23.7. Tunic, Sash, Turban, and Breeches (28:39-43)

 (39) You shall make the fringed tunic of fine linen. You shall make the headdress of fine linen. You shall make the sash of embroidered work.

(40) And for Aaron’s sons also you shall make tunics, and make sashes for them, and make turbans for them, for dignity and adornment.

(41) Put these on your brother Aaron and on his sons as well; anoint them, and ordain them and consecrate them to serve Me as priests.

(42) You shall also make for them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; they shall extend from the hips to the thighs.

(43) They shall be worn by Aaron and his sons when they enter the Tent of Meeting or when they approach the altar to officiate in the sanctuary, so that they do not incur punishment and die. It shall be a law for all time for him and for his offspring to come.

(40-42) And for Aaron’s sons also you shall make tunics, and make sashes for them, and make turbans for them and … linen breeches: After describing the four garments specific to the High Priest, the Torah moves on to the basic four worn by every priest (“Aaron’s sons”): breeches, tunic, turban, and sash. These garments were designed to contain and correct the four most detrimental human qualities equally prevalent in all strata of society:

Breeches: The priests’ breeches (michnasayim) are associated with restraining sexual passions. We have already seen the same idea in the Torah’s commandment that the priests must not ascend the altar by means of stairs: “Do not ascend My altar by steps, that your nakedness may not be exposed upon it” (20:23).

Sashes: (avnet) was a wide strip of fabric 32 cubits in length (approx. 16 m, or 52 ft) that the priest wrapped around his waist. In the gematria system (which assigns to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet a fixed numerical value), the number 32 corresponds to the value of the word lev, “heart.” The purpose of the sash was “correction of the middle and upper body,” – purification of the emotions, and ruminations of the heart. The sashes worn by the priests separated their heart, their upper body, from the lower body, in order that emotional yearnings would not become enslaved to sexual passions. Evil inclinations of the heart arise from the union of higher and lower human instincts, which must therefore be separated.

Tunics: (kutonet) The tunic worn by every priest represents “correction of the body,” i.e., of improper action. This means, in particular, restraint from violence (there is a conceptual association here with the idea of a straitjacket).

Turbans: The mitznefet or migba’at is a “correction for the head” – restraint from being rude to one’s fellow man. A person wearing such headgear senses koved rosh – literally, heaviness of the head – a disposition of seriousness, brought on by his awareness of having assumed “the burden of the kingdom of heaven.” The modern kippah (the Jewish skullcap worn by men) is the successor to the turbans of the priests.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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