The beauty of ideal man and his garments
Tetzave: And thou
Shemot 27, 20 - 30,
- Themes of the parasha
- The mitzvot of the parasha
- The senses and attentive care
- The beauty of Israel
- The beauty of unity (between Israel and the world
- The beauty of man and his garments
- Moshe's garment
- The garment of the High Priest
- The garment of Jews
- Reflection on the garment of Jews and the role of
- The garment of Jews as a sanctuary
- A garment adorned with stones of light
- The educational role of the Cohanim
- The function of beauty and appearance in Jewish
Themes of the parasha
The preceding parasha described
the setting (the sanctuary) for the meeting between man
and his creator, in the obstinate attempt to recreate the
paradisal conditions of initial creation. Now, parasha Tetzave
describes the ideal man who will live inthis sanctuary of
meeting. Aaron is the prototype of this ideal man.
of the parasha
They are mitzvot 99 to 105:
- the first describes the pure olive oil to be used for
the perpetual lamp,
- the second describes the garments to be worn by Aaron
for "splendor and distinction,"
- the third describes the breastplate and ephod (vestment)
of the High Priest which are joined together,
- the fourth describes the robe of the High Priest and its
special threading to avoid
- the fifth instructs the High Priest to eat the sacrificial
- the sixth instructs him to burn the incense twice a day,
- he seventh prohibits him from offering a "strange
incense;" one that is not prepared in the prescribed
The senses and attentive care
Many senses are involved here (sight, smell, touch
The text begins with instructions for a lamp to be perpetually
lit with pure olive oil "beaten for the light"
(to be kept burning); this is the hatavat hanerot. The most
beautiful and strongest flame requires attentive care, in
order that it can sustain itself, every day, and from day
to day. Attentive care is the rule in everything that is
The great emphasis on attentive
care dominates the rest of the parasha. It is "wise-hearted"
men (hohkme lev) who are entrusted with making the garments
of Aaron, which is the 100th mitzva of the Torah. Note that
these are not experts in garment making but experts in the
ways of the heart, for it is the heart which commands the
body; and the body itself is adorned with garments that
reflect its inner beauty. The body of such a man is not
the body of an ordinary functionary. The men who are chosen
are wise men who know the 32 paths of the wisdom of the
heart (cf. Chapter 1 of Lev Gompers).
The beauty of Israel
Why is it that Aaron must be clothed with garments of kavod
vetiferet, distinction and beauty? Developing Nahmanides'commentary on Shemot 28, 2, the Shla writes that it is because
Aaron is the restorer of Adam who was created in splendor
and beauty and who was bathed in light.
This beauty still resides in the people of Israel says Psalm
89, 18: "For thou art the glory of their strength,"
and this concept recurs often in the Torah: in Isaiah 64,
10: "Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers
praised thee," Psalm 96, 6: "Strength and beauty
are in his sanctuary," and Isaiah 49, 3: "Israel,
in whom I will be glorified." Ribbi Yosef Caro connects
the holy garments to the people of Israel.
The beauty of unity (between
Israel and the world above)
If one remembers that the sanctuary in the world below is
paralleled in the world above, one understands that the
glorious garments express the beauty of Hashem Himself,
and they have been linked by the commentators to the letters
of the divine names. The ephod, they say, has to be joined
to the other garment of the High Pries in order to be a
reminder of the perpetual link to the source of this beauty.
All beauty must be seen as linked to its supreme source.
This is also seen in the shape of the windows of Solomon's
Temple (I Kings 6, 4) which were narrower inside the Temple
than outside, in order to show that glory comes from inside,
not from outside.
The beauty of man and his garment
The importance accorded to garments should make us view
our clothes in a more elevate way. For this, we must return
to the concept of man who is made in the image of the Creator,
to live with Him in His light.
Before his sin, Adam had a skin of light. This means that
his luminous soul radiated through his body, bathing it
in a pure, translucent light. After his sin, an obstruction
was created, and or (light) became or (skin), and man became
separated from his surroundings.
