Garments of the Kohen Gadol
Volume 22, No. 20
10 Adar I 5768
February 16, 2008
Avodah Zarah 4:8-9
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nedarim 57
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Mo'ed Kattan 14
At the end of each parashah, many chumashim state the number of verses in
that parashah and what word or phrase can be used to remember that number.
The mnemonic device traditionally used to remember that this parashah has
101 verses is the name of the angel "Micha'el." (The gematria of Micha'el
equals 101.) Why?
R' Heschel of Krakow (16th century) explains as follows: We will read in
next week's parashah that, after the sin of the golden calf, Hashem wanted
to send an angel - according to the midrash, it was Micha'el - to
accompany Bnei Yisrael through the desert. Moshe demanded, however, that
Hashem lead Bnei Yisrael Himself, without an intermediary.
After Moshe's death, we read that this same angel appeared to Yehoshua,
saying that he had been sent to lead Bnei Yisrael in battle. We find,
therefore, that wherever Moshe was, the angel could not be, but when the
former was gone, the latter reappeared. This is why the angel Micha'el is
alluded to by our parashah, for it is the only one in the three middle
books of the Torah in which Moshe's name is not mentioned. (Chanukat
R' David Feinstein shlita offers another answer: Most of this parashah
relates to the garments of the Kohen Gadol. Micha'el, Chazal teach, is
the Kohen Gadol among the angels serving in the heavenly Bet Hamikdash.
"You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aharon your brother, for
glory and splendor." (28:2)
What "glory and splendor" was demonstrated by the bigdei kehunah / the
uniforms of the kohanim? R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz z"l (Germany; died 1764)
Halachah requires the garments of the Kohen Gadol to fit him exactly. How
was this possible? The Torah (Vayikra 21:10) refers to the Kohen Gadol
as "the kohen who is gadol [literally "bigger"] than his brethren." Our
Sages say that when a kohen was anointed to be High Priest, he actually
grew until he was taller than the other kohanim. If so, how could the
Kohen Gadol's clothing fit him exactly? After all, he had to be fitted
for his new "uniform" before he was anointed, and after he was anointed,
he grew taller!
The answer, says R' Eyebschutz, is that the Kohen Gadol's garments grew
with him. This was the "glory and splendor" of the bigdei kehunah.
Why did Hashem arrange things such that this miracle became necessary? Was
there not enough "glory and splendor" in the fact that the Kohen Gadol
R' Eyebschutz answers: We read in Mishlei (15:30), "Enlightened eyes
will gladden the heart; good news will fatten the bone." In effect,
one who receives good tidings stands taller. Thus, if only the body of
the Kohen Gadol "grew," we might have thought that it was a natural
consequence of his promotion. Therefore, to make clear that a miracle had
occurred, the Kohen Gadol's clothes grew with him. (Tiferet Yehonatan)
"These are the vestments that they shall make: a Breastplate, an
Ephod . . ." (28:4)
Rashi writes: "The Ephod - I have not learned what this is, nor have I
found in the Talmud a description of its construction. However, my heart
tells me that it is tied in back and is as wide as a person's back, like
the aprons that noblewomen wear when they ride horses."
What does Rashi mean by, "My heart tells me"? R' Pinchas Menachem Alter
z"l (the Gerrer Rebbe; died 1996) suggests: Undoubtedly, Rashi was very
careful to observe the law (Bemidbar 15:39), "You shall not stray after
you heart and after your eyes." He used to guard his eyes not to see
anything inappropriate, and he certainly did not look at women
unnecessarily. Yet, he once noticed a French noblewoman riding her horse,
and he was troubled; why had G-d caused him to see such a thing? When it
was time to write his commentary on this week's parashah, he
understood. "My heart tells me," he concluded, that he had noticed that
particular woman so that he could interpret the verses properly. (Quoted
in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
"The work of a stone engraver, pituchai chotam / engraved like a signet
Rashi explains that the first half of this pasuk refers to the work of a
craftsman, an expert at working with stones. However, R' Yisrael Taub z"l
(1849-1920; the first Modzhitzer Rebbe) observes that Rashi made a subtle
change in quoting the verse. While the pasuk refers to "stone" in the
singular, Rashi speaks of "stones" in the plural. Why?
R' Taub explains that Rashi was hinting at a subtle lesson in the verse.
