Volume 3 Issue 20
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
"Clothes," they say, "make the man." But did you ever wonder about the man
who makes the clothes?
This week's portion discusses the priestly vestments worn by both the common
kohen (priest) and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). The common kohen wore four
garments while the High Priest wore eight.
The garments of the High Priest were ornate and complex. They needed highly
skilled artisans to embroider and fashion them. They included, among
others, a jewel-studded breastplate, a honeycomb-woven tunic, an apron-like
garment and a specially designed garment that was adorned with gold bells
and woven pomegranates.
To weave these garments was quite a complex task, and Moshe had to direct
the craftsmen with the particulars of the difficult sartorial laws. Yet when
Hashem charges Moshe He described the function of the garments much
differently then He did in telling Moshe to command the tailors.
Moshe himself was told by Hashem that the objective of the garments was for
glory and splendor -- surely wonderful, but very physical attributes. Yet
when he is told to command the artisans, the message he is told to impart
was quite different. "You shall speak to the wise-hearted people whom I have
invested with a spirit of wisdom, as they shall make holy vestments to
sanctify and minister for me." (Exodus 28:1-3) "The clothes," Moshe tells
the tailors, "were not meant for glory or splendor; they were to sanctify
and to minister." Why the change in stated purpose?
A Long Island rabbi attended a taharah (ritual ceremony to prepare a
deceased Jew for burial) for an individual whose background was rooted in a
Chasidic community. Chevra Kadishas (burial societies) are often immune to
the emotions, trauma and dread that would normally accompany a dead soul on
The Chevra did their job almost perfunctorily, with hardly a word spoken, and
that did not strike the rabbi as strange. Years of working with cadavers
can numb the senses of even the toughest men. All of a sudden, a murmur
bounced back and forth between Chasidic members of the Chevra. "Er hut a
visa? (He has a visa?)" they queried. Then the conversation took a stranger
turn. They began to mumble about a first class ticket.
The rabbi became concerned. Why was anyone talking about travel plans during
this most sacred of rituals? That was not the time nor place. It just did
not make sense.
Immediately the room became silent, it was now filled with awe and a sense
of reverence. "Er hut a visa!" exclaimed the senior member of the group.
The entire Chevra nodded and the atmosphere suddenly transformed.
They continued to prepare for the funeral as if the deceased had been a
great sage or Chasidic Rebbe. The rabbi was unable to understand the sudden
change in atmosphere until the eldest man beckoned him. "Come here," he
said. "I'll show you something. The old man lifted the arm of the deceased
to reveal seven numbers crudely tattooed on the dead man's forearm. "Do you
know what they are?"
"Of course," replied the Rabbi. "They are the numbers that the Nazi's
tattooed on every prisoner in the concentration camps."
"No," the old man said. "These numbers are the first-class ticket to Gan
Eden. They are the visa and they are the tickets. Period."
The badges we wear have different meanings to every individual. Moshe, the
man of G-d who saw the world with a profound vision of spirituality, was
told about the more mundane aspect of the priestly garments. "They are for
glory and honor." But he is told to charge the artisans, who often see only
the splendor and glory of the corporeal world, with the true purpose of the
garments -- "to sanctify and minister."
Often we see numbers, events, and even garments as the mere manifestation of
natural events whose memories impart us with only of a sense of awe for the
history or beauty within. Sometimes we mortals must be reminded of a sense
even greater than glory and splendor -- ministration and sanctification of