In the same vein, Moshe Rabbenu
wore only a light garment when he built the tabernacle,
for only he was close to the purity of Adam. He had no need
to wear special garments for it could be said that he preceded
the fall of man.
The garment of the High Priest
In contrast, the High Priest, who represents man in the
process of renewal and is the closest to the ideal state,
--- wears garments that characterize all men,
--- but these garments are made and adorned in ways that
reflect the former ideal state of man.
The garment of Jews
Because the role of a Jew is to work on renewing himself,
he must wear garments that express both what he has in common
with other men and what he has that is different: this is
the state of holiness called kedusha, a term which also
In order for the body to be sanctified, it must be separate
from the material world and must express with kavod vetiferet
(dignity and beauty) the purity and radiance of Adam. Thus,
Aaron and his descendants, who represent, revive and transform
us, are given separate places, tasks, food and clothing.
Reflection on the garment of
Jews and the role of light
Several conclusions can now be made:
--- what we have said about the Cohanim also applies to
the role of Jews among nations, which is to be a light unto
the nations (or la goim, cohen la goim), as in the laws
that govern the food we eat;
--- Jews must therefore be very attentive to tzeniut, modesty
in dress which should reflect the holiness of light;
--- thus the garments of Jews must be different and radiate
beauty, cleanliness, difference, modesty, dignity and light.
The garment of Jews as a sanctuary
We learnt in the preceding parasha that Hashem's wish is
to dwell among His people as in a sanctuary and it is the
role of His people to express His glory and His beauty just
as a glorious sanctuary and the dress of a bride are expressions
of beauty. Psalm 89, 17 says: "For thou art the glory
of their strength, and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted."
He who seeks the beauty of Israel can say with the prophet
Isaiah (49, 3): "Thou art my servant O Israel, in whom
I will be glorified."
A garment adorned with stones
It is important to read Isaiah 64, 10; 60, 7 and 13, and
the references given by the Shla, as well as all of Psalm
45 which is recited during the marriage ceremony-- a moment
of holiness and radiance.
All Jews should know the wonderful picture of man bathed
in divine light, which is revealed in these texts.
We can now understand why the
High Priest wore on his robe 12 different precious stones
representing the tribes of Israel, each one arranged in
a setting of gold, mishbetzet zahav.
Referring to this, I told my master Ribbi Moshe Zenu, with
whom I had a relationship immediately touched these deeper
levels, on the day when his beloved wife departed to the
sanctuary On High in a painless death, mitat neshika: "when
I look around you at the pupils trained in your wisdom,
they seem like these precious stones, arranged in mishbetzet
zahav -- the initials of your name (Moshe Zenu)." I
knew he understood my meaning and this helped to alleviate
It is possible to say such things to someone who has always
lived modestly. With others, it is more difficult and can
be misunderstood or perceived as false compliments.
The educational role of the
According to these teachings, it follows that we must look
at garments as the expression of the splendor of Hashem
whose radiance will shine on us. In their daily blessing,
the Cohanim remind us that these gifts of splendor and beauty
of Hashem are ours, within us and shine through us: "Hashem
make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee.
Hashem lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace,"
(Bamidbar 6, 25-26). The role of Aaron's descendants is
to remind us of this luminosity. The centuries of poverty
and exile, during which Jews had to hide themselves, must
not extinguish this light for it represents not only our
initial condition, but us as human beings made in the image
of the Creator and expressions of His splendor.
The function of beauty and appearance
in Jewish anthropology
1. The aesthetic view of man is fundamental in Jewish anthropology
and ugliness, dirt and vulgarity must be considered as elements
that conceal the beauty of the creator and harm His image.
2. A garment should not only reflect a person's background,
role, age, sex, or physical beauty, but should reflect the
source of his or her beauty.
3. Just like the High Priest only wore his most splendid
robes to officiate in the Temple, we must have a hierarchy
of garments for different occasions and must never let this
fall below the level of our true selves and our inner light.
4. Much personal examination is necessary for this, as is
written in Psalm 57, 9: "awake up, my glory,"
or as Ribbi Yohanan called his garments "my glory"
(Tractate Shabbat, 113).
