This week we continue reading the parshiyos in the Torah that detail the different vessels used in the Mishkan and the garments of the Kohanim.
We all know that the kohen gadol wore the choshen (the breast plate) on his chest. Rashi tells us that Aharon Hakohen merited to wear the choshen because when he was in Mitzrayim upon hearing that his younger brother was chosen to take Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim he was truly happy for him in his heart (Shemos 4:14).
The question is obvious. Aharon had already been chosen to become the kohen gadol. Why did he have to separately earn the right to wear the choshen? Isn’t the choshen part of the uniform of the kohen gadol? Shouldn’t it have come together with the whole package? Why does Rashi tell us that Aharon had to merit wearing the choshen even after he was chosen to become the kohen gadol?
My rebbe, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, zt”l, suggested the following answer to this question: All of the kohanim’s garments were just that – garments. A garment by definition conceals a part of the body. Do you know what part of the body the choshen covered? Rashi tells us that it was a garment for the lev – the heart. But that is very odd. Why would the heart need a garment, after all, it is already concealed?
To understand this, we have to add a bit of background. In Mitzrayim up to that point, Aharon was the leader of Bnei Yisrael. One day out of the blue, his younger brother appeared after an extended absence and, so to say, stole the show. Hashem had replaced Aharon with his younger brother, Moshe, who would then redeem them. Natural human emotion dictates that in such a scenario, the older brother would harbor some degree of resentment.
Yet, despite this natural tendency, the Torah tells us that Aharon was truly happy for his brother in his heart. Deep in his heart he felt completely delighted for his brother that he would take his place and redeem Bnei Yisrael and lead them. Aharon had no resentment or envy. He did not begrudge his brother even under these circumstances. This act of caring for another person and putting their needs before one’s own interests reached a new level.
Prior to this selfless act, there was no need to conceal the heart with a garment for it was cloaked inside the body. However, with this act Aharon succeeded in extracting his heart from being buried inside himself. He took his heart and put it on the outside. Aharon cared so much about others that it created the necessity for a garment for the heart. That is why there was a separate action needed to merit wearing the choshen, in order to first make the heart an organ that necessitated a garment.
Rav Shmuel added that this approach also answers another question. Rashi tells us that Yaakov Avinu, in his foresight, knew that Bnei Yisrael would build a Mishkan in the desert and would require cedar wood, which would not be abundantly available in that environment. Therefore, he planted cedar trees and instructed his descendants to take them with them when they left Mitzrayim. However, we do not find that Yaakov Avinu procured the precious stones used on the choshen or instructed his descendants to take them with them when they left. The question is, why not? There would likely not be many precious stones in the desert either, why didn’t he prepare for that as well.
The answer is that during Yaakov Avinu’s lifetime the act that would bring about the necessity for a garment of the heart had not yet occurred. Thus, Yaakov could not have prepared for that item since it did not yet exist.