Judaism: Tetsave: Equilibrium and Expiation
Rabbanit Shira SmilesShira Smiles is a sought-after international lecturer, popular seminary teacher and experienced curriculum developer. A well-respected former Los Angeles teacher, she now lives in Israel, where she teaches at Darchei Bina Seminary and leads a number of women's study groups. Shira also trains Torah teachers in special workshops all over the world.
Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein
In Parshat Tesaveh, Hashem tells Moshe to bring Aharon and his sons to Him to be His kohanim, His priests and ministers, and instructs him on creating the special priestly garments the kohanim are to wear in performing their service. These bigdei kehunah, priestly vestments enabled the priests to do their service, for without them, whatever service the priest would perform would be invalid. What do our Sages see as the source for these special garments?
Rabbi Goldwicht in Asufat Maarachot cites the Medrash that when Adam brought his offering to Hashem, he wore his “priestly garments”, the garments which Hashem had clothed him in when He banished Adam from Eden at the onset of Shabbat. Hashem clothed Adam in these garments in anticipation of Shabbat. Therefore, Rabbi Goldwicht sees an inherent connection between these first physical garments, formed by Hashem Himself, the priestly vestments that the priests wore when they performed their service in the Sanctuary, and the clothing we reserve as our Shabbat attire. It is this connection that will form the material for our discussion.
Rabbi Zaidel Epstein beautifully suggests that Hashem’s purpose in clothing Adam in these garments was to raise Adam’s spirits from depression after his sin, to allude to his ability to raise himself once again and invest himself in the Divine light that still existed but was now hidden from him. In support of this idea, Rabbi Epstein cites the Baal Haturim who notes that the word the Torah uses for Hashem clothing (vayalbishem) Adam in garments of skin is used only one other time, in clothing Aharon in his priestly garments. Since the priestly service was meant to bring us back to the state of man prior to the sin, when primal light infused the entire world and Adam himself, these garments represent the ability of both Adam and of the priests to bring us back to a state of spiritual purity and inner glory, for these priestly vestments were to be lechovod uletiferet, for glory and splendor.
This idea is expanded upon by Rabbi Belsky in Einei Yisroel as he explains that a person’s clothing reveals his inner truth and creates an inner and outer attitude that influences him and defines his mission, as the saying goes, one must dress for the job. The “job” of Adam after his sin and the” job” of the priests is to bring us back to the pre sin spiritual state of mankind.
It is the concept of kavod, glory, that connects the three sets of clothing, that in which Hashem clothed Adam, that in which Moshe clothed Aharon for the priestly service, and that in which we clothe ourselves for Shabbat, continues Rabbi Goldwicht. Lehichabduhu, they will honor it, that the Prophet Isaiah uses in reference to Shabbat, refers to wearing special clothes, while the priestly garments are specifically referred to as lechovod uletiferet. Finally, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer interprets the kotnot ohr, the garments of skin in which Hashem clothed Adam and Eve as garments of glory.
How were these all to reflect glory? Rabbi Goldwicht continues: Before Adam’s sin, God’s glory was openly manifest throughout the world, for Hashem had created the world for His glory. After the sin, that light that revealed God’s immanence so clearly was hidden under layers that veiled God’s presence, as clothing covers the physical body. Our mission is to uncover that hidden spark of Godliness in every physical entity, so that we can almost hear the angel encouraging each blade of grass to grow.
Similarly, the service of the priests in offering their sacrifices, writes Rabbi Goldwicht, was also meant to reveal the Godliness of the world, for each category of offerings represented a different category of matter, animal, vegetable, and inert. Similarly, each of the priestly garments represented another area of human frailty and possible sin for which the priest was seeking atonement, explains Rabi Dovid Schneur, citing the Gemarra, in Naot Desheh. For example, the pants represented possible sins of licentious behavior, while the headband represented sins of arrogance. The clothing the priest wore enabled him to realize that holiness is within everything, but, just as clothing covers the human, physicality also covers the innate spirituality of everything, and just as we can reveal the spirituality within man, so must we strive to reveal the spirituality within God’s world. The priest with his service in his priestly garments served both as atonement and as a model for our behavior.
The same holds true for our Shabbat clothing. Just as Shabbat brings the physical and spiritual worlds into equilibrium in time, the Shabbat clothing is meant to bring our physical bodies in harmony with our spiritual essence, as it was at creation.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz explores the relationship of the physical and spiritual more fully in Living Inspired. At creation, the spiritual essence and the physical vessel that comprised Adam and Eve were in perfect harmony, infused with the heavenly glow of purity. Since the body was a perfect reflection of their inner reality, there was no shame, and no clothes were necessary; the angelic core was clothed in an angelic outer covering. When Adam and Eve sinned, however, tension between the spiritual soul and the physical body arose. Adam and Eve experienced acute shame as their animalistic, physical bodies were no longer appropriate vessels for their pure, inner neshamot. The body now became the master over man instead of the servant of man. They hid in shame of their unclothed bodies.