5. This sensitive and delicate view of how we should relate
to ourselves is far removed from the brutality of human
relationships. Judaism is not only refined in the analytical
domain, it is also refined in its approach to interpersonal
relations and to our physical appearance.
6. The beauty of each human being can and must be seen,
but this visual message must be perceived as stemming from
one source which is Hashem Himself: this is what is called
berakha, the blessings which flow from this source.
7. On perceiving the beauty of Hashem's creatures, this
blessing should be said: "thus it is in His world,
for Him, in His image" and not "thus it is for
the vulgar and superficial pleasure I get from seeing others."
Tradition reminds us that this requires constant vigilance
on our part, for what we see affects our deepest recesses
and drives. This is why the word ayin means in Hebrew both
eye and source. (Refer to the commentary on the blessing
for the festival of Tu bi Shevat).
This is the meaning of Shemot 23, 20: "Behold I send
an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring
thee into the place which I have prepared."
Rashi explains this verse thus: "this is the place
which corresponds to the place of My residence: it is one
of the texts which shows that the sanctuary On High corresponds
to the sanctuary Below."
In summary, the beauty and dignity
of others must be perceived as the place of residence of
Hashem, and this will lead us to the invisible source and
The importance of beauty, light,
and perfumes (the last word in the Song of Songs) in the
sanctuary and, therefore, in all Judaism, comes from this
But not everyone is adorned
like the High Priest, and not everyone is a Cohen.
However we are all Israel, whose beauty is expressed by
the High Priest. We are also the precious stones on the
garment of the High Priest.
And, in His benevolence, the Creator directed the Cohanim
to transmit to us this divine beauty, that it should fall
on our faces:
yaer Hashem panave eleikha vihuneka
"Hashem make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious
unto thee" (Bamidbar 6, 25).
We are reminded of this every
morning, together with the blessing to "clothe the
naked" (malbish arumim).
This blessing is neither an injunction or a demand, but
is said in the present tense as a
sign that it is being applied in practice.
The Jewish science of aesthetics
is the external representation of one's inner light through
physical appearance, scents and garments.
This is expressed in the Song of Songs and in the description
of the Shabbat Queen dressed in argaman (purple). In order
to abbreviate these teachings of the Sages, the texts say
that the word A.R.GA.MA.N represents the names of the 5
angels who enclose the beauty of the shekhina, the divine
presence: following the order of the letters of the word
argaman, they are: Uriel, Raphael, Gabriel, Mikhael, Nuriel.
The festival of Purim, which
takes place at this time, also aims to make us aware of
this concept: the disguises we wear at Purim help us attain
a different level and represent what is good and evil in
our lives, in order to ensure the victory of goodness, beauty
The disguises are therefore much more important for adults
than for children. One must dare; one must dare to acknowledge
that inner beauty can emerge and one must enable it to emerge.
One must learn to live it and to maintain this state of
It is for this reason that a
husband commits himself, in the marriage ketuba, to ensure
that his wife will radiate through her garments and jewels,
just as he commits himself to ensure her happiness.
The Jewish women who were in the wilderness are praised
for having maintained this level of holiness, for they did
not use their finery to honor the "golden calf,"
and they unhesitatingly donated their mirrors to build the
fountain of purification. It is wonderful to see how all
the women knew the teachings of the Sages.
The 24 books which make up the
Tanakh (the Bible) are also called the "jewels"
(takhshitim) of the shekhina.
The boldness of a Jew's relationship
with God leads him to say: "He is my God and I will
prepare him an habitation" (ze Ei ve anevehu. Shemot
Jewish beauty is the beauty of eternal purity, as is indicated
in the juxtaposition of this theme with the pure olive oil
that begins the parasha.
1. Identify the concepts in this parasha that particularly
appeal to you and re-read the parasha with particular attention
2. Discuss your feelings and ideas with those close to you,
and the questions that arise from them in relation to you
as individuals and to Jewish life.
3. Verify your knowledge of the Hebrew words in this parasha.
4. Read the texts cited above.