Priestly Garments-3

High Priest and king of Israel consulting Urim veTumim

 

The "Urim V'Tummim"

"And you shall place the Urim V'tummim in the breastplate of judgment, and they shall be over Aharon's heart when he comes before G-d." (ibid. v. 30)

The "Urim V'Tummim" is the Name of G-d

The Urim V'Tummim was the famed, oracle-like aspect of the breastplate by which a Heavenly answer was received for important questions. According to most authoritative opinions, the expression urim v'tummim actually refers not to the breastplate itself, but to the mystical Divine name of G-d which was written on a piece of parchment and inserted into a flap of the garment. The presence of the name facilitated the reception of Divine guidance through the shining of specific letters on the stones.

The Identity of G-d is the Source of Creation

What does this mean? What are the implications of this fact, the knowledge that it is the name of G-d itself which brought about the illumination of the urim v'tummim? This is indeed a lofty concept, but one whose lesson can be readily appreciated, at least on a simple level of understanding.

G-d is the Creator of all existence; His power is unlimited. He has no form whatsoever, neither has He beginning or end... He is the Supreme Being. He is perfect and absolute unity. And He is also totally unknowable.

Yet in numerous passages throughout the Torah, we are commanded to "know" G-d. "In all of your ways, know Him" (Proverbs 3:6); "And I shall betroth you in faith, and you shall know HaShem" (Hosea 2:22) are but two examples of many such instances.

Truly, how can we come to know G-d, who is omnipotent and infinite? Yet we are commanded - and therefore expected-to do just that. And there is a general rule with regard to the Torah's commandments: the Holy One never makes unfair demands on a person (BT Avodah Zara 3:A).

Knowledge of G-d Through His Names

The sages of Israel teach that one way to know G-d is through awareness of His relationship to the universe which He created. Although it is taught that "no thought can grasp Him at all" (Tikkunei Zohar 17:A), and ultimately G-d's essence is not only unknowable, but unnamable as well-still, G-d's names describe His relationship with creation (Shemot Rabbah 3:6). Through these attributes of Divine interaction, we can at least attempt some glimpse of His greatness, according to our limited intellect. There are a number of names used throughout the Bible; one denotes the attribute of Divine mercy; another the aspect of strict judgment, and so on.

These Divine names of G-d are merely appellations which He has entitled us to use; they are not His true identity, which is beyond the reach of human knowledge. But it was through these names that G-d created heaven and earth, and it is by way of His names that He continues to direct every minute aspect of existence. Thus it is obvious that G-d's names, through which He summoned forth all creation from nothing at all, have great power. This power is the secret behind the prophetic revelation of the urim v'tummim.

From the Time of Moshe

The urim v'tummim is unlike any other aspect of the priestly garments, for it was not created by those skilled artisans who fashioned the other items, aided by their understanding and inspiration; and it was not created from the donations or contributions of Israel, as were all the other appointments of the Temple. The entire matter is one of those mysteries which was handed down to Moshe at Mount Sinai by G-d Himself, and its secret was transmitted orally down through the generations.

At the time of the original Tabernacle erected in the desert, Moshe took the original urim v'tummim, written in sublime holiness, and placed it inside the breastplate of judgment, after Aharon donned the ephod. This is reflected by the verse (Lev. 8:7), "... and he put the ephod upon him, and he fastened him with the belt of the ephod... and he put the breastplate upon him, and into the breastplate he put the urim v'tummim."

Kohen Gadol and king of Israel consulting the Urim veTummim

Only Questions of Congregational Importance

The process of questioning for Divine aid with the Urim V'Tummim was done in the following manner: When a question arose whose implications were so consequential that the entire congregation of Israel would be effected-such as, for example, the question of whether or not to go out to war - then, the King of Israel (or the commanding officer of the army) would ask his question before the High Priest. An ordinary person, or someone not representing the entire community would not ask of the urim v'tummim.

The High Priest stands facing the Ark of the Testimony, and the questioner stands behind him, facing the kohen's back. The questioner does not speak out loud, neither does he merely think the question in his heart; he poses his query quietly, to himself - like someone who prayers quietly before his Creator. For example, he will ask "Shall I go out to battle, or shall I not go out?"

A Meditative Experience and a Prophetic Revelation

The High Priest is immediately enveloped by the spirit of Divine inspiration. He gazes at the breastplate, and by meditating upon the holy names of G-d, the kohen was able to receive the answer through a prophetic vision-the letters on the stones of the breastplate, which would shine forth in his eyes in a special manner, spelling out the answer to the question. The priest then informs the questioner of the answer.

