Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh
“Honey, I don't need an anniversary present this year,” Shprintza told her husband one day, months away from their anniversary. “Well, okay dear, if you insist!” Shmelky responded. Needless to say, when Shprintza didn't receive anything from her husband on their anniversary, one of them had to find another place to sleep that night.
There is nothing worse than receiving mixed messages from someone that we respect and care about. This is especially true regarding our relationship with G-d. A classic example is that on the one hand, we are told that physicality, external attributes, and other worldly matters, are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. In Koheles, Shlomo HaMelech constantly talks about the futility of life. Our sages teach us that “the way of Torah” is acquired through: eating bread with salt, drinking water in small measure, sleeping on the ground, living a difficult life, and laboring in Torah (Avos 6:4, Rambam Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:6). Humility and lowliness are considered to be the most important traits that a Jew can possess (Maharal Nesivos Olam Chap. 2, Rambam Hilchos Deios 2:3).
Yet when we look at the parshiyos of the mishkan, there seems to be more emphasis than normal on physical appearances. We spend the majority of Tetzaveh describing, in brilliant and exquisite detail, the immense beauty and precision of the bigdei kehuna, the clothing of the Kohen Gadol. Gold, silver, precious stones... Only the best was acceptable for the eight holy vestments; nothing was deemed too expensive for its assembly. The garb of the Kohen Gadol had to be flawless in every way and was thus very attention grabbing.
What's even more perplexing, is the fact that the Torah says explicitly that the vestments were made for their beautiful physical appearance. The passuk says: “And you shall make holy clothing for your brother Aharon, for kavod (Honor) and siffares (splendor, beauty, decoration, adornment, etc.)...” (Shemos 28:2). The purpose of the bigdei kehuna was to make Aharon aesthetically attractive- more established and dignified. The Ramban explains that the bigdei kehuna were actually meant to emulate the clothing that the kings and noblemen of the time would wear. In other words, he looked like a million bucks!
So the question must be posed- why is the spiritual leader of the Jewish nation, our primary emissary, who enters the Holy of Holies on the most serious day of the year, commanded to dress in a way that seems to be haughty and immodest? [Modesty isn't just about covering up; it is about dressing and presenting ourselves in a way that allows people to see the true us,- unnecessary “bling” can take away from that goal.]
In order to resolve this apparent difficulty, a couple of issues must be addressed. First of all, let's realize what we are dealing with. The bigdei kehuna weren't just made stam, they were intrinsically holy and contained profound symbolism. The Sforno (and others) understands that the passuk above which states that kavod (honor) refers to the Kohen giving honor to Hashem by wearing beautiful clothing while serving Him; while siffares (splendor) implies the splendor of the Kohen Gadol while achieving a level of dignity that retroactively allowed others to be in awe of him, his service, and his teachings. The introduction to the Tikkunei Zohar (3b) explains that the eight vestments of the bigdei kehuna represent the eight letters of Hashem's combined written and spoken name (Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay and A-do-n-ai). Thus representing Hashem's Infinite Oneness. The gemara also explains that “just as sacrifices are able to atone for sin, so too, the bigdei kehuna do as well” (Zevachim 88b). The Maharal there expounds upon this and explains that the bigdei kehuna represented the unity of Am Yisroel (since the names of the tribes were inscribed on the stones of the ephod and the choshen); through this unity, he claims, we can achieve atonement.
Since we realize the significance of the clothing, let's also try to understand what type of person Hashem chose to wear them. Aharon HaKohen was known to be the epitome of a mentsh. The Medresh Tanchuma (Korach 3) explains that Moshe had to literally BEG Aharon to accept the Kohen Gadol position due to Aharon's incredible humility and selflessness. When describing the actual donning, the passuk states that the bigdei kehuna were “on Aharon for him to serve” ( Shemos 28:35). The Noam Elimelech explains beautifully that the clothing was put on Aharon ONLY for him to serve. Meaning the only reason why Aharon wore the vestments, was to show his awe and reverence for Hashem. There were no hidden or ulterior motives, he didn't benefit from them physically at all, he did it solely for the honor of Hashem. The mishna lauds Aharon and encourages us all to be like him due to his remarkable character traits. “Hillel says, be among the students of Aharon, love peace and chase after it, love people, and bring them closer to Torah” (Avos 1:12). Aharon was the package deal, the ideal shidduch- he was a humble, intelligent, and spiritual guy! Hashem wasn't worried about him becoming self obsessed and about him letting the grandeur of the garb get to his head.
