Tuesday, March 1, 2011

#99 - The Name is the Number

In Judaism, everything seems to be based on numbers. You don't have to go far in the prayerbook, starting with the 11 types of incense used in the Temple, the 13 ways that the Torah is able to be interpreted in learning out what the verses of the Torah come to teach us, and...the very name of the main prayer that we say minimally three times a day is called Shemoneh Esrei, which literally means 18 because originally, this prayer consisted of 18 blessings that were recited during the weekdays, and at one point, another blessing was added, but the title called Shemoneh Esrei remained.

And then in Parshat Terumah that was read a few weeks ago, numbers are the star when it comes to describing the various measurements of the Mishkan/Tabernacle. Though they may seem quite irrelevant in terms of day-to-day living, the Torah is full of lessons, even though it may not be obvious on the surface.

And so, the following Parsha called Tetzaveh, while not full of numbers, details the clothing that the Cohanim wore in the Tabernacle/Temple. While clothing itself may not be the main feature of how a person should be labeled in terms of religion, the fact that one wears a particular set of clothing often shows what one's belief system is. And believe it or not, the clothing one wears not only affects the environment where everyone sees him/her, but can also have a major effect on oneself. In the non-Jewish world, perhaps one of the best examples of this is that in the old days in the United States, when wearing uniform was mandatory even in public schools, children for the most part grew up to be respectful to their elders, especially their teachers. After all, if they had respect for themselves looking nice, they felt that they were grownup enough to act accordingly. However, in more recent times when children can dress in most different ways to say the least - let alone getting tattooed, boys wearing earrings, etc., much violence and addiction use have been practiced in the public school system where teachers are afraid of their own students, some of whom have even brought guns to school.

And so, with no further delays here, let's get right to the subject of our post - the Bigdei Kehunah/Priestly Vestments. While I kept having delays writing this post, in this week's Parshat Pekudei, these are mentioned once again, but in concise form.

Before I continue, I want to let you know that I discovered something most fascinating about this 99th Mitzvah of the Torah of the Cohanim wearing their Bigdei Kehunah in the Tabernacle/Temple. It is true that I am writing this in my 99th Post, but the big discovery here is that - the name of this 99th Mitzvah: Bigdei Kehunah - IS the Gematria of 99! And so, there is no doubt that these Bigdei Kehunah had a most significant purpose of being worn.

If this was not enough, on the first day of the week of Parshat Tetzaveh of this year, the worldwide Daf Yomi page of the Talmud (particularly in Zevachim 88b), mentioning what sin each of these garments atoned for, was learned. Amazing once again!

OK, so let me first show you what piece of clothing atoned for what sin. The order that I will write this list is the order in which the Torah details these clothing. To note, only the Cohen Gadol/High Priest wore all eight of these clothing. The rest of the Cohanim wore only the last four of the following eight clothes.

Ephod- Idol worship
Choshen (breastplate)- Corruption of justice
Meil (robe)- Evil speech
Tzitz (forehead plate) - Brazenness
Kutonet (tunic)- Bloodshed
Mitznefet (turban)- Haughtiness
Avnet (sash)- Evil thoughts
Michnasayim (pants)- Lewdness

Now, the Talmud is the original source for which sins these clothing atoned for, but mentions them in a different order. I will explain shortly as to why the Talmud doesn't list them in the same order as the Torah does. Meanwhile, I will list this list in order of the Talmud with the reasons or connections between the piece of clothing and particular sin based on various other verses of the Tanach/Bible. In this order, the four clothes that the regular Cohanim wore are mentioned first:

Kutonet (tunic)- Bloodshed: "They slaughtered a goatling and dipped the TUNIC IN BLOOD" (Genesis 37:31).
Michnasayim (pants)- Lewdness: "You shall make for them linen PANTS TO COVER THE FLESH OF THEIR NAKEDNESS" (Exodus 28:42).
Mitznefet (turban)- Haughtiness: Rabbi Chanina said- "Let something that is worn high on the head come and atone for haughtiness". As we know, wearing something on one's head represents fear of Hashem, as we call a skullcap in Yiddish "yarmulke", a composite of the words "Yerei Elokim"- Fear of G-d.
Avnet (sash)- Evil thoughts: The sash was worn just below the heart which harbors thoughts.
Choshen (breastplate)- Corruption of justice: "You shall make a CHOSHEN OF JUDGEMENT".
Ephod- Idol worship: "Without EPHOD, there are TERAPHIM (one of the many names for idols)".
Meil (robe)- Evil speech: Rabbi Chanina said- "Let something through which there is a sound (there were bells hanging at the bottom of the robe) come and atone for the evil sound of evil speech".
Tzitz (headplate)- Brazenness: It it written about the Tzitz "It shall be on Aaron's FOREHEAD", and it is written about brazenness "You had the FOREHEAD of a prostitute, not wanting to be ashamed".


