Dressed for Success

The garments of the High Priest were conduits for holy unifications.

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

This week's Torah portion discusses the special garments the priests had to wear while performing their service in the Tabernacle, and later in the holy Temple. Every priest had to wear four basic garments: pants (in Hebrew, "michnasayim"), a tunic ("kutonet"), a sash ("avnet"), and a turban-like headgear ("migba'at"). In addition, the High Priest had to wear four additional garments: a robe ("me'il"), a half-skirt ("ephod"), a breastplate ("choshen"), and a head-band ("tzitz"). The headgear of the High Priest is more elaborate than that of a regular priest (and is called "mitznefet" in place of "migba'at").

The Zohar (Zohar II 230b) describes the spiritual powers of the ephod and the choshen as follows: "The ephod corresponds to [the ability to perceive spirituality through] a clouded glass, while the choshen corresponds to [the ability to perceive spirituality through] a clear glass. The former is the back; the latter is the front."

The ephod is, as we said, a sort of half-skirt, tied around the waist, which covers the back part of the body from the waist down. Two suspender-like straps come out of the upper edge of the back part of the ephod and extend over the crest of the shoulders. Onto these straps are fastened two chains, from which the choshen hangs. The choshen is a folded piece of fabric which rests over the chest, onto which are fixed twelve precious stones.

chanoch adds: From discussions of prophecy from some Tzadikim we learn the ephod connects to the world of Yetzirah while the Choshen connects to the world of Briah

The choshen symbolizes the ability to perceive spirituality…directly…

Thus, although parts of it are visible from the front, the ephod mainly covers the back of the body, while the choshen is entirely on the front of the body. "Back" and "front" in the imagery of Kabbala denote direct and indirect experience. Thus, the ephod symbolizes the ability to perceive spirituality through "a clouded glass", which may mean either a translucent but not transparent pane of glass or a mirror. In either case, what is implied is an indirect experience. In contrast, the choshen symbolizes the ability to perceive spirituality through "a clear glass", i.e. directly.

To explain: Zeir Anpin and its Nukva are [initially] back to back. Zeir Anpin corresponds to the choshen, and the ephod corresponds to its Nukva.

G‑d emanated the sefirot initially as one-dimensional points. This means that each sefira was a pure manifestation of one of G‑d's attributes. Although in this form each sefira was extremely intense, this scheme was incomplete, for in order for any two entities to interrelate and interact, each must possess something of the other. Their common ground for communication and cross-fertilization is the presence of each one in the other. For example, in order for two people to communicate, each has to have a "place" in his mind where he can, at least to some extent, picture what it is to be the other person. Through this mini-presence of the other person within himself, he can understand what the other person is saying and couch what he wants to say to him in terms that he will be able to understand. This was lacking in the original scheme of the sefirot. Since there was no interaction, this version of Creation, or world, was called Tohu ("chaos"), and eventually collapsed.

The rectified world that was created in order to fix this problem was called Tikun…

The rectified world that was created in order to fix this problem was called Tikun ("rectification"). Tohu and Tikun are the immature and mature versions of the first of the four created worlds, Atzilut. Generally, when reference is made to the world of Atzilut, the mature version (Tikun) is meant.

In the world of Atzilut, the sefirot are no longer one-dimensional points, but have metamorphosed into arrays (partzufim, sing. partzuf) of ten sub-sefirot. This occurs according to the following pattern:

sefira in Tohu - partzuf in Tikun

keter - Atik Yomin ("the Ancient of Days")

Keter Part Two - Arich Anpin ("the Long Face")

chochma - Abba ("father")

bina - Imma ("mother")

chesed, gevura, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod - Zeir Anpin ("the Small Face")

malchut - Nukva ("the female") of Zeir Anpin

Note that keter splits into two partzufim, while the aggregate of the emotional attributes (from chesed to yesod) form one. Each partzuf comprises ten sub-sefirot, as we said, so we may speak of chesed of Abba, chochma of Zeir Anpin, and so on. Once each sefira has become a partzuf, the sefirot may interact and interrelate to each other. This process of interaction is called "coupling" (or "zivug").

chanoch adds: In my opinion, the term sub sefirot is misleading. Even the description chesed of Abba of Chesed does not imply that of the two cheseds one is inferior or less than as the word sub sefirot does imply. Again the description “interaction” does not express the full meaning of the Hebrew word zivug. Zivug is expressing the intimacy of sexual relations.

