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Home » Tetzaveh

Tetzave: Every Jew Counts

Submitted by on March 5, 2006 – 2:49 amNo Comment | 2,702 views

Change of Attire

I once worked for a man whose personality changed as often as his attire. At the office he exuded a sense of competence and leadership, his manner as crisp as his professional attire. At home he exuded friendship and camaraderie, his manner as relaxed as his casual attire.
We all dress for success. We wouldn’t wear a suit and tie to a tennis match nor would we wear a tennis outfit to a business meeting. Our attire not only projects the image we want  it also influences the way we think and conduct ourselves.
I once attended a business meeting at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. The meeting never got off the ground because the casual atmosphere prevented us from engaging in serious discussion. I have no doubt that the meeting would have been much more productive had it been held in a boardroom.
There is a reason why elected leaders wear conservative suits and despotic tyrants prefer military uniform. Our mood swings with our attire and we usually take ourselves as seriously as the image we choose to project.

Priestly Vestments

This explains why Kohanim, priests, were required to wear the vestments of priesthood during worship. The Torah goes so far as to institute the death penalty for a Kohen who conducts the service without his priestly vestments. (1)
Why is the Kohen’s choice of apparel a capital offense? The Talmud explains that the status of priesthood is not conferred until the Kohen dons his vestments.every Jew counts - innerstream Without his garments he is not a Kohen, and conducting the priestly service is a capital offense for a non-Kohen. (2)
Our garments set the internal tone by which we conduct ourselves and the external image that we project. What tone and image were the priestly garments designed to project?
They reminded the Kohen that he was not only anointed for celestial service but that he also represented his brethren in worship. A Kohen, enraptured in personal inspiration, who abandons his brethren during the service forfeits his status of priesthood.
Approaching the sacred vestments to prepare for worship was an uplifting experience for the Kohen. He must surely have felt the thrill and excitement of his proximity to G-d. His soul surely delighted in the atmosphere of holiness. His heart surely felt as if it melted in the ecstasy of his sacred task.
How can we ask him to think of others during such a transcendental moment? As his heart pulses with love for G-d, should we ask him to think of others? As he trembles in awe, sings for joy and exults in the presence of the divine, should we ask him to consider those who cannot relate to such elevation of spirit? The answer is a resounding yes. (3)

Eight Vestments, Eight Sins

Not only must he remember his brothers, he must also remember the sinners. The Talmud teaches that each of the priestly vestments was designed to atone for a particular sin (4)
    • The priestly tunic atoned for the sin of murder. When the body is killed the soul is robbed of its tunic. A murderer who saw the Kohen wear the priestly tunic was reminded of his sin and was inspired to repent. (5)
    • The priestly pants were designed to conceal the “flesh of nakedness,” and were made of linen. The Hebrew word for linen, bud, also means isolation. Accordingly, the pants atoned for the sin of adultery, which is often performed in nakedness and in private.
    • The priestly turban was worn by the high priest and, like a crown, it indicated a position of prestige. For the Kohen, however, this was not an arrogant position of personal prestige, but a humble position of G-dly prestige. The turban therefore atoned for the sin of arrogance.
    • The priestly belt was designed to be thirty-two cubits long and was wound around the priest’s  waist, between his heart and lower body. The Hebrew word for heart, lev, has a numerical value of thirty-two. The length of the belt and its position on the priest’s body indicate that it atoned for the sin of lustful thoughts. (6)
    • When the nation was faced with questions such as the advisability of going to war, the question was addressed to the high priest and the array of letters inscribed upon his breastplate would illuminate the divine response. The priestly breastplate, which revealed the divine law, atoned for the sin of perverting the law of justice. (7)
    • The priestly apron was contrasted with idolatry by the prophet Hosea and was similar in design to aprons worn by pagan priests. The apron therefore atoned for the sin of idolatry. (8)
    • The apron robe was designed with bells hanging from the bottom that would clang as the high priest walked the corridors of the temple. The robe’s clanging bells atoned for the clanging sounds of sinful gossip and slander.
    • The forehead plate, as its name indicates, was worn high on the priest’s forehead. The forehead plate therefore atoned for the sin of high-minded and shameless impudence.


 True Representation

As the priest wore these vestments, he remembered the sins of  particular sinners and prayed for their atonement. As the sinners saw the vestments, they recognized their own misdeeds and repented. (9)
Perpetrators of these eight sins represent the dregs of Jewish society, yet they are our brothers and sisters. The Kohen must invite them into his mind and heart even as he approaches G-d in worship. The Kohen is not permitted to worship in isolation and benefit only his soul. He was anointed to represent the nation and that includes everyone.
The Jewish people become a nation when every Jew is included. If the Kohen includes everyone, even the sinner, then he is a valid representative. If he serves without his vestments, if he abandons even one of his brethren, he forfeits the title of priest.


  1. Exodus 28: 35 and 43. See Rashi (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105) and Ramban (Nachmanides, R. Moshe Ben Nachman, Spain, 1194-1270) on Exodus 35: 23.
  2. Bab Talmud, Zevachim, p. 17b, and Sanhedrin, p. 83b.
  3. See Tiferet Yonatan (R. Yonasan Eibescutz, Prague, 1690-1764) on Exodus 28: 2. See also Lekutei Sichos (R. Menachem M Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, NY, 1902-1994), vol. 16, pp. 336.
  4. Bab. Talmud Erkin, p. 16a. For further explanation on the relationship between the vestments and the sins for which they atoned, see Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619) on Exodus 28: 39. See also Toras Moshe (R. Moshe Alshich, Tzefat, 1508-1600) on Exodus 28: 30-35.
  5. Kli Yakar explains that the tunic was made of linen and linen is made from flax, which grows from flaxseed. Flax is the crop planted by Kain, the world’s first murderer. He further explains that the Hebrew word for linen is shet,which also means six. This is why there were six cities of refuge in Israel for Jews who murdered inadvertently. The Talmud (Erkin, 16a) refers to the fact that Joseph’s brothers dipped his tunic in blood to convince their father Jacob that he had been mauled to death. In his commentary to the Talmud, Rashi explains that their choice of tunic was fortuitous. It indicated that in the future the tunic would atone for the sin of murder.
  6. Kli Yakar adds that lustful thoughts cling to the soul like a belt clings to the body. We regret and repent for the sins that we commit in action, but sins that are committed in the heart are hardly noticed and rarely regretted.
  7. See Bab. Talmud, Brachot, p. 3b, and Yuma, p. 73a. See also Jerusalem Talmud, Yuma 6: 3 and the explanation by Torah Temimah (R. Baruch HaLevi Epstein, Pinsk, 1860-1941) on Exodus 28: 30.
  8. The prophet Hosea (Hosea 3: 4) spoke of the long exile that awaited the Jewish people. During this time he prophesied that Jews would have no priestly apron, which the commentators understood as divine instruction, and no idol worship. See also Tiferet Yonatan on Exodus 28: 6.
  9. For a beautiful explanation on why these particular sins were chosen to be represented by the vestments, see Toras Moshe (R. Moshe Alshich, Tzefat, 1508-1600) on Exodus 28: 4.
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