The words "pituchai chotam," besides meaning, "engraved like a signet
ring," also can mean, "opening what is sealed." We find that the Torah is
called "Stone," as in the Tablets of Stone ("luchot even"). The Yetzer
Hara / Evil Inclination also is called a "stone," as in "a heart of stone"
("laiv even"). Rashi is telling us that one must be an expert craftsman, a
master stoneworker, to work on these two stones.
Specifically, the master artisan is someone who understands how and when
to open what is closed, and how to close that which is open. When it
comes to Torah, the "artisan" must open closed hearts, as we pray every
day in the U'va Le'tzion prayer, "He [G-d] will open our hearts with His
Torah." On the other hand, the "master stoneworker" also needs to close
what should not be open. For example, he must close his eyes and not see
improper sights. The Yetzer Hara is hard at work trying to drag one down
into the depths of sin and despair. One's heart should be open, full of
Torah thoughts and feelings, but the Yetzer Hara tries hard to close it,
turning it into a heart of stone. The Yetzer Hara also tries to open what
should be closed, trying to attract man to sights he should not see.
"A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate on the
hem of the robe all around. It must be on Aharon in order to minister.
Its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary and when he leaves,
so that he not die." (28:34-35)
The Talmud Yerushalmi relates: "The sage Shmuel used to count little
chickens during prayer / davening. The sage Rabbi Bun ben Chiya used to
count the beams of the house during davening." Why did they do that?
Certainly they were not so distracted as to be looking at chickens or
R' Yissachar Dov Rokeach z"l (the Belzer Rebbe; died 1927) explained: It
is related that the Rebbe R' Elimelech (great chassidic leader; died 1787)
used to hold a watch in his hand during the Shabbat mussaf (known
as "Kedushat Ketter" in the Sephardic liturgy which chassidim follow). R'
Elimelech said that he felt so uplifted during that particular prayer that
he was afraid his soul would leave him. Therefore, he held a reminder of
this temporal world in his hand in order to bring him back to earth.
If a relatively contemporary sage (R' Elimelech) prayed thus, certainly
the sages of old did, explained the Belzer Rebbe. That is why Shmuel
counted chickens in the middle of davening and Rabbi Bun counted the beams
of the house. They needed to do so in order to remain attached to this
In this light we can understand the purpose of the bells attached to the
Kohen Gadol's robe. If the sages of the Talmud could lose their
connections to this world during moments of spiritual ascent, certainly
Aharon was at such risk when he entered the Holy of Holies.
Therefore, "Its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary and when
he leaves, so that he not die." The sound of the bells brought him back
to earth. (Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
R' Avraham Bornstein z"l,
Born 5599 (1839) - died 11 Adar I 5670 (1910)
R' Avraham Bornstein was the chassidic rebbe of Sochatchov (Sochaczew,
near Warsaw), and was also a rosh yeshiva and one of the leading halachic
authorities of the turn of the last century. R' Bornstein's works – his
seven volumes of responsa, She'eilot U'teshuvot Avnei Nezer, and his
encyclopedia of the laws of Shabbat, Eglei Tal - are popular classics.
R' Bornstein was the son-in-law of R' Menachem Mendel, the
legendary "Kotzker Rebbe," and he followed in his father-in-law's ways.
This included allowing only a small number of chassidim to become close to
him and constantly pushing his chassidim to greater levels of commitment
to Torah study. Chassidim who called upon R' Bornstein were expected to
share their Torah thoughts with him, and he insisted on personally heading
a yeshiva despite the objections of his followers (who presumably wanted
him to devote his full time to them).
R' Avraham's style in learning - directed towards ascertaining the
practical halachic conclusions of the subject - was also learned from his
father-in-law. His lectures in the yeshiva lasted six to eight hours,
often starting at midnight and continuing until morning, except for a 15-
minute break when he napped.
One of R' Avraham's best known teachings is found in his introduction to
Eglei Tal. There he asserts that not only is learning Torah a mitzvah,
but also enjoying that learning is a mitzvah. (Some other sages contend
that if one enjoys learning, it is considered learning shelo lishmah / not
with a pure motivation.)
Some of R' Avraham's teachings on Chumash and chassidic thought have been
gathered from manuscripts and the works of others, and are published under
the title Neot Desheh. Also, R' Bornstein is frequently quoted in his
son's classic work Shem Mishmuel.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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