Rabbi Yaakov Haber
Rabbi Yaakov Haber

Sartorial Splendor for the Soul

The primary focus of the first half of Parshat Tetzave is Hashem's commandment to fashion the bigdei kehuna, the clothes for both Aharon, the kohein gadol, the High Priest, and his children, the regular kohanim. Many of the commentators note significant messages that are conveyed by the structure and form of the various items of clothing. The fact that the Torah, known for its terseness and brevity, repeats the design for these b'gadim in full in Parshat P'kudei would seem to verify this type of analysis.

Malbim notes the parallelism between physical garments which clothe the body and the physical body which clothes the soul. Just as the body's contours can be detected via the clothing one wears, so too can the qualities or middot of the soul be seen via the actions of the guf, the body. Indeed, the Hebrew words for clothing, madim, (see Vayikra 6:3) and for character traits, middot, (see Avot 5:10) are etymologically related. It is not surprising then, that the Talmud in Arachin (16a) states that each of the priestly garments atoned for a different evil characteristic. Malbim elaborates on each of them in turn. Here, we focus on only one of them. The passage in Arachin statesthat the head-covering of the kohanim atoned for the sin of gasut haruach, haughtiness. Malbim explains that the covering of the head is meant to instill within the wearer a sense of humility before his Creator. As the Talmud in Shabbat (156b)states: "cover your head, in order that the fear of heaven be upon you!" [This is one of the sources for wearing a yarmulka or kippa (see Shulchan Aruch O"C 2:6).] Interestingly,according to many authorities, the mitznefet, the head-covering of the kohein gadol, was larger than the migba'at, the head-covering of the kohein hedyot, theregular kohein. This demonstrates that the more exalted one's position, the greater the effort that must be exerted in order to maintain the quality of humility. This is true concerning all characteristics in general, as the Talmud in Sukka (52a) teaches us: "Kol hagadol mei'chaveiro yitzro gadol heimenu" -- "He who is greater than his fellow, his evil inclination is greater."

It would appear that the need for a greater battle against haughtiness than against other evil qualities is not limited to the kohein gadol. The Mishna in Avot (4:21) teaches that ga'avah, arrogance, is one of the three primary evil characteristics that lead Man to sin. "Hakin'a hata'avah v'hakavod motzi'in et ha'adam min ha'olam" --"Jealousy, desire, and the pursuit of glory remove one from the world (this world and the next)." The Rambam (2:3), basing himself on another Mishna in Avot (4:4), writes that even though one should ordinarily aim to steer toward the "middle of the road" concerning most character traits, with reference to the trait of humility, one must pursue an extreme path. "M'od m'od hevei sh'fal ruach" -- "Be exceedingly humble." The Rambam writes the same concerning the trait of anger.

This Halacha of Rambam seems to contradict another one. In Chapter1 (Halachot 4-5), the Rambam does not seem to distinguish between the traits of anger and haughtiness and any of the others. With regard to all of them, the Rambam writes, most people should strive to develop the medium stance for that trait. Perhaps we can suggest a resolution to the apparent contradiction based on yet a third passage in the Rambam. (The main theme of this answer already appears in Lechem Mishne(1:5).) In Chapter 2 (Halacha 2), the Rambam writes that the "golden mean" is only for those who are not spiritually ill. One who senses a weakness in a certain quality of his must pursue the opposite extreme for some time until one can be certain that a return to the "middle road" can be stable. With regard to the middot of haughtiness and anger, the drive to pursue them is so great such that we are all to be considered "ill" and therefore must be extremely humble and calm to avoid the pitfalls of haughtiness and anger. In Chapter 1, the Rambam teaches that ideally, even regarding these two qualities, the "goldenmean" should be advocated. In Chapter 2, the Rambam describes the reality of the human experience -- in order to assure avoidance of haughtiness and anger we need to act with extreme modesty and with great equanimity. Indeed, concerning Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest leader of all time, Hashem testifies in his Torah, that he was "anav mikol ha'adam" --"more humble than any other human being."

Only one who is humble recognizes that any talents that he possesses are gifts from his Creator. Only one without a trace of arrogance will utilize these gifts solely for the purpose of Avodat Hashem, the service of G-d. May we be zoche to attend meticulously to all of the details of the clothes of the soul, middot tovot.

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