In our previous posts we discussed the relationship between the Choshen and the Ephod and the names of Bnei Yisroel engraved on their different stones. In this post, we will extend the connection to a third garment – the Me’il
The Me’il was a robe made of blue wool. On its hem there were decorative adornments of golden bells and pomegranates created with coloured wool.
Specifically concerning these three garments, the Torah emphasises that the Kohen Gadol would wear them “before Hashem”;
The book of Tanya describes three categories of Jews; Tzaddikim – the perfectly righteous who have no desire for negativity, Beinonim – those who struggle with negative impulses but always manage to control themselves to do the right thing and Reshaim - those who succumb to their negative desires and have fallen spiritually.
The Choshen, worn in the front over the Kohen Gadol’s heart, represent the Tzaddikim, who serve Hashem with an inner service of feeling and desire. The Ephod, worn from behind, represents the service of the Beinoni, who still has spiritual struggles to contend with. The Shoham stones on the shoulders depict how the Beinoni’s main service is to control their actions.
The Reshaim are represented by the pomegranates on the hem of the Me’il. These are the Jews who appear lowly, hanging off the hem. Still, our sages teach that even the sinners amongst the Jewish people are full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate [is full of seeds].
Externally, in their spiritual standing, the Jews in each of these categories are worlds apart. But in their inner essence, ‘Before Hashem’, every Jew has an equal, inseparable connection and purity. As a leader and representative of the Jewish people, the Kohen Gadol’s job was to lift every Jew up and bring them ‘before Hashem’ and reveal their essential self.
Today is the Yartzheit of Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol to wear these garments. Aharon was known for his deep love for every individual. We can all reflect on this message: Instead of judging others based on how we view them, let’s try to see each person the way they are “before Hashem”.
~ Based on Likutei Sichos volume 21 Tetzaveh 2
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The names of the 12 Tribes were engraved on the Shoham (onyx) stones affixed to the shoulder straps of the Ephod. 6 names were written on each stone, as taught in the Torah; ששה משמותם על, “six of the names on [one stone]”. The division and spelling of the names ensured that there were exactly 25 letters on each stone.
The first letters of these words ששה משמותם על spell שמע - Shema. The verse Shema Yisroel has 25 letters. The two stones with 25 letters each, represent the two times each day that we are commanded to recite the Shema; once in the morning and once at night.
The stone on the right side corresponds to the attribute of Chessed. This represents the morning Shema which is recited at a time of light and revelation. The left stone corresponds to the attribute of Gevurah. This represents the evening Shema, recited at a time of concealment, darkness and challenge.
In the first verse of the Shema, we accept upon ourselves Hashem’s kingship and surrender ourselves to Him. Day and night also represent different phases in our lives.
When the sun shines on us and we experience physical and spiritual success, we feel secure and it is easy to forget about Hashem, as we attribute our success to our own doing. In our ‘daytime’ we need to say Shema, to humble ourselves and recognise the true source of our blessings.
Likewise, when we struggle with darkness and go through hard and challenging times, we feel down and alone. In this state it is hard to find motivation to serve Hashem. In our ‘night-time’ we need to say Shema, to realise that we are not alone and that Hashem is in control and there for us when we turn to Him.
This is the inner message of the two Shoham stones on the side of Chessed and the side of Gevurah. No matter what circumstances or stage of life that we find ourselves in, be it bright or dark, we are able to and need to say Shema, our connection to Hashem.
 Or Hatorah Tetzaveh p1667
The Zohar describes the relationship between the Choshen and the Ephod using the verseאחור וקדם צרתני, which can mean “You have fashioned me front and back.” The Ephod worn at the back and the Choshen worn at the front, represent 2 different pathways of serving Hashem. The difference between them is analogous to difference between the back of a person and their front.
When looking at someone face-to-face, we see animation and expression, which convey their emotions. In contrast, when looking at someone’s back, we cannot discern any emotion.
A face-to-face relationship with Hashem is one that is permeated with feeling and desire. The word for face (Panim), is related to the word Penim, meaning inner. This inner service is represented by the Choshen, which was worn at the front and over the heart, the seat of emotion.
A “back-sided” relationship with Hashem represents our service when we lack feeling. In Kabbalah, this Avodah is called Iskafia, compelling. When we are not inspired and we lack feeling, we must use our mind to dominate the heart, to compel ourselves to serve Hashem even when our heart is not in it. This service is represented by the Ephod.
