M'oray Ha'Aish Parshat Tetzaveh: Royal Clothing
click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




Tetzaveh(Exodus 27:20-30:10)

Royal Clothing

While last week's parsha addressed the materials needed to construct the Mishkan and its utensils, this week's parsha addresses those who would serve in the Mishkan; the kohanim - Aharon and sons.

And take to you Aharon your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, that he may serve me as a kohen; Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar, Aharon's sons. And you shall make holy garments for your brother Aharon for splendor and for glory. (Shmot 28:1-2)

The Torah then describes the clothing of the kohanim:

And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and an embroidered tunic, a turban, and a sash; and they shall make holy garments for your brother Aharon and his sons, to serve me as kohanim. And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet wool, and fine linen. (Shmot 28:4-5)

These instructions contain a combination of materials that is prohibited in all other garments:

You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with mixed seed; nor shall a garment mixed of linen and wool come upon you. (Vayikra 19:19)

You shall not wear shaatnez (a garment made of different sorts), wool and linen together. (Devarim 22: 11)

Why would something which is forbidden in one context be deemed not only permissible, but a crucial part of divine service, in another context? This is not an insurmountable problem in theory: just as God declares this combination inappropriate in non-divine usage, He declares this as an approved element of ritual service in the Mishkan. And yet, unassailable as this logic may be, the reader is left with the task of understanding the underlying truths contained in both the prohibition and its exception. Perhaps if we understand why the Torah prohibits making garments from a mixture of wool and linen, we will be better able to understand why that prohibition is set aside for the bigdei kehuna, the priestly clothes.

However this poses a problem for Shaatnez is categorized as a hok, a law whose rationale eludes us. But while the reasons or reasoning behind laws of this type are not expressly stated in the Torah, our sages were not against offering suggestions of their own to explain hukim. In general, a distinction is made between mishpatim and hukim: Mishpatim are laws which might logically or naturally spring from the necessity to regulate and organize human interaction. Devoid of any divine imperative, people could have or would have created laws similar to those categorized as mishpatim. Their rationale is logical, clear, and would likely have been dictated by human nature and the necessity for a "social contract". Laws prohibiting murder, theft and adultery would easily fit into this category.

Hukim are laws which operate on different strata; often, they are symbolic representations of larger ideas. These laws are not intuitive, nor would human intelligence alone enable us to anticipate their necessity. Nonetheless, rabbinic tradition does not consider the rationale of a hok impenetrable or beyond our understanding.(1) Shaatnez is a prime example: Wool comes from the animal kingdom, while linen grows from the ground, and the writers of the midrash explain that these two divergent sources represent two individuals, who at the dawn of history delved into these two respective realms.

And she again bore his brother Hevel. And Hevel was a keeper of sheep, but Kayin was a tiller of the ground.

Kayin was a farmer, and his brother Hevel was a shepherd. Each of them, apparently independently, attempts to serve God by bringing an offering. This, then, is the first time in history that men initiate sacrifice as a means of coming closer to God. It is this aspect of their offering that is reminiscent of the service of the kohanim, the agents through which all of Israel can bring their individual and collective sacrifices before God.

An era ended (in the course of time), and Kayin brought some of his crops as an offering to God. Hevel also offered some of the firstborn of his flocks and from the fattest ones, and God paid heed to Hevel and his offering. And to Kayin and his offering God paid no heed, and Kayin became furious and crestfallen. (Bereishit 4:3-5)

Although each of the brothers hoped to serve God in his own way, jealousy plagued their relationship, and soon Hevel became the victim of his brother's rage. The Midrash explains that as a result of this senseless murder a new law was introduced - a law that preserves and separates the two different realms of Kayin and Hevel, represented by wool and linen.(2) The rationale of this hok may be best expressed as a method of separating divergent strands, re-establishing clarity that was obscured by sin.

Kayin's behavior deserves a closer look in this context: while it contained no shaatnez, there was clearly something terribly wrong with his offering. A common denominator exists between Kayin and the prohibition against shaatnez: The Zohar teaches that Kayin himself was combination of two species. Kayin was conceived in the aftermath of the sin, indelibly stamped with the confusion of good and evil that resulted from his parents' eating from the forbidden tree. Thus, the prohibitions of kilayim and shaatnez are an outgrowth of that first sin, that first confusion. The poison which the Serpent convinced Hava to ingest was, in a word, confusion of good and evil. It is this venom that runs through Kayin's veins, and eventually mutates into the evil that gives birth to murder.

The Talmud traces this particular strand of evil down through the ages,(3) from the Serpent through Eve to Kayin.(4) The spiritual heirs of this satanic streak are to be found in certain key positions throughout our history, and are embodied in the tribe of Amalek. One of the most insidious descendents of Amalek was a man named Haman, and rabbinic tradition stresses Haman's spiritual origins:

Haman was an extension of the confusion of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Where is Haman indicated in the Torah? In the verse: 'Did you eat from the tree (hamin ha'etz) [from which I commanded you not to eat]?' (Talmud Bavli Hullin 139b)

Like the Serpent, like Kayin, Haman was blinded by jealousy and hatred, and, as before, his fury turned murderous. The Serpent sought Adam's death, Kayin sought Hevel's death, and Haman was willing to destroy the entire Jewish people because he was slighted by one Jew.

