Shabbat Message: Sacral Vestments

March 5, 2020
By Beth Mordecai
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Shabbat Message: Sacral Vestments

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 the purpose of those pieces of clothing is to elevate the holiness of Aharon, the High Priest, Kohen Gadol. Those items were made specifically for holy use. They are different and set apart from other articles 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 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. Many of us have jewelry, or other items passed down from loved ones. We wear them to remind ourselves of them. When I wear pieces that belonged to my mother, I think of her. I remember how she cared for me with great patience. I am then reminded that I should be a bit more patient and raise my voice less with my children. I keep her memory close and strive to carry on the ideals she exemplified in her life

Do you have any items passed down from loved ones? How do you honor the memory of them while you wear the items? Please email me and let me know at

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Metz

Category : Rabbi Rabbi's Journal Shabbat Uncategorized