These 2 pathways are the different services of Tzaddikim and Beinonim. The Tzaddik is constantly alight with fiery love and passion, always inspired to serve Hashem with an inner service. The Beinoni struggles with physical desires, dullness of heart and lack of inspiration which they must overcome to serve Hashem.
Even though one was worn at the back and the other over the heart, both the Choshen and Ephod are holy and both are integral parts of the Kohen Gadol’s clothing. If either were missing, his Temple service would be disqualified.
Hashem formed a unique few “front”, to serve Him without struggle and with inner feeling. Most of us He formed “back”, with inner battles that we need to confront and overcome. Neither Avodah is superior to the other, they are both holy garments and Hashem has Nachas from both, as long as we apply ourselves to the service that He has destined for us.
In our next few posts, we will focus on two of the garments of the Kohen Gadol; the Ephod and the Choshen and the relationship between them.
The Ephod was a type of apron that was worn from behind and would drape down to the heels of the Kohen Gadol. On the shoulder straps there were two Shoham (onyx) stones on which were engraved the names of the 12 Tribes, 6 names on each stone.
The Choshen was a woven breastplate that the Kohen Gadol wore above his heart. It had 12 different precious stones set in golden settings, with the name of one of the 12 Tribes on each stone.
The Choshen was tied to the Ephod with Techeiles-wool threads and the Torah gives an explicit warning (and prohibition) “and the Choshen shall not be detached from the Ephod”.
Worn from behind and extending down to the ankles, the Ephod represents the lowest and most mundane aspects of our lives and the lowest and most external levels of our psyche. The Choshen, worn over the heart, represents the loftiest levels of the soul. The two encompass our entire being, from our greatest spiritual qualities to our most basic functions.
The Torah’s prohibition teaches us that we need to make sure that the two are constantly secured together, uniting these two extremities of our lives.
Our lofty G-dly feelings should not only be channelled into our spiritual activities of prayer and study. We need to make sure that everything that we do, even our most mundane, is permeated with the influence and inspiration from the deepest levels of our souls.
~ Based on Sicha Adar 21, 5748
Dedicated לע"נ ר' דוד בן יוסף – In loving memory of Zaidie Ainsworth
The Torah describes the function of the Kohen Gadol’s clothing as לכבוד ולתפראת, literally “for honour and beauty”. In Chassidus, the word Kavod (honour) is associated with the Sefira of Malchus and Tiferes (beauty) is associated with the Sefira known as Tiferes.
What is significant about these Sefiros and how are they reflected in the Priestly garments?
In our last post, we discussed the 2 categories of clothing of the Kohen Gadol; white garments and gold garments.
The colour white is associated with the Sefira of Chessed, so the white garments represent the attribute of Chessed, loving kindness. The golden garments represent the Sefira of Gevurah, discipline and restraint. The Torah teaches that gold is found in the north, which corresponds to the left side, Gevurah.
A single, stark colour is not beautiful. Beauty is created through the synthesis and blending of different colours together in the right balance. So too, a single Sefira; either Chessed or Gevurah on its own, is not beautiful. Beauty is found in the Sefira of Tiferes which blends together a balance of Chessed and Gevurah.
In a similar way, the Sefira of Malchus receives from all of the Sefiros and brings their energies together.
By wearing the white garments (Chessed) and gold garments (Gevurah) simultaneously, the Kohen Gadol’s clothing are both לכבוד (Malchus) and לתפארת (beauty).
On a basic level, the message is that a single homogeneity, where we all must think and be the same is not beautiful. Like a tapestry, the beauty of our people and communities is when we bring our diversity and unique qualities together.
The lesson also plays out in our relationships. An approach of pure Chessed - indiscriminate giving, openness and tolerance without expectation and rules, is not beautiful. Too much rigidity and discipline without empathy and compassion is also not beautiful.
Like the Kohen Gadol, we need to mix the two together, allowing them to temper one another, to create a balance that is both honourable and beautiful.
The 8 items of clothing worn by the Kohen Gadol are divided into 2 categories;
Bigdei Zahav: 4 coloured garments that had gold in them; the Tzitz (head-plate), Ephod (apron), Choshen (breast-plate) and Me’il (robe).
Bigdei Lavan: - 4 garments of white linen; the Mitznefes (turban), Kesones (tunic), Michnasayim (breeches) and Avneit (sash).
