Garments of Humility

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Achrei Mos, the Torah tells us about the service, the avodah, which the Kohen Gadol performed on Yom Kippur in Temple times.

When the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) entered into the Kodesh ha’Kodashim, the Holy of Holies, he was to shed the bigdei kehunah gedolah, which were the garments unique to his exalted rank, and don instead the four garments worn by the kohen hed’yot, the simple kohen.  He rid himself of the breastplate, which was resplendent with precious gems, he removed the clothing which contained (or were made of) gold, and he wore four simple linen garments: the breeches, tunic, hat and sash.

Rashi (to Lev.16:4) explains that the reason for this is because “the prosecutor does not become a defense counselor.”  The Kohen Gadol removed his garments which contained gold, because gold brings to mind the terrible sin of the golden calf.  Therefore, gold speaks against Israel, and acts as a prosecutor.  It should, therefore, not appear on the Kohen Gadol when he performed the special service of Yom Kipur within the Holy of Holies, for this service is meant to defend Israel before their Father in heaven.

Perhaps we can offer another reason for the change – or “demotion” – in garments. 

The moment that the Kohen Gadol entered into the Holy of Holies was one of the most profound, exalted, awe-inspiring, and important times of the year.  On this holiest day of the year, the spiritual leader of the generation entered into the holiest room in the Sanctuary, a room normally off limits to all, for it was within that space, keviyachol, that G-d’s Glory appeared (see Lev.16:2). 

It is possible, for one in such an exalted and important position, to feel stirrings of pride… “See how great *I* am, see the honor and responsibility bestowed upon me, the representative of the people, on this Shabat Shabaton!” 

To counteract these possible feelings of gay’vah, arrogance – or even the stirrings of arrogance –  the Torah commands the Kohen Gadol to remove his priestly garments that denote his special position, and to don the garments of the “regular” kohen, one who is lower than him in rank. 

At the moment of greatness, we are reminded of who we are and what we have… All that we have is only because Hashem ordained it should be so.  When we contemplate our greatness, our position in life, and ponder our accomplishments, we are to lower ourselves before Him in gratitude, thanks and intense humility. 

It happened one time that the family of the gadol ha’dor, ha’gaon R’ Shlom Zalman Auerbach zt’l, decided that the Rav should have a “rebbeishe” chair, so they bought him a sturdy wooden throne-like piece, with a firm back and armrests.  No other chair in the house boasted armrests – and some did not even have backs.  R’ Shlomo Zalman would have none of it; he had no need for such a “fancy” chair.  The rebbeishe chair soon became a clothing valet in the bedroom.  Later on, it proved useful for holding stacks of seforim.  Once a year the rebbeishe chair would be unearthed – on Pesach, when it is halachically mandated to sit as kings at the Seder.   That was the only time that R’ Shlomo Zalman actually sat in the chair that had been intended for his daily comfort.  (And from Jerusalem, His Word, p.287)

We must always be proud of who we are and appreciative of what we have; yet it must always be with a sense submission before HKB”H and fellow man.

As Shlomo ha’Melech – the wisest man, who certainly could have felt pride in his myriad of accomplishments – teaches us: תועבת ה׳ כל גבה לב – An abomination to Hashem are all who are arrogant of the heart (Mishlei 16:5). 

May we be wise enough to live our lives proudly as Jews, yet simultaneously serve our Creator with humility and grace. 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


1 Comment
  • Carol Spodek
    Posted at 09:35h, 06 May

    Thank you as always for your inspiring words and insight into the Parsha.
    Good Shabbos!