Now, when any two people communicate (or a "couple", either in the physical or abstract sense), there can be many levels of intensity in their interaction. One of the parties may be distracted or disinterested; this is obviously a less than ideal level of communication. The ignored party will feel as if the other person has "turned his back" to him, regardless of whether he his physically facing him or not.

Thus, in the imagery of Kabbala, when two partzufim couple, they are said to be either "face to face", "face to back", "back to face", or "back to back". The initial state is that of being back to back, since the orientation of youth is self-centeredness; other people are perceived mainly as objects through which one reaches his own, selfish ends. Maturity is the broadening of perspective that encompasses the other's perspective; this is the state of being face to face.

The numerical value of "ephod" is identical to that of the two divine names Havayah Ado-nai. The coupling of these two names is the coupling between Zeir Anpin and the Nukva.

Every divine name is associated with a sefira (or partzuf), since a name of G‑d is simply a term we use to refer to Him acting in a certain way. The name Havayah is primarily associated with the sefira of tiferet, which is the pivotal sefira of the partzuf of Zeir Anpin; the name Ado-nai (which means "L-rd") is associated with the sefira of malchut ("kingdom") or its manifestation as a partzuf, the Nukva of Zeir Anpin.

chanoch adds: Did you pick up on the idea that a Sefirah of Malchut can act as a partzuf if it becomes ten sefirot

Thus, the ephod itself carries in it an allusion to its consummate state, that of unification with the choshen.

The choshen corresponds to Zeir Anpin in its immature, judgmental state. This is why it is called "the choshen of judgment" (Ex. 28:15), for it is a manifestation of the totally judgmental state of immaturity.

The choshen is called "the choshen of judgment" because by means of the letters engraved on the precious stones affixed to it, answers were obtained to crucial questions facing the Jewish People. Allegorically, however, this term indicates that the choshen at this stage represents Zeir Anpin in its immature, self-oriented state. An immature person sees everything from only one perspective - his - and is thus apt to be highly judgmental of those he comes in contact with. We see this clearly with children, who, since they lack the perspective of experience, interpret things only with an eye to how they impinge on themselves and what they perceive to be their best interests. Clearly, when Zeir Anpin is in this state, it is not yet ready to couple with its Nukva face to face.

chanoch adds: Since the choshen and Ephod became lost with the destruction of the Temple we must consider the possibility that the children of Israel might have grown out of the immature state. If this is true when, as described in the scroll of Esther, the children of Israel observed the Achasverosh wearing the High Priest clothing they fell back to the immature state. This my opinion.

The choshen [in] this [state] is equivalent to the snake that tears open the womb of the doe when it gives birth (see Etz Chaim 34:2, klal 16), for this is also a manifestation of total judgment.

The imagery here is that of a young female deer giving birth for the first time. Since this is her first impregnation, the opening of her womb is still "virginal", i.e., narrow - too narrow, in fact, for the fawn to fit through. In her pain trying to give birth, the doe cries, and a snake, hearing the cry, bites the doe, tearing open her womb so the fawn can emerge. Although this benefits the doe, the snake is surely acting only out in its own [self] interest.

Any revelation may be likened to a birth, but this birth was a first birth…

The union of the choshen and the ephod at this immature stage is thus characterized by extreme self-interest, each party acting only on its own behalf and motivated to interact only by what it thinks it can get out of the other.

When the Jewish People went out of Egypt, they were spiritually immature, also. The seven-week period between the Exodus and the Revelation on Mt. Sinai was a maturation process (which we relive every year nowadays as the mitzvah of counting the Omer). Both the Splitting of the Sea, seven days after the Exodus, and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after the Exodus, were revelations of Divinity. But whereas the Jewish people were maturely prepared for the revelation at Mt. Sinai, the Splitting of the Sea occurred at the beginning of their spiritual education, when they were still "young". Any revelation may be likened to a birth, but this birth was a first birth, and is therefore similar to the first birth of the doe just described.