Who was this one Jew, the bane of Haman's existence and the object of his murderous wrath? The Talmud's very brief comments give us a wealth of information:

Where is Mordecai indicated in the Torah? In the verse (Shmot 31): 'Flowing myrrh', which the Targum renders as mira dachia. (Talmud Bavli Hullin 139b)

Mordechai is associated with the incense brought in the Mishkan. One of the primary tasks of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur is to bring the incense into the inner chamber, and the association of Mordechai with this central ritual of atonement is echoed and reinforced throughout the Book of Esther.

The theme of the clothes of the Kohen Gadol, detailed in this week's parsha, serves as an ironic subtext to the story of Purim. As the Megilah begins, we are told of the ostentatious celebrations King Ahashverosh orchestrates, to which he wears the finest splendor.

When he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honor of his excellent majesty many days, one hundred and eighty days. (Esther 1:4)

The Talmud notes a linguistic relationship between the clothing of the king and the clothing of the Kohen Gadol:

"When he showed the riches of his glorious [tif'eret] kingdom": R. Yose b. Hanina said: 'This shows that he arrayed himself in the priestly robes. It is written here [Esther 1:4], 'the riches of his glorious [tif'eret] kingdom', and it is written elsewhere [in connection with the priestly garments, Shmot 28], 'for splendor and for glory, [tif'eret]. (Talmud Bavli Megila 12a)

This linguistic similarity is more than coincidental. The Talmud unlocks for us a rich and significant sub-text by highlighting the use of these very specific descriptions. The great celebrations in Shushan were far from benign:

"In the third year of his reign, he made a feast." (Esther 1:3) R. Yehudah and R. Nehemiah gave different explanations. R. Yehudah said: 'It means, in the third year of the making of the throne. When he finished making the throne, "he made a feast for all his princes and his servants."' R. Nehemiah said: 'In the third year after he stopped the building of the Temple. When three years had passed after he stopped the building of the Temple, he made a feast...) (Midrash Rabbah - Esther 1:15)

Ahashverosh donned the clothing of the Kohen Gadol and celebrated the fact that his Jewish subjects would remain dispersed and disunited. The construction of the new Temple had come to a halt; Jerusalem would remain barren, and the Jews would remain in exile.

The atmosphere among the Jews of Shushan was one of total confusion; instead of partaking in the Chanukat Habayit, the dedication of the Temple by the Kohen Gadol, they participate in festivities that mark the failure to rebuild the Temple. A drunken, lecherous despot wears the clothes of the High Priest. Confusion reigns; death and destruction seem close at hand.

Mordechai alone seems unconfused. He remembers who he is and where he is. He knows what the Jews need, what they must do. But he also fears that without the Temple, without repentance, they have little hope. There is no Kohen, no incense, no sacrificial rite with which to bring about a national awakening. Even the holy garments of the Kohen Gadol have been captured. And so, Mordechai dons sackcloth, shedding all the confusion that the trappings of the court engender, rejecting every expression of reconciliation with the festive atmosphere around him. In this context, other seemingly minor elements of the Book of Esther are cast in a new light: When Ahashverosh looks for a fitting reward for a loyal supporter, Haman's response resonates with new overtones: the honoree should be dressed in clothing worn by the king - not "the kings clothing", but the clothing that the king has worn. We now understand that this is no arbitrary suit of clothes: it is the clothing of the Kohen Gadol that Haman wants. But at that point Haman is humiliated and forced to give these royal clothes to Mordechai.

Mordechai does not attend the party; he refuses to drink the wine, declines the king's offer of forbidden fruit.(5) He alone will not bow to temptation; he will not bow to Haman.(6) With prayer and a great deal of Divine intervention, his cousin Esther is catapulted to the palace and soon a plan takes form. The plan itself seems to play on the jealousy and anger of two evil men; through their weakness, salvation emerges. Haman's own hunger for power and glory lead to Mordechai being paraded through Shushan in the clothes of the Kohen Gadol. Haman's murderous fury leads to his own hanging from the gallows he prepared for Mordechai. Achashverosh's delight in the collapse of the aspirations of the Jewish People leads to the birth of new hope and the eventual completion of the Temple.