The Ariza”l explains that the 4 white garments correspond to the 4 letters of the Name י-ה-ו-ה, which represents G-dliness that is beyond the worlds. The 4 golden garments correspond to the 4 letters of the name אדנ-י, representing the concealment of G-dliness within the veil of nature.
Wearing the combination of the 2 sets of garments reflects how the transcendent light of י-ה-ו-ה is enclothed and hidden within אדנ-י.
The Kohen Gadol wore these 8 garments every day of the year. But on Yom Kippur, when entering the Holy of Holies, the Kohen Gadol only wore 4 white linen garments, representing a pure revelation of transcendent G-dliness that is not hidden within nature.
Our day-to-day Avodah is to engage with the world through our physical activities, to draw down G-dliness. This is like wearing the combination of the gold and white garments.
But from time-to-time, we need the Yom Kippur experience; moments of spiritual elevation and inspiration where we rise completely beyond physicality, like Yom Kippur when we fast, negating our body as we ascend into the Holy of Holies of our souls. This gives us the strength to come back into the world to uplift it.
On a daily level, this is when we enter the Holy of Holies of prayer, where we rise above the world to connect with our soul. Once we have connected Above, we can put on the golden garments as we set out to bring this connection into the world and every aspect of our daily life.
In yesterday’s post, we discussed how the Bigdei Kehuna are “garments of light” which reveal G-dliness. In truth, every garment creates some degree of concealment. So why are they called “garments of light” and why were they needed in the Beis Hamikdash which was a place of revelation?
In Chassidus, garments illustrate the paradox that it is necessary to conceal in order to reveal.
Light that is too intense cannot be received in a meaningful way. Its intensity will overwhelm the receiver and remain inaccessible in their experience. To be ‘revealed’ within their reality, it is necessary to veil or filter the intensity of the light.
An opaque curtain, like the “garments of skin”, blocks out the light entirely. But a sheer curtain allows the light through. With the subtle layer of concealment, the light becomes useable and can be of benefit to the recipient. This is the function of the “garments of light” – concealment for the purpose of meaningful revelation.
In Chassidus, the Kohen Gadol represents the lofty level of Ahava Rabbah, an intense revelation of G-dliness that is completely beyond the worlds. In order for this light to be drawn down and manifest within the worlds, it needs to be enclothed within garments – the Bigdei Kodesh that the Kohen would cover himself with.
In our interactions and relationships with others, we also need garments.
Sometimes in our desire to share, we may be too intense and overwhelm those around us by not giving them enough space or consideration. We may come across too strong in our opinions. Or we may share our emotions too intensely, smothering the other with our love and closeness.
Before we share our inner self with someone else, we need to think about it from their experience; how it will be received in the most meaningful way – for them.
If we ‘hide’ ourselves too much, it defeats the objective; a concealment that conceals. But a considered level of toning down will ensure that our desire to give, is meaningfully received; a concealment that reveals.
Clothing was first introduced after the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, when Adam and Chava realised they were unclothed and Hashem made them כתנות עור, “garments of skin”. The Midrash teaches that in the Torah of Rabbi Meir these words are written as כתנות אור (with an Alef), meaning “garments of light”.
Chassidus explains that both are true. Before the sin they had “garments of light”. After the sin they were replaced with “garments of skin”.
Before the sin, physicality did not conceal G-dliness and the physical body did not hide the light of the Neshama. This is like the translucent “garments of light” that allow light and holiness to shine through. As a result of the sin, physicality became corrupted so that it became oppositional and concealed G-dliness. This is the opaque “garments of skin”.
The Beis Hamikdash was a microcosm of Gan Eden, a place where G-dliness was openly manifest and physicality itself radiated holiness. In this space, the garments of the Kohanim are called Bigdei Kodesh, holy garments that reveal holiness like the “garments of light”.
Tanya teaches that our thoughts, speech and actions are like garments. The thoughts, speech and action that express our Animalistic Soul are “garments of skin”, which hide the light of our Neshama and bring further concealment to the world.
When we serve Hashem with the thoughts, speech and action of Torah and Mitzvos which express our G-dly soul, we are like the Kohanim serving in the Beis Hamikdash. These are Bigdei Kodesh, “garments of light” that enable our Neshama to shine forth.
With these ‘garments’ we also refine the physicality of the world, bringing it one step closer to Moshiach when once again physicality will reveal G-dliness, just as it did in Gan Eden and in the Beis Hamikdash.