“You shall make holy vestments for Aharon your brother for glory and for splendour…These are the vestments that they shall make: a breastplate and an ephod and a robe and a quilted tunic, a turban and a sash. And they shall make holy vestments for Aharon your brother and for his sons to serve as priests to Me.” (Shmot 28:2&4)

The eight garments of the Cohen Gadol, of which six are listed above, were magnificent in form and style. The finest fabrics were used to fashion the High Priest’s wardrobe: blue, purple and crimson wool; linen and gold thread. The weave of the breastplate and ephod (an apron-like garment) consisted of yarn that was twenty-eight strands thick. The outer robe was made entirely of sky-blue wool and at its hem were pomegranate-shaped ornaments made of wool and tiny golden bells. The Cohen Gadol wore a golden band, called the tzitz, on his forehead with the words Kodesh L’Hashem, “Holy to God”, engraved upon it (28:35-38). The quilted tunic and turban were made of linen and the long sash which was wound around the tunic was made of linen combined with blue, purple and scarlet wool (Shmot 39:29). On two articles of clothing, there were semi-precious stones: the ephod had two red stones on the shoulder straps and there were four rows of three coloured stones each on the breastplate. The stones were engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel. The final garment was the linen trousers which were worn under the tunic and went from “waist to thighs” (28:42). 

The sight of the Cohen Gadol bedecked in his splendid garments must have made a great impression on all who visited the Mishkan. The holy vestments certainly added to the overall feeling of awe and dignity that was present in the Sanctuary. These clothes were not just utilitarian or pragmatic – they were intended to create a sense of “glory and splendour.” But they had another purpose, as described in the Talmud (Arachin 16a). Each of the eight garments atoned for a specific sin that was closely related either to the name, style or position of the particular article of clothing. How a garment can affect atonement is a discussion for another time but let us examine each sin and its relationship with the corresponding piece of clothing.

The quilted tunic, called ketonet, atoned for the sin of bloodshed. Here the connection is the name. In parshat Vayeshev, we learned that Yakov gifted his son, Yosef, with a ketonet passim, a fine tunic. Later, we read of how Yosef’s brothers stripped off his tunic, threw him into a pit and then sold him as a slave. To explain his disappearance to their father, they dipped Yosef’s tunic in goat’s blood and presented it to Yakov who concluded, “An evil beast devoured him, Yosef was mauled!” (Bereishit 37:33). In that case, Yosef was not actually murdered, but his kidnapping and subsequent sale had devastating consequences for the family of Israel.

The trousers atoned for the sin of sexual immorality. Here the connection is made by the Torah, itself (Shmot 28:42), “Make them linen trousers to cover the flesh of their nakedness.” Although the Cohen Gadol wore two garments that were ankle-length, namely the tunic and the robe, he was still required to wear trousers as an extra display of modesty.

The turban atoned for the sin of arrogance. Here the connection is the position, as Rabbi Chaninah states in the Talmud (ibid), “Let the item that is worn on high come and atone for behaviour that is high”, i.e., arrogance. An arrogant person looks down upon others, considering himself “higher” than those who don’t conform to his lofty standards.

The sash, which was worn like a cummerbund but higher up, atoned for the sin of inappropriate “thoughts of the heart”. Here the connection is the position – the sash was worn close to the heart- and also the size. The Sages (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 7:3) teach that the sash was thirty-two cubits long. Thirty-two is the numerical value of the word lev, heart. The heart is the seat of emotion, lust and desire. Thoughts are not harmless because they are the seeds that lead to action. Hence, atonement is required.

The breastplate, which is called Choshen Mishpat, the breastplate of judgment, atoned for sins of judgment. In the fold of the breastplate was placed the Urim V’tumim, a parchment with God’s Names (Shmot 28:30 with Rashi). The Sages (Yoma 73a) explain that when the High Priest was posed a question by one who was qualified to do so, the Urim caused certain stones or letters to light up, and the Tumim instructed the High Priests how to combine the letters into meaningful sentences, which constituted God’s response to the question. Thus, the breastplate was employed in finding solutions to weighty problems that required expert judgment. Sins of perverted judgement were thereby, appropriately, atoned for by the choshen

The ephod atoned for the sin of idolatry. This is based on a verse from the prophet Hoshea (chapter three) that connects the ephod to certain idolatrous images. 

The blue robe atoned for the sin of gossip, as the Talmud (Arachin16a) explains, “The Holy One, blessed is He, said: Let an item with a voice (the golden bells on the hem of the robe) come and atone for deeds of the voice.” The constant tinkle that accompanied the Cohen Gadol as he walked in the Temple was produced by the bells of the robe. Those observing him would be reminded that holy voices are permitted but profane voices – those who speak negatively of others – are forbidden.

Finally, there was the headband which atoned for the sin of brazenness. The connection here is the place on which the headband was worn – the forehead (metzach). There is a verse in Jeremiah (3:3) where the prophet criticises the obstinate nation of Israel, “The raindrops have been withheld and the late rain did not happen [because of your sins]; yet you had the boldness (metzach) of a harlot woman, you refused to be ashamed!”  A defiant, unapologetic person does not cast down his eyes but stares straight ahead with his forehead jutting out. The headband proclaimed that such behaviour is unbecoming and that one should be “holy to God” instead.

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom!   Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha:


In a Jewish leap year, such as this year (5784), there are two months of Adar. The festival of Purim is celebrated in Adar II, with most locations celebrating on the 14th and ancient walled cities, such as Jerusalem, celebrating on the 15th (Shushan Purim). The 14th and 15th of Adar I are referred to as Purim Katan (‘minor’ Purim) and Shushan Purim Katan, respectively, and the Tachanun prayer is not said on these days.

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