Shabbat Message: We Are What We Wear

February 14, 2019
By Beth Mordecai
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Shabbat Message: We Are What We Wear

Following the description of the structure of the Tabernacle last week in Parashat Terumah, our portion, Tetzaveh, leads off with a depiction of the High Priest’s “sacral vestments” – the choshen hamishpat (breastplate of decision), the ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash.

Classical commentators describe that their overall purpose is to elevate the holiness of Aharon, the High Priest, Kohen Gadol. The Hebrew word, kedusha/holiness is setting something apart – making it distinct and unique – so that it prompts greater feelings of carefulness, respect, and honor. Part of the Jewish wedding ceremony is called kedushin, from this same root. Each person is saying the other is special and set apart as their spouse.

Wood plaque depicting the 12 different stones that were found on the breast plate of the Cohen HaGadol during the time of the temple.

The special clothing worn by the High Priest is different and set apart from other items of clothing. They were made with great care out of precious materials to be both beautiful and awe-inspiring.

However, there were also specific elements of the sacral vestments that God commanded be included, not because of what they would communicate to the masses, but because of what they would communicate during the intimate moment in the Holy of Holies when the Kohen Gadol communes with God. On his shoulders and on his chest, the Kohen Gadol is instructed to wear precious stones engraved with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. Aharon would bear the names “on his two shoulders” to be a “remembrance before God.”

However, the text of the Torah is not clear about whom these stones are meant to remind. According to Exodus Rabbah 38:8, the stones were there to remind God of Israel’s righteousness. The commentator, the Netziv, however, in his commentary HaEmek Davar, says that they were there so that Aharon would always have Israel in mind during his prayers.

I believe both to be true. Just as our clothing holds multiple purposes, so does the dressings worn by Aaron. Our clothing should share our values. I have a t-shirt that says, “Human Kind – Be Both.” I wear it because I like the message. I hope others may be inspired to be a bit more kind, but I also wear it as a reminder to myself of how I should act in the world and towards God.

Do you have any clothing items that help remind others and yourself to strive to do and be better? Please email me and let me know at

Shabbat Shalom

Category : Rabbi Rabbi's Journal