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Home » Judaism » Parsha »

The Man In The White Coat


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The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40 plus year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.

Rashi (Vayikra 8:28) comments that Moshe functioned as a kohen gadol during the seven day consecration period for the Mishkan that also consecrated Aharon as kohen gadol, and his children as kohanim. The Gemara (Taanis 11b) inquired what clothes did Moshe wear during this seven day period – bigdei kehunah, priestly garments, or bigdei chol, regular clothes. The Gemara answers that he wore a simple white garment (chaluk lavan). The Rav asked, If Moshe was truly a kohen gadol during this period why didn’t he wear the special clothes that were worn by the kohen gadol? What was the significance of the chaluk lavan?

Chazal tell us that Moshe functioned in many different capacities. For example, at various times he was considered a king and the equivalent of the Sanhedrin. He was also a kohen gadol, as evidenced by his role during this seven day period. One might think that this was a temporary role (hora’as sha’ah) for Moshe, after which time Aharon assumed the role. Chazal, however, tell us that Moshe retained his status as kohen gadol even after the consecration period. (Note: see the Ramban to Vayikra 16:2 who says that Aharon was subject to the restriction of entering the Holy of Holies once a year to perform the Avodah. That limitation did not apply to Moshe.)

If Moshe was a kohen gadol, why did he not undergo the same consecration ceremony as Aharon, appointment (minuy), and anointing with the special oil (shemen hamishcha)? Also, according to the Ramban, the verse “Vayehi veshurun melech” (Devarim 33:5) refers to Moshe’s status as king. Why didn’t bnei Yisrael formally appoint him to the role of king and leader of the Sanhedrin?

These special roles attributed to Moshe have a common theme: they each add a dimension of kedusha to the individual who fills the role. For example, the kohen gadol has a higher level of kedusha than a regular kohen hedyot. Yet both have a higher level of kedusha than a Yisrael. We demonstrate this distinction whenever the kohanim pronounce the blessing of “asher kidshanu bikdushaso shel Aharon,” they are declaring that they have been granted an added dimension of kedusha above and beyond that given to a regular Jew.

We can readily see that a kohen gadol has a higher level of kedusha beyond the other kohanim because the kohen gadol has special mitzvos that apply only to him, to the exclusion of all other kohanim. The status of kohen gadol does more than permit the individual (to the exclusion of all others) to perform the service in the Beis HaMikdash. It imbues the individual with the added kedusha that comes from the extra mitzvos that he now has, that only he can fulfill. This is the kedushas Aharon that the kohanim refer to. Hence the kohen is praising Hashem for giving him a higher level of kedusha. The added dimension of kedusha for a kohen hedyot is immediately evident by observing the four priestly garments he wears that distinguish him from the rest of bnei Yisrael. And the kohen gadol wears eight garments to distinguish him above the other kohanim and bestow upon him and even higher level of kedusha.

The Rav quoted his grandfather, Rav Chaim Soloveichik, saying that even if the appointment of a kohen gadol is rescinded for some reason, the special laws of tumah and restrictions on whom he may marry still apply to him. This special status of the kohen, the kedushas gavra, the personal sanctity, is imparted through either meshicha (anointing with oil), or, when there is no shemen hamishcha, through performing the ritual of the Avodah. The regular kohen hedyot is obligated with additional mitzvos above the rest of bnei Yisrael which raises his level of kedusha. Similarly, the kohen gadol has mitzvos that apply to him above and beyond the other kohanim that confer upon him an even greater level of kedusha.

A king also has a higher level of kedusha because he has certain mitzvos that apply specifically to him. For example, he is restricted as to the number of horses he may own and the number of wives he may marry. There are rules that govern his appearance which must be distinctive. (Note: the use of special attire denoting royalty is a an important theme in Megilas Esther, as Haman in his desire to attain the throne specified it as the first gift to be given to one that king seeks to honor).

Indeed, the Tosefta states specifically that a king has an added dimension of kedusha. This added kedusha comes from the anointing process and the appointment to his position by the Sanhedrin. The leader of the Sanhedrin also has a special kedusha. The Rambam (Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:1) includes the nasi, head of the Sanhedrin, and the king among the list of people that one may not curse. Like the king, his appointment to his role grants him an added level of kedusha.

These higher degrees of kedusha, (for a king, kohen gadol and nasi), are all rungs in the ladder of kedushas Yisrael. They all require minuy, appointment from an external source, as a pre-requisite to attaining the role. These individuals require a uniform to remind them that they have been appointed by the people to represent them, and the additional mitzvos that apply to each of them grants them their elevated kedusha status.

(Note: see the Rambam, Hilchos Mlachim 9:1, who distinguishes between the generations from Adam till Moshe based on the additional mitzvos each successive individual was commanded to perform. While Chazal tell us that the patriarchs observed all of the Torah prior to mattan Torah, perhaps they did so from the perspective of one who voluntarily performs a mitzvah without being commanded to do so. Chazal teach that there is a higher level of performance, perhaps kedusha, ascribed to one who performs the mitzvah in response to the command to do so. Perhaps the patriarchs acted as metzuveh v’oseh for those mitzvos that they were directly commanded to observe, the observance of which increased their level of kedusha as compared to their predecessors. They were in the category of eino metzuveh v’oseh for the rest of the commandments that they observed voluntarily.)

Moshe Rabbeinu did not require his appointment to be sanctioned by bnei Yisrael. His inner personality anointed him and sanctioned his roles as kohen gadol, king, judge and teacher. The statement that Moshe wore chaluk lavan indicates that Moshe was above appointment by the people. After all, how could a uniform describe his status as the greatest of all men, the individual selected by Hashem to be the direct recipient of the Torah and the one entrusted with the task of transmitting it to bnei Yisrael?

Moshe, who was constantly in a state of lifnei Hashem, always prepared to encounter Hashem, so to speak, did not require external symbols to sanctify him. Moshe did not wear bigdei chol, demonstrating that his kedusha was of a different type and level relative to the rest of bnei Yisrael. He also had no need for bigdei kehuna, since he was beyond the need for a minuy and was able to function as a kohen gadol without an external appointment or sanctification process. His kedusha was also distinct from that of the kohanim, including the kohen gadol. He wore a chaluk lavan, something that was unique, as he was.

About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at ravtorah1@gmail.com.


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