High Priest 2  [*]

In Parshah “T’tza’veh,” the High Priest’s special uniform is described:

Shemot/Ex. 28:4, enumerates:

1. [חשן] — a breastpiece, or breastplate, [1]
2. [אפוד] — an ephod — a sleeveless covering; “two pieces of linen joined at the shoulder by straps” [2]
3. [מעיל] — a robe [3]. The me’il had “bells and pomegranates” around its hem (28:33-35).
4. [כתנת תשבץ] — a fringed tunic [4]
5. [מצנפת] — a headdress or turban [5]
6. [אבנט] — a sash or belt [6]

Also mentioned (28:36-38 and 39:30-31):

7. [ציץ] — a headplate, engraved with  “Holiness of G-d” or “Holy to/for G-d” [7]

and (28:42):

8. [מכנסי בד] linen “breeches” or “undergarments” [8]

An extended, illustrated discussion of the “priestly garments” can be found at:

High Priest 3[*]

The illustrations above and elsewhere show that there’s no absolutely consistent idea of exactly how the High Priest’s clothing appeared. We have some general ideas based on Torah and other texts, but no actual images from the time of either the Mishkan or the First or Second Temples.

But in fact, these objects of clothing are still present with us today — in the “clothing” of a sefer Torah. [9]

The mantle that is lifted to reveal the scroll and permit its reading, is called a “me’il” — because, like the priest’s garment, it’s placed upon the scroll from above.

The priest’s “hoshen” or breastplate is present as the “hoshen” (same word) on the sefer Torah — the flat silver plate that must be removed before the me’il/mantle is lifted, and which is replaced before the scroll is carried around the synagogue before being returned to the Aron/Ark. The small bells around the hoshen of a sefer Torah are reminiscent of the bells placed on the hem of the High Priest’s me’il. They are in fact called “rimonim” — one of the same words used in Torah for the bells on the me’il.

In Ashkenazic synagogues, the “sash” with which a Torah scroll is tied — removed to permit unrolling the sefer Torah; re-tied to hold it in place when reading is concluded — is called in Yiddish a “wimpel.” [10] I can’t say that it is directly derived from the “avneit” of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), as are the other objects, but it would be very in keeping if it were so. 

Are we then supposed to understand that a Torah is our “High Priest?”

Not in a literal, physical sense. That would be idolatry.

Rather, I think the imagery suggests that by study of Torah, we “approach” G-d, as the priests — especially the High Priest — did in the Temple. One might even go so far as to say that the imagery is suggesting that learning Torah, we — like the Kohen Gadol — enter the Holy of Holies; G-d’s actual Presence.

“…the purpose of Torah study is to ‘cleave and become one with G-d through the holiness of His word, and thereby cause the Shechinah, the Divine Presence of G-d, to dwell amongst us’.” [11]

And similarly:

“G-d is…not something transcending the Torah, the Torah is not outside of G-d and He is not outside of the Torah, and that is why the sages of the Kabbalah were justified in saying that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is Himself the Torah.” [12]

[for further information, see:
The Stone Chumash (Artscroll), on parshah Tetzaveh]


[*] Illustrations from a collection of images (various sources) at:  https://www.google.com/search?q=High+Priest%27s+clothing&client=firefox-a&hs=RYp&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=fflb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=QpfyUo2BL5WwsATLr4GADA&ved=0CEYQsAQ&biw=800&bih=461
(There are many alternative images on this site. A few are decidedly out of place, but it’s otherwise well worth a visit)

for further discussion, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_breastplate
[2] Plaut, G.; The Torah: A Modern Commentary; p. 563;
for further discussion, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephod
[3] It was called “me’il” [מעיל] because it was put on from [מ] above [על], as we put on a “pullover” sweater.
for further discussion, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_robe_%28Judaism%29
[4] see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_tunic
[5] see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_turban
[6] see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_sash
[7] see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_golden_head_plate
[8] see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michnasayim
[9] for a longer, more informative discussion, see: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0020_0_19950.html
[10] see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wimpel
[11] Rabbi Joel Sirkis; the “Bach” (Poland, 1561-1640);  Commentary on Tur, Orach Chaim, ch. 47
quoted in Rabbi Aaron Raskin; “Letters of Light;” p. 29
[12] Scholem, G.; On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism; p. 124; quoting Recanati, Rabbi Menahem b. Benjamin; Italy, 13th-14th c.; Ta’ame Ha-Mitzvoth, 3a