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Tetzaveh 5768

By: Rav Michael Susman

Weekly Shiur  - Parshat Tezaveh – Rav Susman


The genesis of this week’s shiur is from an advertisement I saw this past week in one of the sundry “Torah sheets” which fill our shul every Shabbat.  In a leaflet published by Machon HaMikdash (for an overview of the wonderful work they do follow this link: there was a prominent advertisement urging us to sign up to order a full and complete set of Begdei Kehuna, the special garments worn by the kohen when performing the avoda in the Mikdash.  For 2500 NIS (in ten payments, no less) it could be mine.  Being a kohen myself, I was naturally intrigued.  Nonetheless, I was not sure if this was an investment I should be making quite yet, for reasons that will become clear at the end of this shiur.  Our study will focus on the four garments of a regular kohen, the michnas (breeches), avnet (belt), katonet (tunic) and migbaat (turban).  The themes are relevant to the special garments worn by the Kohen Gadol as well, but Machon HaMikdash has not yet made them available, and even if they did I imagine that to contemplate purchasing them would be unreasonable hubris on my part.  I wouldn’t want to grow too big for my michnas!


Our Parsha’s central theme is the role of the kohen in the Mikdash, a role that is accentuated by the mitzvah of making and wearing the Begdei Kehuna.   The Torah (28:2) tells us that these garments should be made for Aharon and his sons “l’kavod u l’tifaret”, for honor and for distinction.  What is the nature of this mitzvah?  The Ramban(28:2) in his first, non-mystical explanation, essentially argues “that the clothes make the man”.  These garments are akin to royal attire and create an aura of honor and distinction for the kohanim in the eyes of the nation.


While this approach is reflected in both other Rishonim as well as later commentators, the question arises as to whom the message implicit in the clothes is being addressed.  The Ralbag in his Toelet/Message section (pp 351 in the Maaliyot edition) sees the target of this mitzvah as not being the nation but rather the kohanim themselves.  Ultimately, they are responsible for adding honor to Hashem.  By wearing the begadim they are reminding themselves that they are standing before Hashem when doing the avoda and as such will remain focused on that avoda and won’t allow their thoughts to wander.  By donning the begadim they are entering a higher spiritual plane and as long as they are wearing them they will stay there until they remove them.


The Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 99) also suggests that it is the kohanim who are being addressed by this mitzvah.  The Chinuch notes that it is the responsibility of the kohen, as the agent of the individual bringing a korban, to be fully focused on his avoda and his shlichut.  The begadim are designed in such a way that the kohen is always aware of them.  Thus, the pants much reach below his ankle, the sleeves of his tunic much reach his wrists, and the belt and turban are both wrapped in such a way that the kohen always sees or feels their presence.  Nonetheless, the Chinuch ends by pointing out that the begadim speak not only to the kohen but to the beholder as well.  Like many other facets of the Mikdash (including the Ner Tamid, which is mentioned immediately before the begadim) the clothes that the kohen wears creates a sense of majesty in the Mikdash which impacts on those who visit there, prompting them to refine their religious behavior and repent when necessary.  (For more on the connection between the Ner Tamid and the mitzvoth of the kohen in our Parsha, see our shiur from 5764


The idea that the begadim speak to the nation at large can be found in later commentaries as well.  R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch separates the kavod in our passuk from the Tifaret.   By donning his begadim, the kohen announces that he is now in the service of the Mikdash.  The kavod refers to the moral standing that the kohen brings to bear on those around him.  The garments reflect the role of the kohen as a spiritual guide.  At the same time there is tiferet in the garments.  The kohen must shine forth not only morally, but esthetically as well.


With a rather unique twist, R. Yehuda Henkin (Chiba Yetira, in Responsa Bnei Banim volume 2) understands that the passuk is not only demanding that begadim elicit an honorable reaction from Bnei Yisrael, but that they must engender a similar reaction from everyone, even those who are close to and therefore perhaps unimpressed by the kohen.  This is the implicit message of Aharon being identified as Moshe’s brother in the passuk.  Clearly, it would have been sufficient to merely command Moshe to make clothes for Aharon and his sons.  The Torah saw it necessary to identify Aharon as Moshe’s brother in order to stress that Moshe Rabbenu, no less than anyone else, was required to treat Aharon, garbed in his priestly clothes, with the same honor and deference as the rest of the nation, despite his natural closeness to his brother.


Having discussed the nature of the begadim, we can now consider some of the halachot which are associated with them.  The Gemara in Zevachim (17b) states as follows: “When the garments are upon them, their priestly nature is upon them, and when the garments are not upon them, neither is their priestly nature.  The Ralbag, (28:3) interprets the passuk “v’assu et bigdei Aharon l’kadsho l’kahano li”, “and you will make the garments of Aharon to sanctify him, to make him a kohen on to me” in this vein.  When he wears the garments he is a kohen, when he does not, he is a “zar”, a stranger (i.e. not a kohen).  With this statement the Ralbag is merely reflecting accepted halacha.  The Rambam (Hilchot Klei HaMikdash 10:4, though the Rambam quotes a different source) rules the same way.  Clearly this is a reflection of the clothes making the man.  It is only when the Kohen is wearing the begadim that he is a messenger of Hashem, a certified agent to perform the avoda on behalf of Bnei Yisrael.  Without the begadim (i.e. “mechusar begadim”) the kohen, regardless of his lineage, is no different than a zar, and equally incapable of performing any part of the avoda.  Should he do so he is liable for death, just like a zar.  It is interesting to note that in the very next halacha the Rambam quotes the case of a kohen who performs the avoda with extra garments.  While he too is liable for death, the Ramabm does not compare him to a zar, but rather says that the penalty is a result of defiling the avoda.   Only the lack of begadim leaves the kohen as a zar.


Why should this be the case?  The Torah is stressing that Avoda in the Mikdash is not a private act.  Rather, the kohen stands in front of Hashem as an agent of Am Yisrael.  But the kohen is not a free agent.  In fact, it is only because Hashem has designated the kohen as being worthy of serving Him that the kohen can perform the avoda at all.  By failing to fulfill the conditions of service, i.e. wearing the garments that make him a kohen in Hashem’s eyes, he demonstrates that he is in fact not doing the avoda at all.  Rather, he is engaged in some personal rite, unconnected to Avodat Hashem.  The consequence is that he is a zar, and he is treated as such.


We can now address the question of purchasing the begdei kehuna.  The Rambam states (Hilchot Klei HaMikdash 8:7) that the begdei kehuna must be purchased from communal funds.  Any avoda which is performed by a kohen when he is wearing “personal” garments is invalid.  In this sense, the begdei kehuna are on the same level as all other communal aspects of the Mikdash.  This is because the Mikdash belongs to everyone, and anything communal (as opposed to sacrifices brought by individuals for private purposes) must reflect the equality and commonality of Am Yisrael.  Hence, the sacrifice must be bought with communal funds, the wood that burns on the altar must belong to all, and even the kohen, the agent of the people, can in no way be separated from them.  Purchasing the Begdei Kehuna, therefore, would make them invalid for use in the Mikdash.  (Lest I leave the impression that the talmedei chachamim of Machon HaMikdash are unaware of this halacha, that is obviously not the case.  The Rambam, in the same halacha, rules that an individual is permitted to donate the begadim from his own personal funds or property.  Hence, the expectation must clearly be that anyone who purchases these begadim will donate them back for use when the avoda is restored, b’mehaira b’yamenu).


Shabbat Shalom  


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