Parsha Halacha

Parshat Tetzaveh

The Kohen’s Sash

Details and Lessons
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The Torah portion of Tetzaveh describes the clothes of the Kohanim including the avnet, a belt or sash, as it says, “And you shall make a sash of embroidery work… and make them sashes.”[1]

Materials of the Avnet
The avnet of the Kohen Gadol was made of linen and wool of various colors, as the verse says, “and the sash of twisted fine linen, and blue, purple, and crimson wool…”[2]
There is an argument in the Talmud[3] whether the avnet of the regular kohanim was made of pure linen or of the same materials as that of the Kohen Gadol’s avnet (listed above). The accepted view is that the avnet of the regular kohanim was the same as that of the Kohen Gadol’s.[4]

The Rambam writes “The avnet (sash) was about three fingerbreadths wide and 32 amot (cubits) long. The kohen would wrap it around and around himself.”[5]
Others says that the avnet was long enough for it to be wrapped around the Kohen 32 times. Which means it was approximately 64 amot long.[6]
Tosfot says that the avnet was only wound around the Kohen twice.[7]

Shatnez in the Bait HaMikdash
Although it is forbidden to wear a garment is made of wool and linen (this is called shatnez), it was permitted for the Kohanim serving in the Bait HaMikdash as per the Torah’s express instructions. The spiritual explanation is that wool represents chessed(Divine kindness) while linen represents gevurah (Divine strength) and wearing a mixture of these can cause an improper mixture of these Divine revelations.
The Divine revelation in the Bait HaMikdash was so transcendent that it was beyond the differences of chessed and gevurah, and it was thus permitted (and a mitzvah) to wear this mixture there.

Shatnez Only in the Avnet
The avnet was the only one of the four garments of a regular kohen that was shatnez. In addition, some say that it was the only of the eight clothes of the Kohen Gadol that was considered shatnez.[8] The reason for this is that all of the other clothes covered (or adorned) a specific part of the body while the avnet represented a mental and spiritual preparation for serving G-d. In this respect it is similar to wearing a belt (or gartel) for prayers which, according to the Talmud,[9] is done in order to “Prepare to greet your G-d…”[10] This preparation is considered a general submission to the will of G-d and as such reaches to the transcendent level of G-dliness which is beyond the disparate forces of chessed and gevurah.[11]

Atones for Thoughts, Dishonesty, and Stealing
The Talmud says that the clothes worn by the Kohen Gadol would atone for various sins. The commentaries explain that by supporting the Kohanim and Levites with their tithes, the Jewish people were able to receive atonement through the Divine service of those groups.[12]
Specifically, the avnet would atone for sinful thoughts since it was placed on the heart.[13]
In addition, the 32 amot of the avnet (or the 32 times it was wrapped around the Kohen) represents the thoughts of the heart as 32 is the gematirah (numerical value) of לב – heart.[14]
The Midrash cites one opinion that the avnet atoned for crookedness of the heart (dishonesty) since it was wrapped around and around (the circular motion is considered crooked). According to another opinion in the Midrash, the avnet, which was woven with a hollow space in it, atoned for the sin of thievery. (The hollow space represents hiddenness and deceit.)

Stay Focused on Higher Matters
Rabbi Sholom Perlow of Koidanov and Brahin (1850–1925) explained that the avnetatoned for negative thoughts by separating between the upper and lower parts of one’s body thus reminding a person to stay focused on lofty and spiritual matters rather than corporal and hedonistic matters.[15]

With Teshuvah
The commentaries explain that the Kohen Gadol’s clothes only atoned for the sins of people who did teshuvah (repentance). If the clothes would have atoned for sins of people who were unrepentant, the Jewish people would never have been exiled from the land of Israel since the kohen’s clothing would have atoned for most of their sins.[16]
Others say that the clothes of the Kohen Gadol would atone for the sins of the individual even if that person had not yet done teshuvah. If the community had sinned, however, it would not atone, which is why the Jewish people were exiled since they had sinned as a community.[17]
In fact, the Alshich HaKadosh writes[18] that G-d specifically gave us the clothes of the Kohen Gadol to atone for the very sins that the Jewish people were going to transgress at the time of the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash.[19] This can be understood in light of the above opinion; that the individual sins were atoned by the clothes of the Kohen Gadol (which is why some of the people survived), but the community as a whole still needed the punishment of that exile.

