White Clothing - אחרי

Thursday, 28 April, 2022 - 8:35 pm

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. 


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