Friday, February 7, 2014

Leaving Egypt: Glory, Humility, Tiferet, and the Torah Portion of Tetzaveh

This week we will explore what will likely be the last in a series of posts about Tiferet (Beauty/Balance). This week's Torah portion continues to describe the ornaments of the Tabernacle (Mishkan), as well as the holy garments of Aharon, the High Priest (Kohen Gadol). The opening verse regarding Aharon's clothes is as follows:

2You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory. ב. וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי קֹדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת:

The word for glory here, Tiferet, is usually translated as beauty, balance. Clothes represent the quintessential aspect of Tiferet. They literally beautify the person, and yet they also do so much more. They affect a person's state of mind, and bring dignity and honor (Kavod), as mentioned above. The Talmud states that Rabbi Yochanan would refer to his clothes as "those that honor me" (Mechabduti).

Clothes also represent the idea of Tiferet in the sense of balance, moderation. The Talmud (Chullin 84b) states: "A person should always eat and drink less than his means allow, clothe and cover himself according to his means, and honor his wife and children with more than his means allow."

In the beginning of his magnum opus, the Mishnah Torah, the Rambam (Maimonides) explains that in life, we should always seek moderation, the "golden mean."Yet, the Rambam mentions two qualities regarding which moderation does not apply: humility and anger. Anger is always bad, and one should have zero of it. Humility is always good, and the more humility the better. Moshe Rabbeinu, who's birthday and yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) is today, was not praised for his wisdom, might and beauty. Instead, he is described as the "humblest of men."

The question then arises, if we seek ultimate humility, why is the High Priest honored with such beautiful clothing? Shouldn't he wear the simplest possible clothing instead? Similarly, why does the Talmud state above that we should dress according to our means. Why don't we dress below our means, as to encourage greater humility?

Along the same lines, seeking honor is something strongly discouraged by our sages. Pirkei Avot states that honor, along with jealousy and lust, "take a person out of this world." (4:21) The Talmud (Eruvim 31B) states that "One who runs after honor will have it run away from him; one who runs from honor will have it pursue him."

Perhaps the answer to our question lies on the verse from this week's Torah portion that follows the one quoted above:

3And you shall speak to all the wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they shall make Aaron's garments to sanctify him, [so] that he serve Me [as a kohen]. ג. וְאַתָּה תְּדַבֵּר אֶל כָּל חַכְמֵי לֵב אֲשֶׁר מִלֵּאתִיו רוּחַ חָכְמָה וְעָשׂוּ אֶת בִּגְדֵי אַהֲרֹן לְקַדְּשׁוֹ לְכַהֲנוֹ לִי:
RASHI - to sanctify him, [so] that he serve Me [as a kohen]: Heb. לְקַדְּשׁוֹ לְכַהִנוֹ-לִי, to sanctify him, to initiate him into the kehunah through these garments [so] that he would be a kohen to Me. The expression of kehunah means service, serjanterie [or serventrie] in Old French. 



The beautiful and honorable clothes are actually what make Aharon into a Kohen! The clothes are what make him Kodesh, which means holy, but also distinguished. The clothes are not for Aharon's personal glory. They are for G-d's glory. They uplift Aharon only to the extent they they bring him closer to his role as a servant of G-d.

The same goes for our own clothes. We must be true to our positions, our roles as servants, but also children of G-d. We are, after all, a reflection of Him, and the whole purpose of the entire world is to bring Him glory, as stated in the very last verse of Pirkei Avot: "Everything that G-d created in His world, He did not create but for His glory. As is stated (Isaiah 43:7): "All that is called by My name and for My glory, I created it, formed it, also I made it." And it says (Exodus 15:1): "G-d shall reign forever and ever."

G-d's glory does not impact His humility. It was the same Rabbi Yochanan, mentioned above, who states:

Wherever you find the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, there you find His humility. This is written in the Torah, repeated in the Prophets, and stated a third time in the Writings. It is written in the Torah: “For the L‑rd your G‑d is G‑d of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty and awe-inspiring G‑d, who shows no favoritism and accepts no bribe.” Immediately afterwards it is written, “He upholds the cause of the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing…” (Talmud, Megillah 31a)


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