It seems that there is a reason why the Torah/Chumash first lists the Bigdei Kehuna that only the Cohen Gadol wore and then the rest of the garments while the Talmud does the reverse. You see, when it comes to Kriat HaTorah/reading from the Torah scroll, even a Jew who does not even know the first word of Hebrew still fulfills the basic requirement of hearing the Torah as does the greatest Talmid Chacham/Torah scholar of the generation. Hence, the Sefer Torah, the contents of the Chumash, is read even to a Jew ignorant of any Torah learning, and as the Ba'al Koreh - one who reads the Torah - is compared to Hashem giving us the Torah, one technically does not even need to apply himself to understand what is being read. However, when it comes to Talmudic studies, which oftentimes is not understood even if one knows what each word means, is something that one has to spend some serious plowing to understand. Hence, the Torah listing first the vestments exclusive to the Cohen Gadol is showing that it is Hashem reaching to us when the Torah is being read.

However, when it comes to Talmudic studies, which oftentimes is not understood even if one knows what each word means, is something that one has to spend some serious plowing to understand. While in one sense, Hashem is the one who teaches us Torah, while in prayer, it is we who are reaching out to Hashem; the Talmud - the hardcore of Torah studies, is something that we can't expect Hashem just to "give it to us". One does not fulfill the Mitzva of Torah learning simply by chanting the words of the Talmud. One has to make a serious effort for Talmudic learning to be considered learning Torah. This is demonstrated by the Talmud first listing the vestments that all the Cohanim wore followed by the ones that was worn exclusively by the Cohen Gadol. We have to work our way to the top when it comes to the Talmud, as the teachings of the Talmud probes the wisdom of Hashem.

Unlike the words of the Torah/Tanach through which even a simple Jew can fulfill the Mitzva of Torah learning even without knowing the words mean when reciting them though of course he will benefit far more spiritually if he does know what he is reciting and concentrating on them, this is basically Hashem coming from above so to speak and spoon feeding us this part of the Torah. However, the Talmud assumes all of us to first be simple, and only after seriously applying ourselves to understanding what it is saying, do we then ascribe to be on a higher spiritual level of Torah learning. Along these lines, the conclusion of the Mishnayot on Seder Moed states, "When it comes to honor (these words aren't mentioned, but this is the meaning of the context), a Mamzer (mistranslated as bastard) one who is born of an illicit or illegal union according to Halacha/Jewish law - making him unfit to marry most Jewish women having a spiritual blemish - but is a Talmid Chacham, comes before a Cohen Gadol who is an ignoramus in Torah."


Now, another question needs to be posed here. Before the Torah details the requirements of the individual Bigdei Kehuna, it gives the immediate list of the Bigdei Kehuna (Exodus 28:4), but leaves out two of them - the Tzitz/headplate & Michnasayim/pants. Obviously, there must be a reason for this.

Before going further on this subject, we notice that when the Torah is addressing the Cohanim, the Torah specifies Aaron and his sons. Yet, we know that Pinchas, the son of Elazar who in turn took over the Kehuna Gedola/High Priesthood from his father Aaron, who was alive at the time of the Priestly consecartion, as we see that his name is listed in Parshat Va'eira among the list of his ancestors, being mentioned next to the events that took place in Egypt before Aaron and his sons became Cohanim.
So, why was he not included in being a Cohen when the Torah made it clear that all future male descendants of Aaron's sons in parental line would be Cohanim?

The answer to this question is not such a secret. We see that nearly 40 years later when Pinchas slew Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon who was having a tryst with the princess of Midian, that he merited at that time to be a Cohen. Apparently, Hashem wanted him to do something special to earn being a Cohen rather than just being a Cohen being a descendant of Aaron.

