Luxurious Attire (Tetzaveh 02/12/22)
In our Parsha we’re told to adorn Aharon, the High Priest כהן גדול, with numerous extravagant garments woven from royal blue, purple and crimson wool, fine linen and gold thread (Exodus 28):
“And these are the garments that they are to make: Breastpiece and efod and tunic, braided coat, wound-turban and sash. So they are to make garments of holiness for Aharon, your brother and for his sons, to be priests for me.”
We’re told that these garments are to be created with veneration in mind:
“You are to make garments of holiness for Aharon, your brother,
for glory and for splendor.”
Aharon and his sons are the priests of the Jewish people who will serve and bring the offerings in the Tabernacle and, later, in the grand Temples in Jerusalem. Based upon their importance and position among the people, it seems fitting, that they should wear distinguished garments.
Yet, surprisingly, no mention is made regarding the vestments of our most distinguished leader, Moses.
This omission is not lost upon the poet, Isidore Century, in his collection, Torah Portions,
They say vestments make the man;
Whoever they are won’t get any arguments from me.
Without the Holy Vestments
I cannot conduct a sacred service,
I cannot enter the Holy of Holies,
I am not the High Priest.
I am not who I am.
Though Moses did not need any holy vestments
to lead 600,000 Jews out of Egypt,
(for forty years he wore the same tunic
which Joshua cleaned and pressed like new every night),
Yet if even Moses donned the Holy Vestments
It would not make him the High Priest;
he could not lead a sacred service,
nor enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.
That’s my job.
Why does Aharon have the most exquisite garments and Moses has nothing noticeable about his?
This question brought me back to my days as a student in yeshiva. I was in my mid-twenties and had started going on “shiduchim,” arranged dates, to find that special woman. Learning Torah, though, was an act of love and sacrifice, not earnings and wealth; I lived minimally and could barely cover my rent. On dates, I would dress neatly but not impressively. My only religious family, second cousins, were well off. They decided that my wardrobe needed an upgrade. My cousin took me to his men’s shop, and I left with two Pierre Cardin suits, one valued then (mid 90’s) at $600! Wearing the latter made me feel like a million dollars. I oozed confidence. In this fabulous suit I could do anything.
I believe this is why Aharon needed such special garments, for he was Moses’ older brother. Sibling rivalries are notoriously difficult. Imagine your younger brother being the greatest leader and prophet known to humankind; it would be humbling to say the least. Therefore, by having Aharon dressed to the nines, God instills in him prestige and confidence. This artificial support system enables him to feel equal with his brother.
Yet Moses was the clear leader of Israel; why is there no mention of his garments? This question brought me to ask myself, “If I felt so good in my Pierre Cardin suit so long ago, why don’t I have an exceptional suit like that one nowadays?” The answer is: I don’t need it as much. When I was younger and less accomplished, my rich, sumptuous suit made me feel more than I was. Now, thankfully, I’m content and proud of who I am; I don’t have as much need for the external boost. Moses knew he was special, as did all of Israel, hence he didn’t need exceptional attire to add to his honor.
Beautiful clothing are a blessing; they can make us feel glorious and confident. But it’s a temporary state; upon derobing, we return to our real selves. Ultimately, it is our inner confidence that truly counts. Doing what’s right and acting in accordance with our beliefs brings us pride. We can all use an external lift once in a while, and clothes can provide us that, but in the end, we need to build that inner confidence by our words and deeds.
Isisdore Century, from the Coffee House of Jewish Dreamers: Poems of the weekly Torah Portions, Ben Yehudah Press, 2007. Shared with their explicit permission