Flavius Josephus writes <i>(Antiquities 3:8:9) that the stones also shone brilliantly when Israel went forth into battle. This was considered as an auspicious sign for their victory.

Another midrashic passage indicates that when the tribes of Israel found favor in G-d's eyes, each respective stone shone brilliantly. But when particular members of any one tribe were involved in a transgression, that tribe's stone would appear tarnished and dimmed. The High Priest would see this phenomena and understand its cause. He would then cast lots within the rank of this tribe, until the guilty person was revealed and judged (Midrash HaGadol).

What is the meaning of the words "urim v'tummim?"

According to the commentary of the famed Rashi, these words are derived from their Hebrew roots for "lights" and "perfections," since through the urim v'tummim, the question is illuminated through the letters and its subject matter is then perfected by the High Priest. The Talmud (BT Yoma 73:B) also indicates that the message which was received was called tummim, "perfect," because it was immutable.

The blue robe of the Kohen Gadol
The blue robe of the Kohen Gadol

III. The Robe

According to the opinion of most scholars, the robe was a closed garment, seamlessly woven from one piece of fabric, and slipped on over the head. It was worn over the tunic; the tunic was longer than the robe by one handbreadth, so it was visible underneath the robe at the bottom. The opening at the neck was round, with a hem that was doubled over and closed by weaving-not by a needle. The garment hung down in front and in back, and its length extended all the way down to the priest's feet. There is a difference of opinion as to whether there were sleeves.

As mentioned above, the robe was fashioned exclusively from techelet, the sky-blue dyed wool, with no other material. The Talmud (BT Yoma 71) records that its threads were 12-ply.

Pomegranates and Bells

Decorative pomegranates made of sky-blue, dark-red and crimson dyed wool were attached to the lower hem of the robe (each thread of each of these materials being woven from 8 individual strands). The verse tells us that these pomegranates appeared together with golden bells: "A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, on the hem of the robe all around" (Ex. 28:34). Some opinions interpret this to mean that the bells and pomegranates were interspersed alternatively, in between each other; another holds that the bells were placed inside the pomegranates.

The hem of the robe was woven over doubly in order to prevent it from ripping due to the weight of the pomegranates and bells. Again, no sewing was used for this: "And there shall be a hole for the head, in the midst of it; it shall have a binding of woven work round about the hole, like the opening of a suit of armor, that it not be torn." (ibid. v. 32)

These pomegranates were actually hollow spheres of fabric in the shape of pomegranates. We find a debate in the Talmud and other holy books as to whether there were 36, 70, or 72 pomegranates in all.

"And it shall be on Aharon when he comes to serve, and its sound shall be heard when he comes to the holy place before HaShem, and when he goes out, so that he does not die." (ibid. v. 35)

The crown (Tzitz) of the Kohen Gadol

IV. The Crown (Tzitz)

"And you shall make a crown of pure gold, and engrave on it in the manner of a signet ring: 'Holy to the L-rd.'"</i> (Ex. 28: 36)</p>

The crown was a thin plate constructed of one piece of pure, solid gold. Unlike the crown worn by royalty on top of the head, this is worn across the forehead and extends from ear to ear. It was thin enough to arch across the forehead like a bow. Its width is described by Maimonides as 2 fingerbreadths, or app. 11/2 inches.

"Holy to HaShem"

This crown was engraved with the words "Holy to HaShem." At times, these words were written across two lines, and at times they were fit into one line. The Talmud (BT Sukkah 5) provides the eye-witness testimony of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yose who saw the crown in Rome (both the Talmud and Josephus inform us that after the destruction of the Second Temple, many of the sacred vessels were plundered and taken to Rome, where they were publicly displayed for many years): "Rabbi Eliezer said: I saw the crown in Rome, and the words 'Holy to HaShem' were written in one line."</p>

It was worn at all times while the Kohen Gadol was within the Temple, as the Torah states: "And it shall be worn on Aharon's forehead, that he shall carry the iniquity of the holy things (specifically, this is a reference to ritual impurity), which the children of Israel shall sanctify in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the HaShem."

How Were the Letters Engraved?

The Talmud (BT Gittin 20) describes the process by which the letters were fashioned on the crown. They were raised, not sunken - "like a golden dinar." This was accomplished by digging out the letters from the opposite side until they were raised up. Maimonides (Laws of Temple Vessels, Ch. 9) writes that "they would pound out the letters in a form until their shapes were formed on the other side."

How Was the Crown Fastened?