We are therefore taught that providing for mankind is as difficult for G‑d as the Splitting of the Sea (Bereishit Rabba 97:3, 20:22), for both are subject to G‑d's judgment, as mentioned in the Zohar. (Zohar II 170a)

Our sages state that making a living is compared to the splitting of the sea, as it is written, "Praise G‑d…who split the sea apart…who gives bread to all flesh.". (Psalms 136:13,25)

Now, it certainly is not difficult for G‑d to do anything, including splitting the sea and providing for man's needs. The "difficulty" in both cases arises from the fact that G‑d's attribute of judgment was (or is) arguing against it. We are taught that when the Jews were crossing the sea, the guardian angel of the Egyptians was complaining that the Jews were just as sinful as the Egyptians, and that there was no justification for allowing them to pass through while the Egyptians were to be drowned. It was only after special merit was found that the attribute of judgment was silenced. Similarly, G‑d provides for all Creation's needs every day, but the fact that man is sinful and thus does not deserve His care makes it "difficult" for Him to provide it. It is only thanks to the fact that G‑d's benevolence prevails over His judgment that man is provided for. From all this we see that immaturity - the state of being self-oriented and egocentric - arouses G‑d's attribute of judgment.

Numerically, this is expressed by the fact that the word for "snake" [in Hebrew, "nachash" = 358] is equal to the numerical value of the name Sha-dai [=314] plus the diminishing value (achoraim) of the name Eh-yeh [=44], which is also the numerical value of the word for "blood" [in Hebrew, "dam" = 44]. All of this indicates the state of immaturity.

The "diminishing value" of a word is derived by writing the word in full followed by the word with the last letter left off, followed by the word with the last two letters left off, and so on until only the first letter is left. All these letters are then added up. In our case, the name Eh-yeh is spelled alef-hei-yud-hei. If to this we add alef-hei-yud, alef-hei, and alef by itself, the total of the numerical values of these letters is 1 + 5 + 10 + 5 + 1 + 5 + 10 + 1 + 5 + 1 = 44.

The significance of the "diminishing value" of a word is that it signifies the concept conveyed by the word but in an immature, undeveloped state. Thus, the Hebrew term for this version of the word is its "achoraim", or "back". As we mentioned above, in Kabbala, "back" signifies the immature state. The name Eh-yeh in Kabbala usually signifies the sefira of bina, the principle component of the intellect. The "diminished value" of Eh-yeh therefore signifies immature intellect, or the constricted consciousness characteristic of a child or person who has not matured. Every intellectual idea, if allowed to, will produce an emotional reaction…

The name Sha-dai is associated in Kabbala with the sefira of yesod, the sefira through which coupling takes place. Thus, the above numerical equivalence in which the name Sha-dai is added to the "diminished value" of the name Eh-yeh refers to a coupling conducted in a mode of immature consciousness, i.e., each party motivated by and seeking their own interests. The total is equal to the snake, who opportunely takes advantage of the immaturity of the doe, causing her to bleed, as we noted above.

To explain further: Aaron personified Zeir Anpin. Zeir Anpin manifests on its heart the lights of yesod of Imma, which are revealed on [Zeir Anpin's] chest.

Imma, as we said, is the partzuf of bina, which is, as we also said, the principle component of the intellect. Every intellectual idea, if allowed to, will produce an emotional reaction; in other words, Imma (the "mother") gives birth to Zeir Anpin (the amalgam of the emotional attributes). Not only that, but the growth, development and maturation of this emotional make-up is dependent on it being periodically refreshed and reconstituted by the original idea that gave rise to it. In other words, the development of Zeir Anpin is dependent on the flow of energy it receives from Imma.

This is what is meant by the imagery of the "lights" (i.e., "input" or "energy") of Imma issuing from its yesod (the sefira of transmission between one partzuf and another) and landing on the chest/heart of Zeir Anpin.

Due to the intensity of the light present there, on his heart, these lights pierce through [him], shining and projecting outward.