Delays Punishment
Others say that the clothes of the Kohen Gadol serve as atonement insofar as they protect from punishment for those sins (even purposeful ones), but that the sin itself is not erased. This is why the Jewish people were exiled from the land of Israel after committing these sins. Although the punishment from these sins was averted, the land could not bear to be inhabited by a sinning people, which is why the land “spat them out.”[20]

Sins of the Eyes
After the war against the Midianites (in the Torah portion of Matot), the generals donated all of the golden jewelry looted in the war.[21] According to the Talmud,[22] this was an atonement for the fact that their eyes had enjoyed the sight of the forbidden (Midianite) women. The commentaries question the need for this atonement since the avnet atones for forbidden thoughts as explained above. They explain that the pleasure from the sight of a forbidden woman is an additional sin to that of thinking lewd thoughts.[23] In fact, the Talmud says that the pleasure (and sin) of gazing at a forbidden woman can be even greater than actually sinning with her.[24] As such, it was (and is) necessary to atone for that sin separately.

Atonement Nowadays
Although we do not have a Kohen Gadol presently who wears these clothes, one can accomplish the abovementioned atonement by learning about the clothes.[25] This is similar to the sacrifices regarding which we can achieve the same atonement by studying about them as was achieved by bringing the sacrifices in the Temple era.[26]

The Davening Connection
Our daily prayers were established to correspond to the daily sacrifices. As such, there are many similarities between the two.[27] One of them is that we must wear a belt (or gartel) when we pray just as the kohen would do when serving in the Bait HaMikdash. Doing so will assist us to concentrate on our prayers since the gartel is worn over the heart and reminds us to focus on lofty matters and disregard our baser instincts (while praying) as explained above.[28]
G-d willing, we will discuss the laws of wearing a belt during davening another time!

[1] Exodus 28:39 and 40
[6] Talmud Yerushalmy, Yoma 7:3 and Shita Mekubetzet on Arachin 16a citing the Midrrash (Vayikra Rabbah 10:6). See Mutzal Me’esh on Arachin 15b
[7] D.H. Avnet on Yoma 15b. According to Mutzal Me’esh (ibid), Tosfot should read “32 times.”
[8] See Radvaz on the end of the laws of Kilayim (in the Rambam) that the choshenand ephod may have been so hard they were not considered shatnez despite the fact that they contained wool and linen.
[11] Likutei Sichot 36, page 159. See there that the avnet corresponds to the innermost aspect of the soul.
[12] Even Yisrael (by Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Fisher), Shabbat Shuvah, page 24
[14] Shita Mekubetzet and Mutzal Me’esh ibid
[15] Divrei Shalom, Parshat Tetzaveh
[16] Tosfot D.H. Miyom, Sanhedrin 37b. See Rosh, cited in Shita Mekubetzet on Arachin 16a
[17] Maaseh Choshev on Arachin ibid
[18] On Exodus 28:4
[19] Specifically they sinned with idolatry (see Yirmiyahu 2:28), murder (see Kings II 21:16), sexual immorality (see Shabbat 62b), slander (see Yirmiyahu 9:2), arrogance (Yishayahu 2:11 and 3:16), sinful thoughts (see Micha 2:1), brazenness (see Yirmiyahu 3:3), and distortion of justice (see Yishayahu 1:21 and 5:7) .
[20] Even Yisrael, page 26. See Rashba on Shabbat 88a (based on various verses) that the Jewish people received the land of Israel on condition that they observe the Torah there.
[23] Maaseh Choshev on Arachin 16a
[25] Arugat HaBosem on Parshat Tetaveh (on page 3)
[26] See Menachot 110a
[27] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 98:4 who lists five similarities.
a)      One must have proper concentration just as the Kohen had while sacrificing
b)      The Amidah must be done while standing just as the kohen would sacrifice while standing.
c)      The prayers should be said in a fixed place just as each sacrifice had to brought in a certain area.
d)      Nothing should interpose between a person and the wall while praying just as nothing may interpose between the kohen and the utensil he is using to offer the sacrifice.
e)      A person should (preferably) wear nice clothes for praying as the kohen would wear while serving in the Bait HaMikdash.
[28] Zichron Shlomo Likutim quoted in the Kaftor Vaferach of the Metivta Shas on Arachin, ibid

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Purim Kattan Same’ach!

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