When I got married a senior educator at my school repeatedly inquired about the details of my dress. I could not understand why she was stressing that the most important detail of the wedding was my dress. It also amazed me how much time, I ended up spending on the specifics of my dress. It seems like the dress is such an extraneous aspect of the wedding plans. I wore my dress for less then six hours and then I returned it to the store; why was it so significant?
In this week’s parsha, Hashem stresses the importance of the kohanim’s uniform. The same question can be asked, why are their tunics so important? The pasuk gives us a cryptic answer:
“And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for Kavod and Tifaret—honor and distinction.”
An obvious question arises: for whose honor and distinction was the clothing intended? Was the Kohen’s clothing important for his own honor and distinction, for Hakodosh Baruch Hu’s or Am Yisrael’s ? The mefarshim debate the explanation. Nechama Leibowitz in her article on Tetzave brings some of the major commentators that debate this central issue.
According to the Ramban’s “surface” explanation the Kohen wore distinct clothing like those worn by royalty as a way to enhance his dignity in the eyes of the nation; the whole nation was looking to the Kohen for religious and spiritual inspiration. Through the splendor of his clothing, the Kohen was able to arouse a spirit of awe and grandeur that the nation would, hopefully, channel towards G-d.
Alternatively, the Malbim, describes the Kohen’s clothing as symbolic of a Kohen’s character.
Now the garments ordained were evidently external ones and the text is concerned to relate how the artisans performed the work. But in reality they symbolized inner vestments. The priests were to invest themselves with noble qualities which are the vestments of the soul. These vestments the artisans did not make. But God commanded Moses to make these holy garments, that is to instruct them in the improvement of their souls and their characters so that their inner selves should be clothed in majesty and splendor.
Each part of the Kohen’s garb represented another trait that the Kohen was supposed to improve.
Lastly, it is possible to understand that the kohen’s clothing was for G-d’s honor. Looking at a Kohen, a person was forced to realize that the Kohen’s closeness to G-d required him to dress in special attire in order to highlight his unique connection to Hashem. Ramban is hinting at a fundamental element in Judaism, one that stresses using the materialistic aspects of this world to get closer to Hashem.
Rav Hirsch, expressing the same concept. explains the meaning of the word kavod in parshat Tetzave:
Kavod is the spiritual Kaved, the weight, the mass, that by which the spiritual and moral content, the character, of person impresses itself on others. So that the meaning of the kehuna is to express itself in the garments. Kavod is the real actual character of the garments.
Rav Hirsch emphasizes that clothing can create the connection between the physical world and the spiritual world. It is easier for man, which lives within a materialistic world, to use the tools that surround him to connect to G-d.
Rav Hirsch uses similar reasoning regarding the Garden of Eden. Rav Hirsch states that the garden is purposely described as nechmad lemareeh, beautiful to look at, before it is described as tov lemaachal, good to eat, in order to cater to man’s ability to appreciate beauty within this physical world.
It should not be overlooked that here, in the description of the laying-out of the garden for human requirements, nechmad lemareeh, satisfying the sense of beauty precedes tov lemaachal that of the sense of taste and the requirements for food. It gives justification for, and dedication to, the aesthetic, the sense of appreciating beauty, and this too, may confirm the higher stage designed for Man. The abundance of beauty of every kind which we are given in this, our world, and the fact that – as far as we know – Man is the only creature that has been provided with the ability to enjoy beauty for itself, proves what value the Creator lays on this aesthetic sense for the spiritual-moral calling of Man. Indeed this beauty of nature showered in every form all over the world, and the sense of enjoyment which Man derives from it, is one of the first means to protect Man from complete brutalization. Joy in the beauties of Nature and the beauties of form, which God has lavished especially on plant-world, forms a bridge towards what is spiritually and morally beautiful. In surroundings where no consideration is given to harmony and beauty, Man too easily grows up wild and unruly. The feeling which gives one jay in harmony and order is related to the feeling for order and harmony in the sphere of morality, so much so that evil and bad appear to us as “ra” as something broken, the harmony disturbed, where one single thought no longer rules the whole.
Our world’s beauty can help us understand and connect to G-d on a deeper level.
Similarly, the pasuk in Yeshayahu 58:13 describes how one is commanded to delight in the Shabbat—“Vekarata Leshabbat Oneg Lekdosh Hashem Mechubad.” The mitzvah of kavod Shabbat, which is derived from this pasuk, is understood by the Shulchan Aruch as the injunctive to prepare materialistically for the Shabbat. One is commanded to bathe, change his clothes, and cook a proper meal to enjoy on Shabbat. The Law underlines what our parsha is teaching us: one needs to use the physical to strengthen the spiritual.
May we all recognize the beauty of this world as coming from Hashem and use that knowledge to deepen our connection to Him.