July 18, 2024
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Royal Garments: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

The purpose of the priestly garments, as significantly discussed in this week’s parsha, was to set the kohen gadol apart from the people, investing in him an aura of sovereignty, royalty and splendor, as the verse states, “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron, your brother, for honor and for glory” (Ramban, Shemot 28:2). The me’il (cloak) was remarkable in its design for it was decorated with little golden bells and pomegranates, as the verse states, “A golden bell and a pomegranate…” so that the ringing of the bells would signify the approach of the kohen gadol into the Mishkan (Shemot 20:4-5).

Rav Moshe Tendler explains that when Yaakov made a plea to Hashem, asking for beged lilbosh, clothing to wear (Bereishit 28:20), he was not asking for himself. Rather, he was asking that his beloved children would someday merit to see the kohen gadol adorned with his beautiful priestly vestments that would make an eternally powerful, indelible impression upon the Jewish people.

Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the purpose of the bells was to teach the people that we should act with courtesy and respect toward one another. Meaning, one should not suddenly enter a room, even one within his own home. Rabbi Akiva, for example, instructed his son Rabbi Yehoshua not to enter his own home without warning, let alone the house of another (BT Pesachim 112a). Rashbam comments that one should always knock before entering, for a sudden entrance may disturb the privacy of those inside. (Achashveirosh sentenced people to death for entering his chamber without permission, see Esther 4:1.)

Rabbi Mordechai Miller, in his sefer “Shabbos Shiurim,” questioned whether the me’il was intended to make the kohen gadol feel like a king, or to inspire in himself a feeling of dread and submission before entering the Mishkan?

Rashi explains that Hashem chose the Jewish people because we are the “least” of all the nations (see Devarim 7:7). What does “least” mean? We do not exalt ourselves when we are granted the blessings of Hashem. On the contrary, says Rashi, we belittle ourselves: like Avraham, who said, “I am dust and ashes” (Bereishit 18:27), and like Moshe and Aaron who said, “What are we?” (Shemot 16:7). We act contrary to Nebuchadnezzar, who said, “I shall be like the Most-High” (Yeshaya 14:14), and like Sennacherib, who said, “Who of all the gods of these lands has preserved his land from me, that your God should save Yerushalayim from my hand?” (Yeshaya 36:20).

It is specifically because the Jewish people do not boast of themselves and do not attribute our qualities and prosperity to our own skills, that Hashem desired us to be His nation. To the contrary, Achashveirosh disgracefully adorned himself with the royal garments of the kohen gadol in order to symbolize his power, taking for himself all the glory and awe that was due to Hashem. When Achashveirosh then required Queen Vashti to reveal her beauty, it was a secondary violation of the modesty of women, demonstrating an entirely new level of self-promotion and a decadent abuse of authority.

The Baal Shem Tov once narrated the following parable: An emperor gave notice to a prince that he planned to visit his town. When the day arrived, the entire city turned out to welcome their honored guest, including the prince, who prepared his finest robes and chariot to escort the emperor throughout the city. However, when they stood together, side by side, it became impossible to distinguish the emperor from the prince. This resulted in the people ignoring the emperor, and instead focusing their attention solely on the prince, who felt a sense of profound shame with each cheer and outburst of honor from the crowd. Meaning, if man feels himself alone in the chariot, then he will accept all of the honor and praise attributed to him. However, when man recognizes that he is a subject of God, then he will be acutely sensitive to the opposite reaction within him, for with each praise that is accorded him, a sense of shame grows into a far greater and uncomfortable state.

The kohen gadol must operate in a parallel universe by remaining aware that his spiritual obligations require him to adorn (eight) lavish vestments, while concurrently recognizing that he is one of the people with neither pride nor privilege, requiring profound humility by announcing his arrival into the Mishkan to commune with Hashem.

It is therefore Rabbi Miller’s contention that a man’s home and family belong to Hashem. As such, one may not enter without alerting the owner to his presence, much the same as one would not enter a palace without being granted permission by the king.


Mordechai Plotsker runs a popular 10-minute nightly shiur on the parsha with a keen interest on the invigorating teachings of the Berditchever Rav, the Kedushas Levi. Plotsker resides in Elizabeth with his wife and children, and can be reached by email at [email protected].

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