In this week’s Torah portion of Tetzaveh we find the Divine commands concerning the preparation of the priestly garments. Aside from the external significance that is attached to any item of clothing – and certainly the special garments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), various biblical commentators throughout the generations have contributed insights into the hidden, inner significance of these clothes. Such inner significance raises the status both of the garments themselves (after all, not every item of clothing is designed by God Himself!) and of their wearer – the Kohen Gadol, who is the only person permitted to attire himself in this way.
Let us explore the teaching of R. Yitzhak Yosef of Izbitzche, author of “Mei HaShiloah”, concerning the inner significance behind one of the special garments worn by the Kohen Gadol – the ‘efod’ (tunic).
“And you shall place the two stones upon the shoulders of the efod as stones of memorial for Bnei Yisrael, and Aharon shall wear their names before God upon his two shoulders for a memorial.” (Shemot 28:12)
The crux of the efod was in fact these two stones, engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel, which were placed upon Aharon’s shoulders. The names of the tribes also appeared on the breastplate, but while there they served a practical purpose – as the “urim ve-tumim” – the names engraved upon the efod served no practical purpose at all. In addition, the names as they appear on the breastplate, which covers Aharon’s heart, would seem to occupy a place of greater importance than their inscription on the stones located on his shoulders. Hence it appears that there was more to these two stones than meets the eye.
The two stones, engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel, which Aharon wears upon his shoulders, represent the entire nation of Israel. Each individual Jew has his own unique soul, with its own special desires, aspirations and views. Every individual amongst the nation of Israel forges his own independent path of life.
Sometimes, then, a situation arises where there is conflict between different people who hold different opinions, or who follow different paths of life. Such conflicts may cause some people to feel insulted or offended. We are all familiar with a situation in which we wish to achieve something or to say something, and we are faced with other people whose views are completely opposite to our own. What is one to do? How is it possible to proceed without offending someone or being hurt along the way?
This, according to the author of “Mei Ha-Shiloah”, is the heavy responsibility that rests upon the shoulders of Aharon, the Kohen Gadol. He is charged not with merely bearing the two stones with the names of Bnei Yisrael, but rather with acting as a unifying force among all parties through his Divine service, his prayers and his actions. This is the same Aharon who is known to “love peace and pursue peace”, to go about bringing reconciliation between different people with different views and plans.
This is the job of the Kohen Gadol: he is not only the representative of the community in his Divine service, but also the representative of the community in his communal service.
May we all learn from his ways and come to love and pursue peace between ourselves and in our environment, even when faced with views and acts that appear to be directed against us.