Moshe took them from their palms and offered them on the altar in
addition to the olah. They are inaugural offerings, as a pleasing fragrance,
a fire-offering to Hashem.
Shades of White1
Rashi: Moshe served all seven days of the Mishkan’s inauguration in white
Maharal: Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi ponders Rashi’s timing in telling us about
Moshe’s role. This is not the first verse that puts Moshe at the center of
the avodah during the inaugural week. 2 Why did Rashi wait till
this point to tell us that Moshe performed as a kohein during this period?
We might also puzzle over Rashi’s description of Moshe’s wardrobe. Rashi is
committed to addressing issues of basic pshat. Why did he feel it was
necessary to throw in the detail about Moshe wearing white garments?
Although earlier pesukim described Moshe’s role in the early stages of the
days of miluim, his performance does not support the conclusion that he
served as a kohein. Having been instructed by Hashem, Moshe was the only
person who fully understood the details of the avodah. Of necessity, he had
to demonstrate to Aharon and his sons how to perform various parts of it. We
could think that Moshe served not so much as a kohein, but as a master
teacher substituting for a kohein at a time that no one else was available.
This theory falls apart when we arrive at our pasuk. In commenting on a
similar avodah, Rashi, 3 citing gemara Menachos, tells us that
three different kohanim orchestrate the tasks between slaughter and placing
of the meat on the altar. Although a single kohein could conceivably do all
of them himself, the King is honored through the service of a greater number
of attendants. Why, then, during the miluim week, did Moshe perform all the
tasks alone? Even as a temporary instructor, he could have guided another
two kohanim to work alongside him. Our pasuk points, therefore, to a
different role for Moshe. He was not a stop-gap instructor, demonstrating
technique to a class of eager new kohanim. We can only conclude that during
this week, Moshe was by design the only one qualified to do the avodah. That
made him not a teacher, but a kohein – a kohein designated as the sole
officiant in this avodah.
But what kind of kohein would that make him? Kohanim can usually be
differentiated from each other by their vestments. Ordinary kohanim wore
white garments. The kohein gadol wore an additional four that are called
golden, because they contained some gold components. On Yom Kippur, some of
the avodos called for the kohein gadol to wear only white garments, one of
which was different than those of the ordinary kohein. Rashi’s interest in
what Moshe wore was not incidental. He was trying to more accurately define
the nature of Moshe’s kehunah during the inaugural week.
Rashi opts for white begadim, similar to those of the kohein gadol on Yom
Kippur, pointing to his lofty stature on the one day that he is allowed to
enter the Kodesh Kodashim. Now, we know that the ordinary kohein also wore
white begadim. How can white begadim serve both the special (the kohein
gadol) and the ordinary (the common kohein)?
Context determines how the same object can symbolize different things.
Watching multiple kohanim perform the daily avodah, we would be struck by
the uniformity of their dress. The plain white garments pointed to the
commonality, the shared sameness of what they were all doing. In general,
elements that are common to a system are more basic; the avodah-in-white of
the everyday kohein shows the basic importance of their tasks to our
The white of the kohein gadol’s garments on Yom Kippur makes a different
statement. It underscores his specialness, not his sameness. This is
conveyed only in conjunction with the laws that governed those Yom Kippur
garments. They were indeed special. No other kohein could use them, not even
another kohein gadol on a future Yom Kippur. In fact, the kohein gadol
himself could not use last year’s set on a future Yom Kippur! The begadim
spoke of his unique role, standing before Hashem as their representative at
Moshe’s begadim testified to his having attained the level of a pure,
unadulterated, unencumbered intellectual force. His sechel had become
purified enough to be able to receive sechel and chochmah directly from
Hashem. The gemara4 teaches that Moshe’s cloak had no hem. This
means that it lacked anything curved, crooked, doubled over. Moshe’s sechel
was straight, pure, simple. Similarly, it was white because to the eye,
white has no admixture of any hue or tint. Again, the symbol is simplicity –
in this case appropriate to Moshe’s unique accomplishment as a sechel
pashut. His garments therefore pointed to how he was different than others
(similar to their purpose for the kohein gadol), not to how similar he was
(like the vestments of the ordinary kohein).
We could add another element that seems to be different, but really amounts
to the same thought. A hem is the finishing touch on a garment. Moshe’s
lacked a hem, just as he lacked the finishing touch of a human being. We are
differentiated from the animals in our capacity for complex speech. The gift
of speech is the final stamp upon the human form that makes its recipient
The gemara5 tells us that a person studies all of Torah in
utero. When he is ready to emerge from the womb, an angel strikes him on
the mouth, and he forgets what he learned. Why the mouth? Why does he need
to be struck?
Chazal call applying the final touches to a utensil makeh bepatish, or
smoothing out the last imperfections with the blow of a hammer. The angel
does the same to the emerging fetus. The final blow, the finishing touch
that fashions him into a full human being, is the power of speech. It is a
wonderful gift, but it also points to human limitation. Speech is a window
to the intellect. It projects inner thoughts to the external world. It
transforms pure intellect into something physical. This is perfectly
consistent with the role of a human being on his journey through the world,
a physical body containing a spiritual sole.
Moshe, as we know, was deficient in his speaking ability. This seeming
imperfection, we realize in hindsight, was really a sign of his specialness.
His inner spirit, his intellect, was not limited by and mired in the
physical. He functioned as a sechel hapashut.
His garment lacked the finishing touch of the hem, just as he lacked the
ordinary finishing touch of ordinary human speech. In his case, this
displayed his lofty specialness.
1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Vayikra 8:28 and 7:4; Gevuros Hashem chap. 28
2. See above, lines 15-16
3. Vayikra 7:30
4. Taanis 11B
5. Nidah 30B