This week, we find the Torah going through the royal clothing of the Kohanim in great detail. They were made of either all white and linen for a regular cohen or a mixture of wool and linen — a combination that is not allowed in normal garments — for the Kohen Gadol, High Priest. This High Priest, we find in Nach, Books of the Prophets, was passed down within a certain family, and when they didn’t live up to being the role models that they were supposed to be, it was taken away and given to a different family of Kohanim. We are probably most familiar with the family of Matityahu the Maccabee and his five sons who were from such a family. The question arises, why was there such a special and unique garb that needed to be made for the Kohanim? These clothes could be both costly and time consuming in their making.
This year, we moved from Israel to Phoenix to be part of the Beth Joseph Congregation, where I would be serving as a teacher in the adjacent Phoenix Hebrew Academy. Here, in the States, it is very common to have a school uniform, especially in private schools. When asked why we have a dress code, there are many ideas that come to mind.
No. 1 is the sense of belonging and togetherness. Many professional groups have a uniform. To list a few, the army, the police, hospital personnel and sports teams. The more unique it is, the more you feel part of something special. Wearing a jersey or logo associates you with that group, and shows your support and belief in their quality.
No. 2, uniforms help locate and associate those similar to you. This is true with the examples given before.
No. 3, when everyone wears a uniform, it gets rid of externals such as trying to outdo and out-dress peers. School is a place to focus on what we can achieve academically and join heads together to realize potentials. We sometimes recognize achievements and knowledge with honors for accomplishments or milestones. These are very heavily used in the professional world that was listed above. Ranks are recognized by bands and stripes. Achievements are honored with medals. Years of service are memorialized with plaques and titles.
The Kohanim served us in our Tabernacle and Temple, and for that great opportunity, they were to stand out in their ways to exemplify their teachings; to look sterling, as one would find in the royal family of Great Britain and the like. These special clothes would be their way of identifying who’s who inside the Holy Tabernacle and later the Temple. Some services were allowed to be done by anyone and some, due to their importance and holiness, could only be done by the Kohanim, and this line had to be made clear. The Kohanim through their garments were able to keep track of who might be going or doing what they might not be able to and redirect them.
Our lesson is in the way we carry ourselves and dress in our workplaces. A businessman who shows up to an interview in shorts and a tank top will be most probably turned down. The higher up in a company, the more is expected in how he carries himself and dresses. We, by putting on our finest clothes every week, show not only our respect for this holy day, but also a recognition in the exalted level and the closeness we share with our G-d similar to that of the Kohanim in the Temple. JN
Rabbi Avraham Perton is a teacher at Phoenix Hebrew Academy.