The crown had three small holes: two on each end, and one in the center, along the upper edge. Through these holes, threads dyed with sky-blue color were run, and the ends of these threads were connected in the back of the priest's head. In this manner the crown, itself a thin plate, was kept tied and in place on the High Priest's forehead.

The Turban and the Crown

The turban was placed on the priest's head in such a way that a space was left between it and crown upon his forehead. This space enabled the High Priest to wear the tefillin, the phylacteries of the head (see Deut. 6:8) In the words of the Talmud (BT Zevachim 19) "The High Priest's hair was visible between the crown and the turban, and there he placed his tefillin."

The middle sky-blue thread was extended over the turban, where it was tied to the other strands at the back of his head. So it is written, " ... and the string shall be upon the turban." (Ex. 28:36)

Belt for an ordinary kohen

VII. The Belt

The belt of white line

n was only "3 fingerbreadths"(2 1/4 inches) wide, records both the Talmud and Maimonides. But it was made from an exceedingly long piece of fabric-its Biblical measurement, writes Maimonides, is 32 cubits... app. 48 feet!

The "Measurement" of the Heart

Earlier we learned that the belt "atoned for sins of the heart" and was worn over the heart. This is seen even in the detail of its measurement, 32 cubits: For 32 is the gammatria (the numerical equivalent; from the Greek gamma, the third letter of the Greek alphabet, equals tria, number 3) of the Hebrew word lev, meaning heart. The length of the belt itself serves as a reminder to the priest, as he officiates in the hallowed courts of HaShem, of the purity which his of

 

fice requires, and of the unsullied intentions he must have as he goes about his duties.

A "Double" Embroidered Design

Josephus describes the belt as being hollow like the skin shed by a snake (Antiquities 3:7:2). It was a work of "embroidery;" when used in this context of Temple furnishings, the Torah uses this term to indicate that the same design was featured on both sides of the material. Although the belt itself was made of linen, the embroidery-a floral design-was done of colored wool threads (the three colors which we have mentioned), and attached to the white linen background. This combination of wool and linen together in garments is normally forbidden (see Lev. 19:19), but it was permitted for the priestly garments.

The High Priest and the Ordinary Priests: Was the Belt the Same?

The above certainly applies to the belt of the High Priest. But there is a controversy between the scholars as to the appearance of the ordinary priests' belts. Some authorities, such as Josephus (ibid.) hold that were the same as the High Priest's; other opinions (such as the Talmud - BT Yoma 12:B) maintain that the ordinary priests' belts were plain white linen.

One reason for this variance of opinions: The Talmud points out that since other items (e.g., the ephod and the breastplate) of the High Priest's outfit also contained this mixture of wool and linen, then it follows that the belt may also contain it. But since the ordinary priest's garments are all made of plain linen, his belt was also of unembroidered linen. This controversy has an immediate and important consequence: it teaches us that on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest wore only the "white garments" of plain linen, so too his belt was of plain linen. In any event, there are also other opinions which hold that the ordinary priests' belts were also embroidered with the colored woolen threads.

The belt was wrapped many times around the body at the hips, but close to the heart. Its purpose was to separate between the upper and lower portions of the body; Jewish religious law obligates this separation during prayer or the mentioning of anything holy. Josephus states (Antiquities 3:7:2) that when worn, the two ends of the belt hung in front, down to the priest's ankles. However during the actual service the priest would cast these two ends over his left shoulder, to prevent them from interfering with his work.

The Wardrobe Chamber

VIII. The Pants

"And make for them linen pants to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the loins to the thighs." (Ex. 28:42)

The Pants Are Required For Modesty Alone

This verse indicates that the priest's pants do not serve the same purpose as the other sacred garments. For all the other items which make up their uniform are "for honor and for beauty"... they glorify the sacred office and bespeak dignity, not to mention their deeper significance, such as the power to atone, etc. But this does not apply to the pants; we are specifically informed here that their function was one of modesty alone, to cover his nakedness.

Made Without Openings

"We were taught: To what can the priests' pants be likened? To the knee breeches (riding pants) worn by horsemen; wide from the hips to the thighs, tied with a lace, and without an opening-neither in back nor in front" (BT Niddah 13:b).

These pants were closed; they did not have the usual openings which we are accustomed to. They extended from the waist until the knees, and were worn directly over the body. The tunic was placed over them. According to most authorities, the upper hem was hollow and had a lace running through it, which was tied at the waist. Josephus, however, maintains that these laces were around the knees, and the pants were fastened there (Antiquities, 3:7:1).