But, as Rabbi Tatz explains, while clothes hide the body, they also reveal the man within. A king’s garments cover his human body but also reveal his royalty. When Hashem clothed Adam and Eve, he taught them that proper clothing can be used to elevate one’s self again and to regain lost dignity. Similarly, our clothing on Shabbat should also help us regain the equilibrium between body and soul.
As Rabbi Pincus reminds us in Teferet Shimshon, we are a mamlechet kohanim, a kingdom of priests, and our clothes are to remind us that it is our mission to uncover the spiritual essence of all of creation. We are meant to restore the balance between the spiritual and the physical, to remove the shame of nakedness by uncovering the hidden holiness in everything in the world (olam = world = that which is hidden).
Nevertheless, it was only the kohain who wore the priestly garments. How could he thus atone for all of Bnei Yisroel? Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter offers two complementary responses. First, since our nation is often referred to as k’ish echad, as if we are one person, the priest can represent all of us. Additionally, as clothes have the ability to elevate the priest, so do they also have the power to elevate and uplift all who see him in those clothes.
Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz in Tiv Hatorah brings us a more modern take on these concepts, although his ideas are based on those of the Ari Hakodosh who lived about two hundred fifty years ago. Each piece of clothing, he writes, has a certain energy of its own and the layers of clothing then surround the person with a unique aura that can elevate him or bring him down. As proof, he cites that the first indication that someone is going off the Torah path is a small change in his or her attire. Clothes are a reflection of a person’s spiritual reality and significance, and changing one’s outer, one’s physical clothing changes his inner, spiritual energy, and vice versa.
Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr begins with a historical perspective in Halekach Vehalebuv. While Man lost the spiritual clothing of light with Adam’s sin, we regained it when we accepted the Torah at Sinai. But it was not instantaneous; it began with preparation. We were told to wash and to wear clean clothes in preparation. That change of clothing already transformed us and made us fitting vessels for God’s spirit to unite our physical bodies with our spiritual souls so that we again became similar to angels. Similarly, the priest’s vestments transformed him as well so that even though we sinned with the golden calf, the priests could still reach that spiritual angelic plane through wearing the priestly garments, and thereby he could elevate us as well.
Now we can continue to our third construct, Shabbat attire. Here too, continues Rabbi Schorr, the goal is to return us to the status of angels. Just as the priestly vestments were transformative, so too are Shabbat clothes transformative, for these were the garments in which Hashem clothed Adam and Eve. Our Sages interpret “honor the Shabbat” as doing so with clean clothes.
Why this emphasis on clothes? The Sefas Emes explains that through our physical preparations of washing and changing the clothes that cover our bodies, we should also be preparing our bodies to properly clothe our souls.
On Shabbat we add a paragraph to the Grace after Meals, the Ritzeh. The second word vehachalitzenu, although usually translated as “give us rest”, can just as readily be translated as “dress us in clothing.” This interpretation Rabbi Schorr derives from Zachariah. Hashem tells the Prophet Zachariah to tell the Joshua the High Priest to let them remove his dirty clothes, his sins, from him and dress him in machalatzot, in clean attire. So should we too take the opportunity on Shabbat Eve to bathe and thereby symbolically cleanse ourselves of sin and don new, spiritual clothes. In this way, says the Matnas Chaim, we transform ourselves into the spiritual beings we were meant to be.
Both the service in the Beth Hamikdosh and Shabbat have the ability to cleanse us of our sins and elevate us again to the status of angels, erasing the separation between ourselves and our Creator, writes Rabbi Pincus in Tiferes Shimshon. How can we achieve this by celebrating Shabbat? When we raise our glass of wine and recite the Kiddush, we are testifying that Hashem created the world and that all belongs to Him. We are concretizing that statement over something tangible, the goblet of wine in our hand. When we realize unequivocally that we are in His house, in His embrace, there is no longer any room for sin, for we are in the light of Hashem’s presence.
Therefore, Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr writes so beautifully, when we sing Shalom Aleichem Malachei haShareit and greet the angels that are serving Hashem, we are greeting ourselves who have been transformed into angels of peace. We say goodbye to the old angels of conflict between our bodies and our souls, for on Shabbat we have achieved true harmony and become holy entities. Because we’ve prepared ourselves before Shabbat, our clothing and demeanor have returned us to the spiritual level of angels.
The parsha began with the light of the Menorah in the Sanctuary and continued with a description of the priestly garments. The Slonimer Rebbe, the Netivot Shalom, explains that both the light and the clothing have the ability to elevate us on Shabbat. The primal, hidden light which returned to the world in the flame of the Menorah is now reflected weekly in our Shabbat candles. So, too, are the priestly garments recreated symbolically in our clean Shabbat clothes. Through our proper observance of Shabbat, we have the ability to recreate the purity and harmony, the glory and splendor Adam experienced in Eden, and elevate ourselves to be no lesser than angels in the close embrace of our Father in heaven.