This is nice and dandy. However, as brave as Pinchas was, so too were there other brave Jews such as Nachshon, whose sister Elisheva was married to Aaron, who was the first to jump into the Reed Sea despite the possibility of drowning in obedience of Hashem's orders to move forward and not be afraid of the Egyptians pursuing the Jews. And then there were outspoken Jews such as Caleb, whose wife Miriam was Aaron's sister, who was not afraid of speaking the truth when the evil Spies were discouraging the Jews from moving to Israel. Yet, neither Nachshon or Caleb, despite their close relative ties to Aaron, merited to be Cohanim. So just because Pinchas was Aaron's grandson, in itself did not merit him to be a Cohen, but only following his brave act of killing the evil Zimri, not fearing that the tribe of Shimon - whose leader was Zimri - would attempt to kill him. So, there must be some type of connection between Pinchas' act of killing Zimri and the Kehuna/Priesthood.

OK, so let's get to the Bigdei Kehuna not immediately mentioned in the Torah - the headplate and pants. As we already learned in this post, the headplate atoned for brazenness and the pants atoned for lewdness. And indeed, it was these very two sins that Zimri performed warranting his death. Unlike the other Jews who fell prey to the sin of lewdness via idolatry as part of the plan that was set up for the Jews to sin was that the goyishe women would sleep with the Jews only if they first worship the idol Peor, Zimri's sin of lewdness did not stem purely from lust but was a brazen act to show Moses that as far as Zimri was concerned, Moses was no better because he himself had married a Midianite woman (who by the way was perfectly Kosher for Moses, who obviously stopped worshipping the idols that her father Jethro used to worship before converting to Judaism), as he told this to Moses brazenly when he was together with the Midianite princess Kozbi. Following his brazen words to the greatest Tzadik of the world, he proceeded to a tent where he started becoming intimate with Kozbi, an act of lewdness, which led to Pinchas to killing the two of them.

Hence, the Torah must be hinting here that while Aaron and his sons would become Cohanim, the final status of Cohanim had yet to be set in place; and hence, hinting to this, the two garments atoning for the very sins that Zimri performed in his final minutes of life were left out, so to speak waiting until the time that Pinchas would kill Zimri who committed the very sins that are atoned for by these two garments, among the Bigdei Kehuna that Pinchas would wear in the future, including the breastplate that is exclusive to the Cohen Gadol, as Pinchas indeed became the Cohen Gadol following the passing of his father Elazar.


Typically, Parshat Tezave, of which the first half of the Parsha is about the Bigdei Kehuna, is read on the Shabbat before Purim. In this year, as a leap year, this Parsha was read on the Shabbat before Purim Katan, and this week's Parshat Pekudei, which also has mention of the details of the Bigdei Kehuna, falls out in between Purim Katan & the regular Purim.

Some may think that there is a connection between Parshat Tetzave about the Bigdei Kehuna & Purim, since after all, there is a custom to dress in a costume on Purim. Actually, they are not far off. I believe that the real source for this custom of costumes (a nice play on words) is based on the beginning of the Megilla, on which the Talmud in Tractate Megilla explains that King Achashveirosh wore the Bigdei Kehuna that the Babylonians stole when they destroyed the First Temple at the party that he hosted. But why was he interested in dressing up which was for him a real costume, into a set of clothing worn by the one who had the highest spiritual post in the Temple? Achashveirosh certainly did not want to be associated with being Jewish.

As our rabbis tell us in the Talmud, this king was the same rotten individual from beginning to end, even when he seemed to be giving in to Mordechai & Esther in benefit of the Jews at the end of the Megilla. His reison d'etre for having the parties that he hosted was NOT to impress the other nations of the world. His SOLE AND ONLY PURPOSE of these parties was to first of all mock the Jews whom he thought that Hashem deserted as he miscalculated Jeremiah's mention of 70 years ofBabylonian exile for the Jews, thinking that the 70 years were up. He was in fact celebrating of what he thought to be the fact that now, the Jews would no longer be able to have their land once again to be free on their own without serving him. And just like the goyishe women who purposely were set up to make the Jews sin performing idolatry and lewdness; so too here, he was hoping that the Jews would fress at his non-kosher feasts so they would be deserving of punishment from Hashem, G-d forbid, and then be able to be given the green limit to get rid of them.

