wear beautiful garments in honor of these spiritual days.

            The Rama, on Shulchan Aruch notes that there is a custom to wear Shabbat clothes on Purim. Aruch Laner comments that this helps us on Purim highlight that Adam’s clothes belong to the Jewish people. When we wear these special clothes, we are representing a certain standard in our service to Hashem that fills us with a greater joy than even Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, we withdraw from the world, but on Purim, we take the physical world, enjoy it while dedicating it to the service of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We take the ohr/animal skin and transform it to ohr/light.

Download PDF