Photo Credit: Wikiart
Aaron HaKohen with Menorah by Marc Chagall

The notion of placing clothes on someone else occurs only in a few critical junctures in the Torah. The first time is when God clothes Adam and Chava. The only other time that God is manifestly involved in dressing someone is when He tells Moshe to place the (Divinely designed) clothes on Aharon and his sons. These clothes are described, in considerable detail, in this week’s parsha.

The connection between the story of God putting clothing on Adam and Chava and God’s commands about the priestly garments was not lost on the rabbis – several midrashim suggest that the clothes God gave to the first man and woman were, in fact, the priestly robes themselves (See Bamidbar Rabba 4:8 and Tanchuma Yashan, Toledot 12). Rabbenu Bachya bolsters this idea, bringing to our attention that the exact phrasing “vayalbishem” (“He dressed them”) appears only in these two stories.

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These two accounts suggest to us that at certain critical times, the clothes people might choose for themselves are insufficient. It is only God who, understanding their new role best, can fit them with the garments that most appropriately reflect their circumstances.

In the very first placement of clothing, God knew exactly what His creations needed – for practical purposes, for protection, for modesty and, most importantly, as an expression of their identities. No doubt here too, with the priestly garments, God knew the ideal clothing for the Temple service.

We may wonder – what about the Temple service required God to intervene and show man what he needed to wear? And why don’t we find a similar intervention anywhere else in the Torah?

Within the Mishkan, and later in the Beit HaMikdash, the Kohanim needed to communicate with the Jewish people in a way that would optimally reflect the highest values of the Torah. Consequently, their clothes had to play a serious role in supporting such communication and in no way impeding it.

Had man designed the priest’s clothing, an admixture of imperfection would have been included. Such a mix has a place in the world; indeed, it is the stuff of our existence. But in this exceptional place, there was a need for special inspiration about what the world could become if the Jewish people fulfilled their mission of bringing a greater awareness of God into the world. The form and fashion of that inspiration had to be tailor-made by God Himself.

{Adapted by Harry Glazer from Rabbi Francis Nataf’s book Redeeming Relevance In the Book of Exodus: Explorations in Text and Meaning (Urim Publications, Jerusalem, 2010).

 

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Rabbi Francis Nataf (www.francisnataf.com) is a Jerusalem-based educator and thinker and the author of four books of contemporary Torah commentary. His parshah column appears weekly in The Jewish Press. Rabbi Nataf is also the author of, "Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Leviticus"

4 COMMENTS

  1. The “clothing” is the “House”, the “Temple”, the “Sanctuary”, the “Curtain”, symbolically. If what is within is approved by Hashem, it will thus be clothed by Hashem.

    Man judges what is inside by the appearance of what is outside. So, Hashem uses this. Within the writings, clothing is often used symbolically. The shepherd’s cloak of Moshe, the multi-colored cloak of Yosef, the mantle of Eliyahu, the Babylonian robes of Daniyyel during the exile, the hair shirt, the sackcloth, the robes of kings – All have their symbolism, of what lies within. Their changes over time, location, distance, and circumstance are props used by Hashem to reveal the purpose of it all.

    All of these essentially are masks, which are indicative, but not fully revealing, of what lies within, what lies beyond. They are all instructive of the nature and the purpose of Hashem as revealed throughout all of the creation.

    Consider the time in the Garden. The clothing man chose was from all that is living around him, freely given to him. Some say it was fig leaves; others, animal skins. The writings are clear on that. But what Hashem saw was man revealed, not clothed; and Hashem recognized the new knowledge which was contained within. So, Hashem made new robes, and clothed them both within them. These are garments made for man, which reveal the nature of the man. This is symbolic.

    The robe that Hashem had originally hung upon their loins was the Word, and the Name; none other than Hashem covered them. They were naked only in their own sight, not in Hashem’s. For, they were just as they had been created, the last of Hashem’s designs, perfected in his sight; until, they sought to be otherwise. This was the abomination in Hashem’s sight, which needed to be covered, this knowledge gained in rebellion to the whole purpose of the creation. All will be given when it is time for it to be given; to partake before that appointed time, is an abomination. And this is what needed to be covered, this unapproved realization, in the new “mask” that was created for them.

    Essentially, hiding away the body from the lusts and desires of the selfish mind treated the symptoms, not the disease. Man must be the physician who, of his own freewill cures himself, just as he, of his own freewill, chose the assured affliction placed upon him. Hashem knows this. It is all up to us, to set ourselves free from our many chosen coverings. Then the true self will be revealed, and we will be in the World to Come.

    All coverings in the writings are symbolic. No matter if they are clothing, or walls, or national boundaries, or words written down upon vellum, or words long ago spoken by the Prophets, but which were never written down. Within Mashiach, all of this is reconciled, and will be fully revealed, when Mashiach comes.

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