Parshas Tetzaveh

Parshas Tetzaveh:
Sometimes Clothes Do Make the Man

By: Rabbi Yehonoson Dovid Hool




“Why is the parshah in the Torah regarding the clothing worn by the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) juxtaposed to the parshah of the korbonos (the sacrificial offerings)? To teach us that just as the korbonos atone, so too the vestments of the Kohen Gadol atone for sins.” (Talmud, Erachin 16a). This Gemarah requires an explanation. How does this work? Does the mere act of someone wearing a particular garment automatically atone for everyone else’s sins?
he Akeidas Yitzchak gives a deeper meaning to this concept. The vestments of the Kohen Gadol were meant not just to be worn, but to be analyzed. The Kohen Gadol‘s clothing was designed to teach numerous lessons. By wearing those articles of clothing, the Kohen Gadol brought those messages to the forefront of his mind and to all those who saw him. Even nowadays, when we do not have the actual garments, we can carefully examine the Torah’s description of the vestments, and derive from them vital lessons for our everyday living.

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For example, the breastplate that the Kohen Gadol wore is referred to in the Torah as the Choshen Hamishpat (the Breastplate of Justice). According to the Talmud, the Choshen offers atonement for the miscarriage of justice. The Ba’al Akeidah explains that there are many lessons to be learnt from the Choshen that can guide judges (dayanim) in their application of the Torah’s system of justice. Thus, by wearing the Choshen and focusing on its lessons we can attain atonement for past mistakes in this area and ensure that those mistakes will not reoccur. In fact, we will see these lessons are just as applicable to all of us.


The Torah commands a judge, “Do not favor anyone in judgment, listen to small and big equally (cases involving minor amounts should be treated equally with cases involving huge sums), do not fear any man for justice belongs to G-d, and matters that are difficult for you should be brought to me [Moshe].” (Devarim 1:17) If we consider carefully these instructions to dayanim, we will note four points that are emphasized. When Chazal say that the Choshen Hamishpat atones for miscarriages of justice, they meant that if we analyze carefully the Choshen Hamishpat we will be reminded of these four rules, which will lead us to be more scrupulous in the practice of justice. We will repent any past misdeeds in this area and plan ahead to ensure that in the future we will not fall short in carrying out justice as it must be done.
Do not favor anyone in judgment: A prime cause for miscarriage of justice is a judge favoring one party over the other due to his wealth, power or social standing. On the Choshen Mishpat, one finds all the names of the twelve tribes of Israel listed in order of birth. Yehudah, the tribe of kingship, and Levi, the priestly tribe, are listed in their correct place in the chronological roll, receiving no favoritism due to their prominent roles. Shimon, traditionally a poor tribe, appears on the Choshen before Zevulun simply because he was older. The Choshen Hamishpat reminds us to show no favoritism in justice.
Listen to small and big equally: Typically, in the secular justice system the bigger the sum involved the more senior the court and the more experienced and knowledgeable the judge. In contrast, Torah law is not impressed with big amounts. Often a claim involving a paltry sum can require far more scholarship and research on the part of the Dayanim than a case concerning millions of dollars, which might actually be far simpler to rule on. The Choshen had twelve stones on it, one for each tribe. Some of the stones were extremely valuable and rare, yet others were cheap and commonplace. Yet, all had their place on the Choshen - a clear allusion to the concept that a dayan must give equal attention and effort in adjudicating a case involving a small amount of money as one involving a large sum.
Do not fear any man, for justice belongs to G-d: A judge who is afraid of one of the parties is bound to rule incorrectly. The Name of Hashem that is inscribed on the Choshen reminds us that, in the words of the Sages, one who judges correctly is a partner with the Almighty in the works of Creation. Justice belongs to G-d, and the judge must fear no one but Him.
And matters that are difficult for you should be brought to me [Moshe]: Perhaps the simplest reason for a dayan to rule incorrectly is plain lack of knowledge. Therefore, the Torah commands the judge, “Matters that are difficult for you should be brought to me [Moshe].” A Dayan must be certain of the halachah and how it applies to the case in hand before issuing a ruling, and if he is in any doubt he must consult with others.
On the Choshen were the Urim VeTumim. These were stones with letters on them that would miraculously light up in special sequences to indicate the answers to critical questions that were posed. Thus, the Urim VeTumim epitomized Hashem‘s bestowal of Truth and Wisdom to those who seek it. An important aspect of the Urim VeTumim was that its answers were not attainable by any one individual. Cooperation was necessary in order to arrive at the Truth.
The Choshen reminds us of the Truth and Wisdom that must be every judge’s goal when issuing a ruling, and the necessity to confer with others in order to achieve that goal. In ancient times the Urim VeTumim were available to clear up any doubts, but nowadays we can arrive at the Truth only by wide and in-depth Torah scholarship along with consultation with other experienced dayanim.


The truth is that the lessons of the Choshen Hamishpat are not just relevant to Jewish judges. They are important for everyone. Let’s take a brief look at how these ideas apply to each and every one of us.
Do not favor anyone in judgment: We can all learn to take care not to be too in awe of the rich and powerful. We should look for inspiration to the truly righteous, whether or not they are perceived as influential by the world at large.
Listen to small and big equally: We need to remind ourselves that scrupulousness in our business and monetary issues extends right down to tiny amounts. Stealing a penny is as forbidden as stealing a hundred, and just as we wouldn’t dream of taking a hundred dollars from someone’s wallet, we must take equal care not to make a ten cent phone call from the office without the boss’s permission.
Do not fear any man, for justice belongs to G-d: Let’s be fearless in our Judaism! When faced with the choice of doing what is right or doing what others regard as acceptable, some people are embarrassed to go against the flow. But Hashem decides what must be done, and one who is in service of the Almighty need not be in awe of anyone else.
And matters that are difficult for you should be brought to me [Moshe]: And finally, Hashem wants to bestow upon us His Truth and Wisdom. We may not have the Urim VeTumim anymore, but we do have His Torah and all the answers are there. The Torah is available for everybody to learn and to find the answers, and if we’re not sure about something we’re expected to ask.

So, Tzei Ulemad – Let’s go and learn!

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