Parshat Tetzaveh describes the clothing worn in the Temple, and these clothes are necessarily different from our normal attire. Ours is a world steeped in petty jealousy and hatred, a world driven mad by the confusion between good and evil. The prohibition against shaatnez is a symbolic reminder of the confusion that leads to death. As we are diligent in our dress, and we take care to maintain the distinction between the realms represented by wool and linen, we make a symbolic commitment. Through observance of the laws of shaatnez in our daily comportment, we remind ourselves that the hatred and jealousy between Kayin and Hevel resulted in fratricide, and we commit ourselves never to repeat this sin.(7)

Life within the confines of the Temple is quite different. The Temple is our meeting place with God. Here, as we approach God, confusion is dispelled. Within the Beit HaMikdash, wool and linen can be combined, must be combined. Here, sanity reigns; clarity triumphs. The Temple is a place of unity, straddling the territories of Yehuda, son of Leah, and Binyamin, son of Rachel.(8) Here, brothers are united; here, even Kayin and Hevel can exist side by side. This unity is the defining trait of Mordechai:

There was a man of Yehuda in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shim'i, son of Kish, a Benjaminite. (Esther 2:5)

Like the Beit HaMikdash itself,(9) Mordechai is both of Yehuda and of Binyamin. Mordechai represents unity and harmony, reconciliation and clarity. He was uniquely capable of seeing through the confusion. He was a symbol of the Temple, and of the Kohen Gadol. Like the incense that brought about forgiveness for the people, Mordechai was an agent of healing. He was the rightful owner of the 'garments of splendor and glory,' the rightful heir of the Kohen Gadol who used incense to dispel the confusion that causes sin. In truth, the holy clothing in which he was eventually adorned were an expression of his own inner 'splendor and glory.'(10)

 

NOTES

1. See Rabbi Abraham Besdin's adaptation of the lectures of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Man of Faith in the Modern World: Reflections of the Rav, volume 2 (Hoboken New Jersey: Ktav Publishing House, 1989), pp. 91-116.

2. According to the Midrash, the produce that Kayin offered was linen. See MidrashTanchuma Bereishit (Warsaw edition) section 9; Zohar part 3: 87a; Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer chapter 21; Hizkuni and Baalei Tosafot to Devarim 22:10; Vilna Gaon commentary to the "Sifra Dezt'niuta" chapter 4. Also see Explorations (Jerusalem: Targum Press, 2000), Parshat Bereishit and Parshat Kedoshim.

3. Shaatnez has the same letters as SaTaN AZ, which means 'powerful satanic force'. See Recanati on the Torah, Parshat Tetzaveh; Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz, Shnei Luchot Habrit Parshat Ki Tetzeh.

4. For more on this theme see my essay on In Search of the Serpent http://arikahn.blogspot.com/2009/10/parshat-bereshit-5770-in-search-of.html

5. According to many commentaries, the fruit of the forbidden tree in Eden was grapes, wine.

6. The Serpent tried to convince Hava that eating from the forbidden tree would transform them into gods; Haman, who required obeisance from all the king's subjects, attempted to set himself up as a deity as well.

7. See my book Explorations Parshat Kedoshim, where I note that the prohibition on shatnez immediately follows the verse instructing us to "love your neighbor as yourself".

8. For a more detailed discussion of this idea, see my notes on Parshat Ki Tisa-Purim 5769: http://arikahn.blogspot.com/2009/03/parshat-ki-tisa-purim-5769-mar-dror.html

9. See Talmud Bavli Yoma 12a.

10. But even these garments, the unique and otherwise-prohibited combination of wool and linen, do not complete the picture. The Zohar notes that on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the Kohen Gadol enters the inner sanctum to seek forgiveness for the sins of the nation, he wears garments of pure linen, not mixed with wool. Significantly, it is linen clothing, the clothing reminiscent of Kayin, the man with blood on his hands, that is worn on Yom Kippur when approaching God. This is paralleled by Aharon who bore guilt for the idolatrous calf entering into the Mishkan on Yom Kippur (the holiday which commemorates the forgiveness granted the Jews after the Golden Calf). This garment represents Kayin's attempt to serve God prior to his offering being rejected. See Rav Yehonatan Eybeshitz, Yaarot Dvash part one drush 5.

Published: February 21, 2010

Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.

Visitor Comments: 2

(2) paul silbersher, March 1, 2012 3:50 PM

Chukim and Mishpatim, best explanation I have seen

The connections of Adam, the Snake, Cain, Amalek, Mordechai as derived from Hullin nd Zohar, are brilliant insights. How timely for Purim. This article sheds "lights and truths' on subjects so often disregarded because they seemed ao arbitrary and difficult to understand. Not anymore...thanks to Rabbi Kahn who succeeds in making Parshat T'tzaveh (normally a dry recitation of the wardrobe of the Kohane Gadol and his colleagues) a veritable cascade of Judaic connections and revelations...creating a renewed desire to study Torah.How exciting it is when one knows even a bit. Rabbi Kahn, Kol Hakavode to you. Looking forward to other articles with your excellent teaching skills that even I can understand.

(1) Sarah, February 10, 2011 10:52 AM

Thank you!

Thank you so much for this fascinating article, it has really helped me with my research on the deeper significance of Shaatnez.

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub
Sign up today!