Rabbi Dror Brama
Former Rosh Kollel in Detroit
Garments of Sanctity
Much of Vayakhel and Pekudei – which describe the construction of the Mishkan – pertain to the multiple layers which are used to dress and swathe the Mishkan, the kohanim and the keilim (utensils). Specifically, the Mishkan was covered with wool panels (yeri’ot tzemer) upon which were red-dyed tachash skins; the kohanim wore layers of the bigdei kehunah (the priestly garments); the keilim were covered when being carried from place to place; and the aron was covered and sheltered by the kruvim.
Inevitably, the reader wonders: why so many coverings? Are we ashamed? Do we have something to hide? If we put all that effort into producing these attractive keilim and if the keilim represent the Shechinah (Divine Presence) in our midst, why would we want to conceal them? Should not the truth – especially such a beautiful truth – be revealed? Would that not be the ideal way to convince others? Yet, the Mishkan transmits the opposite message. The Shechinah is hidden in a cloud; the keilim are covered; and the kohanim are enveloped in layers of clothing. Why?
For Honor and For Glory
Hashem commands Moshe:
“You shall make garments of sanctity for Aharon, your brother, for honor and for glory.” (Shmot 28:2)
We thus learn that Judaism’s concept of “honor” is different than the accepted Western cultural standard. When something is treasured and holy, we cover it and honor it by wrapping it in clothes which express its inherent glory:
“The honor of God is to conceal a matter.” (Mishlei 25:2)
Honor includes the recognition that you are confronting something which is beyond your grasp, that you cannot see everything, and that there are strata which are difficult or impossible to comprehend.
In contrast, Greek culture exposed everything. Their theater, sculptures, and art were all naked and revealed. In The Republic, Plato suggested that a judge should be clothed in justice – and nothing else. The truth of Western and Geek culture is the naked truth.
But Judaism takes a different approach. Life is more complex than the naked eye can see and the intellect can grasp. The concealed always outnumbers the revealed, and humility enables one to heed reality’s deeper levels. In order to remind ourselves of this idea, we put on clothing. We reveal a tefach (literally, a handbreadth) but cover up two tefachim. Anything which is precious and holy is also hidden and covered. Therefore, we cover the Mishkan; Hashem is hidden in a cloud; and we cover the human body – which is a “small Mishkan” for the Shechinah.
Today, everything is public knowledge; superficiality is so attractive and appealing; every leader seeks out the camera; and fame and publicity are prime objectives. Wars are decided based on the television’s pictures, and image trumps the truth. In such a world, concealment becomes a tough sell. We may find it difficult to explain that not everything should be reported and that appearances are only skin deep. Nevertheless, we must recall that most of life is hidden.
As soldiers and civilians are truly fighting for their very lives, we must do our share to add holiness and sanctity. We must strive to welcome the Shechinah, in order to rectify Adam HaRishon’s original sin. Finally, we must yearn for a time when the superficial exterior will no longer conceal the profound depths:
“And the glory of Hashem shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see that the mouth of Hashem has spoken.” (Yeshaya 40:5)