The bigdei kehuna and Aharon were indeed very unique; together, they were able to perform the service in the mishkan l'shmah, for its proper sake. It is important to realize though that Aharon and his clothing formed a symbiotic relationship. Both gained from the other. In the end, ones clothing can only achieve a level of holiness based on how much holiness the one who wears imbues into it. Additionally the clothing one wears also has a profound impact on how one acts and presents himself. The Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 16) explains that the actions we do, and the way in which we present ourselves, even if done with less than sincere intentions, will ultimately affect our hearts- ourselves . In a similar vein, the Daas Zekeinim (Bereishis 27:15) explains that this is the reason why Rivka made Yaakov Avinu wear the clothing of Eisav when he was trying to steal the bracha from Eisav. Did anyone ever wonder why Yaakov needed to wear his brother's clothing? Yitzchak was blind and Yaakov already put hair on himself to make him feel like Eisav! The answer is that Yaakov realized that the future of the Jewish nation depended on this bracha. It is for this reason that Yaakov had to be completely on his game, he had to be as much like Eisav as possible, this was his last and only chance. He couldn't afford to mess this one up. The clothing he wore allowed him to become more like Eisav. The same way that when an actor dresses a part to learn how to play a certain role, so too Yaakov dressed the part, to completely become enveloped in his role. If you dress like a Kohen Gadol, and you have sincere intentions, odds are the garb will help you reach that level.
This week’s parsha deals with the building of the keilim and exteriors of the mishkan. Of these, the parsha deals with the design of the menorah, a structure made of pure gold that includes many intricate details. Hashem commands Moshe, saying (Shmot 25:31):
ועשית מנורת זהב טהור מקשה תיעשה המנורה ירכה וקנה גביעיה כפתוריה ופרחיה ממנה יהיו
And thou shalt make a menorah of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made, even its base, and its shaft; its cups, its knops, and its flowers, shall be of one piece with it.
The pasuk vaguely describes how Moshe is supposed to make the menorah. First, what does miksha (beaten) mean and second, why does tei’aseh contain an extra yud? Rashi explains miksha is “the blow of a hammer”. Hashem expected Moshe to create the menorah out of a hammer and a big piece of gold. Onkelos comments that Hashem commanded Moshe to “draw out” the menorah as he moved along with his hammer. The Midrash Tanchuma to Beha’aloscha teaches Moshe was “perplexed” by the task at hand. So, Hashem told him to throw the miksha of gold into the fire and the Menorah was created. The extra yud turns tei’aseh into the passive tense, “it would be made”.
Still, the pasuk is very strange. Why does Hashem ask Moshe to create the menorah in such a manner? The task seemed very challenging for Moshe? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make the menorah without the miracle? Couldn’t Hashem save Moshe from losing his mind? What’s the point?
The Kli Yakar teaches many lessons about the keilim and their significance. The aron, shulchan, and menorah all showcase the rewards of limud haTorah. First, the aron signifies Torah- what reward does the aron teach? None! The point of Torah study is not to think about the benefits; rather, it’s to accomplish as many mitzvot as possible. Only a talmid who brings the Torah close to his heart receives its rewards.
The shulchan that holds the lechem hapanim represents gashmius attained through Torah. Just as the Beit Hamikdash houses the bread given to the Kohanim, so too does Hashem control the amount of food that people receive, and provides according to their avodah. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the menorah represents the spiritual reward Hashem grants B’nei Yisrael. This reward is an aliyat hanefesh. The components of the menorah reflect this idea. Hashem commands the candles of the menorah to consistently be standing on their own, and the menorah’s creation from its original state of matter, a block of gold. Man’s reward, an elevation of the soul of man in the world to come, is difficult for man to comprehend. The ineptitude of Moshe to understand the inner workings of the menorah made it difficult for him to understand how to create it.
Keeping the two in check is the aron, the Torah that contributes both to the gashmius and ruchnius. Without the Torah, the soul is unable to rise and the person is controlled by animalistic tendencies. Each can only be kept in balance through Torah.
Rav Asher Weiss in the Minchas Asher explains that the keilim signify three other essentials to life. These are the three things on which the stand on, described in Pirkei Avos: Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasidim. There are reshaim in the world who continue to stall the creation of the keilim. It’s the task of us, the tzaddikim, to bring these three principles to life as much as possible. And through this, with the help of Hashem, we can bring about the creation of Bayit Shlishi.