Perhaps today's Jewish liberal democrats who stoop down to kiss the feet of Christians begging for their love can learn a lesson from here. You see, Achasheveirosh here showed no outwardly Anti-Semitism. He treated everyone the same way at his parties - regardless of religion, race or creed. Almost anyone seeing his demeanor would certainly come to the conclusion that he was on the finest kings that ever lived on this planet. In fact, following his evil wife Vashti's refusal of appearing naked before the king, he asked the Jewish scholars for their scholarly advice on this issue. Yet, his only intention of having his feasts, wearing the Priestly Garments in front of the party crowd, including the Jews who didn't listen to Mordechai when he warned them not to go to Achashveirosh's feats, and who didn't care if this evil king dared to wear the very garments which were worn by the last Cohen Gadol who served in the Temple. Indeed, it was these very Jews who chose to overlook this king's Anti-Semitism who disobeyed Mordechai who blamed him for causing the decree of the destruction of the Jews when in fact, what happened was a punishment for what these fresser and disobedient Jews did here.


Today, black hats and black clothing is associated with being dressed the most "religious" way, especially worn by those who learn or used to learn in Yeshiva and Hasidic Jews. Perhaps this would not be a problem wearing this types of clothes during the weekday; however, when it comes to Shabbat, when it is custom from the Torah for Jews to dress in white, most unfortunately, this is the very day of the week that so many Jews were the color of mourning. While many may justify wearing such clothes as this was the Jews that they customarily wore as Jewish clothing for hundreds of years in the European exile, this type of dress, especially the Hasidic style of the Hasidic groups who were only black (NOTE: There are some Hasidic groups who wear their special dress in a different color on Shabbat) as in fact being influenced by what the goyishe noblemen wore, which are very similar.

Perhaps I am now aware of the reason as to why the black color became the norm of Jewish dress In Europe instead of the white colo in the context of the siginificance of Jewish customs. But I will admit that in general, the type of clothing that the ones who are more of the religous type wear - can have a positive influence on Jews to behave the Torah way. While clothing is worn for reasons, such as covering nakedness and looking good, clothes also serve as a factor in virtually all religions (even as the goyim copy everything from us). We see from this that indeed, we have to be concerned about how much view us, and some will base their judgements on us, solely on what we wear.


The name Bigdei Kehuna is indeed the number of this Mitzvah. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, these words, which mean Priestly clothes, have the Gematria of 99, and are indeed the 99th Mitzvah of the Torah, this number is also very significant as it relates to clothes in another way. You see, the number nine, as I had mentioned quite a few times in my blogspot, represents the aspect of darkness, such as the 9th plague of the Egyptians which was darkness, as well as the 9th day of Av (Tisha B'Av), the saddest day of the Jewish calendar when both Temples were destroyed along with other major sad events for Jews that took place on this very date. Hence, the number 99, as associated with clothing, is a double nine being spelled as such. In fact, the word for clothing in singular in Hebrew is Beged, which is the Gematria of nine. Now, taking the same word as being spelled the same way as a verb, it means the cognate of being a traitor. Indeed, being a traitor of an idealism that one is thought to represent or is supposed to represent, is in fact being like a wold in sheep's clothing, such as Jews who turned over other Jews to non-Jewish authorities especially to look good themselves.

Yes, no coincidences here. Clothing indeed covers the body of a person, just as darkness is a cover up for light. For some, the right type of spiritual clothing befits the wearers of these clothing. For others unfortunately though, the clothing is not only a mere physical cover up, but also a spiritual cover up of who they really are inside themselves, showing off that they look so religious but do deeds hurting people in various ways that discourage some Jews from observing Judaism. And so, the number 99 - a number of a double nine, being the Gematria of Priestly Clothing, as well as being the 99th number of the list of the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah, can work both ways. It can indeed be a double darkness - covering up the body as clothes were first worn by Adam & Eve following their sin of eating from the forbidden fruit which resulted of them feeling naked; as well as being worn by people showing off in fancy shmancy stuff making others feel jealous or looking as religious dress, but truly not living a religious life as far as people are concerned when the latter are being cheated monetarily and otherwise by these fakers. Or, while indeed a physical cover up for all as a result of the first sin, they can use their clothing instead to enhance their spiritual status, giving a sense of pride and dignity for Judaism, which is very wanting of more Jews living the Torah way of life.

Now, aside from the color of our clothing, what type of clothing will we wear that will enhance not only ourselves, but enhance the honor and beauty of Judaism, as the Torah states of the Bigdei Kehuna "You shall make clothing for Aaron your brother for honor and beauty" (Exodus 28:2)?

26 Adar I, 5771

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