Blog - Torah Insights

White Clothing - אחרי

White Clothing 

The High Priest, who was tasked with representing all Jewish people with his service in the temple, would wear eight beautiful colored garments. The Torah describes the nuances of how they were to be created in elaborate detail. G-d introduces the commandment to create the garments to Moses by saying: “You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory (Exodus 28:2).” 

Yet, surprisingly, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest would not wear the eight colorful garments, referred to as the “garments of gold,” but rather four garments of white linen: 

He shall wear a holy linen shirt and linen pants shall be upon his flesh, and he shall gird himself with a linen sash and wear a linen cap these are holy garments, [and therefore,] he shall immerse himself in water and don them. (Leviticus 16:4)

Maimonides explains that on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would change between both sets of clothing. He would wear the white garments only for the services that were unique to Yom Kippur:  

All of the procedures involving the offering of the continuous offerings and the additional offerings of this day are performed by the High Priest while he is wearing his golden garments. The unique services of this day, by contrast, are performed while he is wearing his white garments. (Rambam, Avodas Yom Hakipurim 2.1)

Why would the High Priest remove his beautiful garments specifically when entering the innermost chamber of the temple on Yom Kippur? 

Rashi, quoting the Talmud, explains that it would be inappropriate to wear gold within the Holy of Holies, since gold could evoke the story of the Jewish people’s betrayal of G-d when they created the golden calf. As Rashi explains: 

{the High Priest} does not perform the service inside {i.e., in the Holy of Holies} wearing the eight garments with which he performs the service outside {the Holy of Holies}, for those {garments} contain gold, and a prosecutor cannot become a defender. {I.e., since the Kohen Gadol enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to effect atonement for all Israel, he may not enter wearing gold, reminiscent of the golden calf}. Instead, {he wears} four garments, like an ordinary kohen, all of which are {made} of linen.

 Chassidic teachings offer a deeper insight. 

Our relationship with G-d is multi-dimensional. Throughout the year we seek to create a bond with G-d based on our actions. We strive to beautify ourselves by refining our personality and engaging in Torah study and good deeds. Throughout the year, we seek to dawn “gold garments,” garments of exquisite beauty and richness. 

Yet, on Yom Kippur, when the High Priest enters the innermost chamber of the temple, which represents the innermost core of our identity, he would remove the gold garments and wear plain white. Because the core of our soul is connected to G-d in an unconditional bond, independent of, and therefore not limited by, the beauty we attain and the accomplishments we achieve. 

Our relationship with G-d is multi-dimensional. We seek to earn the connection by beautifying ourselves. Yet we must be mindful that, at the core, our connection is unconditional and unchanging. 

The same is true for how we view ourselves. On one hand we celebrate our talents and achievements, yet on the other hand we must recognize that we have innate value and that our worth, in our esteem and in the esteem of G-d, is unconditional and infinite. 


When Exactly did our Ancestors Eat the Bread of Freedom?


When Exactly did our Ancestors Eat the Bread of Freedom?

Achieving liberation is uncomfortable. Breaking free of old habits and of negative patterns of behavior requires discipline. Avoiding the temptation of instant pleasure and the comfort of established neurological pathways requires persistence and willpower. Matzah, the unleavened bread of freedom, therefore, has no taste. To break free, one must be willing to give up immediate "taste" - enjoyment and pleasure - and muster the courage to ignore one's instinct, escape old patterns of behavior, and begin a new path.   

The Haggadah, the liturgy read during the Passover seder, offers two descriptions of the Matzah. At the beginning of the Haggadah, the description of the Matzah is the bread that we ate in Egypt: 

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.

Toward the end of the Haggadah, however, a verse from the Torah is quoted that describes the Matzah as the bread the Jewish people ate after they left Egypt: 

"They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions. (Exodus 12:39)"

The dual description represents the two general categories of liberation. The first is the liberation from the figurative "land of Egypt" - negative habits and destructive behaviors. Yet, even after we leave Egypt, even when we are in a positive and wholesome space, we still need to eat the bread of freedom. 

The exodus from Egypt is central to Judaism because it represents the ongoing journey of growth. Even when we are not trapped in negative patterns of behavior, we live within the confines of limited holiness and goodness. The Torah commands us: "you shall remember the day you went out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life”(Deuteronomy 16:3), because each day, we are called upon to grow beyond the limitations of yesterday, seeking to become kinder, wiser, and deepen our connection to G-d. 

The journey to freedom, otherwise known as the Passover Seder, begins with breaking free of negativity. As the Seder progresses, our definition of freedom expands. We understand that the bread of freedom must be consumed even after we leave Egypt because even a limited dimension of holiness and positivity traps our potential for ever-increasing growth.

This year at your Seder, experience both dimensions of the Matzah. Ask yourself, what negative behavior will I liberate myself from, and what positive aspect in my life will I expand?  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Maamar Hei Lachma Aniya 5741

Healing by Focusing Inward - מצורע

Healing by Focusing Inward

The Tzaraat affliction, whose purification process is the subject of this week's Torah portion, is not common today; nevertheless, the laws of tzaraat provide profound lessons that can enhance our spiritual growth. 

Our sages teach that the tzaraat affliction was a consequence of the sin of Lashon Hara, slander, as Maimonides explains: 

This change that affects clothes and houses which the Torah described with the general term of tzara'at is not a natural occurrence. Instead, it is a sign and a wonder prevalent among the Jewish people to warn them against lashon hora, "undesirable speech."

Slander, however, is merely a symptom. The root cause of slander is envy. When a person is jealous of his fellow, he finds comfort by pulling down the other by slandering his fellow, rather than raising himself higher. But, in fact, at the core of jealousy lies something deeper. The jealous person feels inadequate because he does not focus on his own abilities and blessings but instead focuses outward, looking toward other people. This creates a sense of emptiness within himself, causing him to be jealous of the other, which leads him to slander the object of his jealousy. 

To rehabilitate the root cause of slander, the inner void the person feels within himself, the Torah tells us that the person afflicted with tzaraat must sit alone outside the camp, secluded even from other ritually impure people: 

All the days the tzaraat is upon him, he shall remain unclean. He is unclean; he shall dwell isolated; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. Leviticus 13:46

Rashi explains why he must dwell alone: 

He shall dwell isolated: [meaning] that other unclean people [not stricken with tzara'ath] shall not abide with him. Our Sages said: "Why is he different from other unclean people, that he must remain isolated? Since, with his slander, he caused a separation [i.e., a rift] between man and wife or between man and his fellow, he too, shall be separated [from society]."

There is, however, another reason why he must dwell alone. Dwelling alone forces a person to rely on himself for survival; he cannot count on other people for food, clothing, shelter, and company; he is forced to rely on his own creativity to provide for himself. When he sits alone, he is forced to focus on himself; and that is the first step of healing. He will eventually come to value himself without comparing himself to others. When he does so, he can come back to the camp and benefit from the blessings of interacting and integrating with the community without falling into a state of envy and jealousy that emerges from focusing on others and not appreciating oneself. 

The cure for envy that causes slander, then, is to focus inward, to appreciate oneself, valuing the unique gifts, opportunities, and blessings that G-d has granted each of us.    


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