The Priestly Garments – Honor and Glory

Parshat Tetzaveh 5772
I have a confession to make.

I feel like I’ve never understood the concept of honor (kavod) and glory (tiferet) with regards to the priestly garments.

Then I came across the picture of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta.

It struck me. That’s honor and glory. See the look in his eyes. See his bearing. It’s all brought together by the dignity of his uniform.

The Priestly Garments

The High Priest (Kohen Gadol) wore eight garments when he served. A regular priest wore only four garments.

Here is the translation from Judaica Press of the verses describing the garments of the High Priest:

Exodus Chapter 28

2 You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory.
3 And you shall speak to all the wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they shall make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, [so] that he serve Me.
4 And these are the garments that they shall make: a choshen, an ephod, a robe, a tunic of checker work, a cap, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron and for his sons to serve Me.
5 They shall take the gold, the blue, purple, and crimson wool, and the linen. …

36 And you shall make a showplate of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it like the engraving of a seal: “Holy to the Lord.” …

42 And make for them linen pants to cover the flesh of [their] nakedness; they shall reach from the waist down to the thighs.
43 They shall be worn by Aaron and by his sons when they enter the Tent of Meeting or when they approach the altar to serve in the Holy, so they will not bear iniquity and die. It shall be a perpetual statute for him and for his descendants after him.

I asked several questions on these verses earlier this week.

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Some Answers

The first garments that people wore were for tzniut (I don’t know a translation better than modesty).

We read in Sefer Bereshit / Genesis before the sin of Adam and Eve:

2:25 Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, but they were not ashamed.

Then we read after the sin:

3:7 And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves and made themselves girdles. …

3:21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife shirts of skin, and He dressed them.

We see that before their sin, Adam and Eve did not need to cover any part of their bodies. That all changed after the sin. They needed to cover particular parts of their bodies. (I don’t think I need to be more explicit.)

That is tzniut – covering what needs to be covered. Covering what needs to be hidden away. Covering what should only be revealed under certain circumstances.

The High Priest / Kohen Gadol wore one garment for tzniut. That is the linen pants in verses 28:42 and 43. That’s why the linen pants are not listed in verse 28:4. That verse only lists the garments that are for honor (kavod) and glory (tiferet).

(That still leaves the question why the showplate (tzitz) is not mentioned until verse 28:36. The Baal HaTurim explains that since the tzitz is not made out of fabric it is not really a garment.)

Honor (kavod) and Glory (tiferet)

How do these concepts apply to the priestly garments?

Ramban says the garments are to make the Kohen Gadol distinguished and glorified. He says that the priestly garments are similar to the garments worn by royalty at the time of the Torah.

Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno says that the priestly garments are for the honor of God. They were holy garments that were worn when the Kohen Gadol was serving God. The aspect of teferet is that the people should be in awe of the priest.

Ramban emphasizes that the clothes make the man. Seforno emphasizes first the honor God and then the dignity of the priest and the priesthood.

Purim Bonus

How is this related to Megilat Esther?

We read in Esther:

Esther Chapter 8

15 And Mordechai left the king’s presence with royal raiment, blue and white and a huge golden crown and a wrap of linen and purple, and the city of Shushan shouted and rejoiced.
16 The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor.
17 And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s order and his edict reached, [there was] joy and gladness for the Jews, a banquet and a festive day, and many of the peoples of the land became Jews because the fear of the Jews was upon them.

You see that how Mordechai was dressed is very similar to the priestly garments.

In a certain sense, Mordechai is filling the role of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. The Kohen Gadol performs the service so that the sins of the Jewish people will be forgiven.

Modechai and Esther pleaded for the Jewish people that they should be saved from their enemies. When the plea was answered in the affirmative he triumphantly left the presence of the king.

A New Question

Tzniut is always a big issue.

Ask yourself this: Do your clothes (whether you are male or female) fulfill the the goal of tzniut?

I’m sure the answer is yes.

Now try this question: Do your clothes go beyond tzniut and take you to the level of honor (kavod) and glory (tiferet)?

Your Turn

Please share your ideas in the comments.

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Picture Credit: from flickr.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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