Donning the Priestly Garments

Inside the Chamber of the Wardrobe with Pinchas and the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur
Inside the Chamber of the Wardrobe with Pinchas and the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur

A Special Chamber of Wardrobes

"There were seven gates in the courtyard: three in the north, three in the south, and one in the east... the one in the east is the Nikanor Gate, and within it were two chambers, one on the right side and one on the left. One was the chamber of Phineas the Wardrober, and the other was chamber where the High Priest's meal offering was prepared." (Midot 1,4).

During the time of the Second Temple, Pinchas the Wardrober was the official who supervised the uniforms and the dressing of the priests.

Background: The Nikanor Gates

Location of The Nikanor Gates

Ascending from the Women's Court by way of fifteen steps (which correspond to the "fifteen songs of ascent" in the book of Psalms - Psalms 120-134), we reach the great brass gates known as the "Nikanor Gates." These gates, constituting the main entrance to the Holy Temple, are named after the individual who imported the Corinthian bronze doors within them from Egypt, and donated them to the Holy Temple.

The Story of Nikanor

The Mishna (Yoma 3,10) relates that Nikanor brought the gates by ship from Alexandria, and when a storm came up and threatened to destroy the ship, the sailors were forced to throw one of the heavy brass doors overboard in an effort to try and save the vessel from capsizing. When this did not help matters and the storm's ferocity had not abated, they attempted to throw the second door into the maelstrom as well. But Nikanor stood up and grabbed the door, hugging it and crying "if you do this, throw me in as well!" His heart was broken within him because his contribution to the House of G-d had been diminished. The storm then immediately subsided, but Nikanor continued to be crestfallen over the lost door.

When the ship safely reached the Holy Land, however, a miracle occurred: The second gate, which had been thrown into the sea, came up alongside the boat!

To commemorate this miracle, these original bronze doors were kept in place even when later, all the other Temple gates were refurbished with gold.

VIII. The Pants

"And make for them linen pants to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the loins to the thighs." (Ex. 28:42)

The Pants Are Required For Modesty Alone

This verse indicates that the priest's pants do not serve the same purpose as the other sacred garments. For all the other items which make up their uniform are "for honor and for beauty"... they glorify the sacred office and bespeak dignity, not to mention their deeper significance, such as the power to atone, etc. But this does not apply to the pants; we are specifically informed here that their function was one of modesty alone, to cover his nakedness.

Made Without Openings

"We were taught: To what can the priests' pants be likened? To the knee breeches (riding pants) worn by horsemen; wide from the hips to the thighs, tied with a lace, and without an opening-neither in back nor in front" (BT Niddah 13:b).

These pants were closed; they did not have the usual openings which we are accustomed to. They extended from the waist until the knees, and were worn directly over the body. The tunic was placed over them. According to most authorities, the upper hem was hollow and had a lace running through it, which was tied at the waist. Josephus, however, maintains that these laces were around the knees, and the pants were fastened there (Antiquities, 3:7:1).

Donning the Priestly Garments

A Special Chamber of Wardrobes

"There were seven gates in the courtyard: three in the north, three in the south, and one in the east... the one in the east is the Nikanor Gate, and within it were two chambers, one on the right side and one on the left. One was the chamber of Phineas the Wardrober, and the other was chamber where the High Priest's meal offering was prepared." (Midot 1,4).

During the time of the Second Temple, Pinchas the Wardrober was the official who supervised the uniforms and the dressing of the priests.

Background: The Nikanor Gates

Location of The Nikanor Gates

Ascending from the Women's Court by way of fifteen steps (which correspond to the "fifteen songs of ascent" in the book of Psalms - Psalms 120-134), we reach the great brass gates known as the "Nikanor Gates." These gates, constituting the main entrance to the Holy Temple, are named after the individual who imported the Corinthian bronze doors within them from Egypt, and donated them to the Holy Temple.

The Story of Nikanor

The Mishna (Yoma 3,10) relates that Nikanor brought the gates by ship from Alexandria, and when a storm came up and threatened to destroy the ship, the sailors were forced to throw one of the heavy brass doors overboard in an effort to try and save the vessel from capsizing. When this did not help matters and the storm's ferocity had not abated, they attempted to throw the second door into the maelstrom as well. But Nikanor stood up and grabbed the door, hugging it and crying "if you do this, throw me in as well!" His heart was broken within him because his contribution to the House of G-d had been diminished. The storm then immediately subsided, but Nikanor continued to be crestfallen over the lost door.

When the ship safely reached the Holy Land, however, a miracle occurred: The second gate, which had been thrown into the sea, came up alongside the boat!

To commemorate this miracle, these original bronze doors were kept in place even when later, all the other Temple gates were refurbished with gold.