Donning the Garments of Leadership

This weeks Torah Portion of Tetzave introduces the esoteric concept of the bigdei kehuna, the clothing adorned by the Kohanim while serving in the confines of the Mikdash. While these directives appear to be quite foreign, it is important that we reveal the pertinent message they convey to us.

When Moshe is instructed to inform Aharon about the priestly garments he would wear in , the Torah consistently stresses their purpose,

“Lekahano Li – To Service Me (Hashem)”.

Perhaps the Torah wants us to understand that clothing can be elevated and used for great purpose. Cloth can become a uniform which can be extremely revealing and useful pending on who dons it and for which incentive. A uniform can represent a mission, a purpose, and if worn by the right person with the proper intentions, it can reveal an ideology which facilitates “lekahano li – the service of God”.

The beginning of Megilat Esther reveals a girl who is not fully confident nor fully capable of fulfilling the mission which she is presented with; this is evident by the fact that she is consistently instructed by Mordechai what to do. The Megillah relates Esther’s transformation in the later chapters as it says,

“Vatilbash Esther Malchut – Esther wore the royal garments”.

This does not merely describe a physical motion; it suggests that Esther “wore the royal garments” surrounding herself with the Divine presence, “lekahano li”, to fulfill her calling by serving Hashem and His people. Esther’s donning her uniform represented her preparedness for spiritual duty.

One who wears a uniform be it in the form of rabbinic garb or a soldier’s fatigues, must recognize the message that it transmits and the image it can portray particularly when it is representative of the Jewish people and the Jewish Homeland.

There is an additional message of the priestly garments regarding Jewish leadership and responsibility. When the Kohen left the confines of the Mikdash he was required to remove the priestly garments. While no doubt this requirement maintains many halachic parameters such as the care which the kohen must take to ensure that his garments avoid becoming impure, it was also a means for the kohanim to transmit a message to the greater nation. As a leader and rabbinic figure, the kohen would remove his garments thereby proclaiming that he is grounded and hence approachable and available for consultation.

These two guidelines help ensure that sincerity would remain intact within the institution of Jewish leadership. Jewish leaders must understand what they epitomize and carry themselves appropriately, but at the same time they must be modest enough to relate to and communicate with the people they represent.

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