If the emotional response is sufficiently intense, it will not be satisfied in simply producing feelings in the person experiencing it, but will motivate him to spread the enthusiasm his enlightenment has granted him to the outside world as well.

Similarly, the headband signifies the [lights of] yesod of Imma that are revealed on the forehead [of Zeir Anpin], this being the location of all facets of [Zeir Anpin's] intellect. These lights, too, shine outward.

The emotional response to the intellect of Imma is not simply pure intellect, for we have noted that every partzuf comprises the full array of all ten sefirot. Thus, Zeir Anpin has its own intellect, that is, emotions possess their own intellectual underpinning, apart from the abstract intellectual idea that gave rise to them. This emotional intellect must also be "fed" and "renewed" by the original abstract intellect (Imma) in order to be properly energized. When this happens, they, too, desire to spread forth and illuminate the rest of the world with their inspiration.

Correspondingly, Aaron would wear the headband and the choshen, just as does the Supernal Man. These garments derive from the lights we have now described.

The "Supernal Man" is another appellation for Zeir Anpin.

Zeir Anpin…seeks to shine its revelations outward rather than just hoard them…

By wearing these garments, Zeir Anpin "matures". For maturation, it will be remembered, is the process of expanding one's consciousness to the extent that it can encompass more perspectives than one's own. This is possible only when one's emotions have been properly "fed" by the wisdom and understanding of intellect. The tzitz and the choshen signify this influx of consciousness ("light") from Imma - the intellect - into the emotions - Zeir Anpin. As it matures, Zeir Anpin develops concern not only for itself but for the outside world as well, and seeks to shine its revelations outward rather than just hoard them within itself.

The ephod begins opposite the loins on the back, and extends down to the feet. [As mentioned above,] the ephod thus signifies the Nukva, which is [initially] situated behind Zeir Anpin.

The Nukva of Zeir Anpin is the partzuf of malchut, or the power to express emotions. Generally, these powers are seen as the three "garments" of the soul: thought, speech, and action. Each of these is a descent from the intensity of emotional enthusiasm represented by Zeir Anpin, but on the other hand, they are necessary in order for the urge for expression and spreading of the divine consciousness into the world to occur. As was explained in the comments on parashat Mishpatim, the feminine side of Creation is the drive to conquer and rectify reality and make the world a dwelling place for G‑d. This is done by expressing the inspiration of Zeir Anpin through Nukva.

Thus, as Zeir Anpin matures, it seeks to couple with Nukva in a mature way, that will enable "her" to descend into the lower realms and give birth to new levels of divine consciousness there. However…

Scripture therefore teaches us: "let not the choshen slide off the ephod" (Ex. 28:28). For they must remain constantly joined above. Even when she [i.e., Nukva, the ephod] descends below afterwards, part of her remains above, as it is written, "Your word, O G‑d, forever stands in heaven." (Psalms 119:89)

Here we are taught that even when one is involved in expressing and transmitting the divine inspiration to the world, he must remain "anchored" above; part of him must always retain consciousness of the original, pristine inspiration. This way, he will maintain balance and not lose sight of his goals while involved in the exigencies of translating the inspiration to others. This is an all-too-common pitfall.

A common appellate for the sefira of malchut is "the word of G‑d", since, as we said above, malchut is the force of expression of the inspiration of Zeir Anpin. The verse, "Your word, O G‑d, forever stands in heaven", thus means mystically that some aspect of malchut remains always anchored above, even as it descends to earth to rectify and elevate it.

chanoch adds: It is important to note the above commentary paragraph since many times students of Kabbalah are taught the physical world is Malchut.

Therefore, the numerical value of "ephod" [spelled alef-pei-dalet] is 85, and the numerical value of the name Elokim [plus 1], which signifies Nukva. When ephod is spelled fully [i.e., with the vav: alef-pei-vav-dalet], its numerical value is 91, that of the combined names Havayah (= 26) and Ado-nai (= 65), indicating that [it must be united with the choshen] just as these two names must be united forever.

The name Elokim is often considered the feminine complement to the name Havayah. It is fairly common to complete a numerical equivalence by adding the number 1, signifying the totality of the letters of a given word considered as a whole entity (the word) and not just as the constituent elements (the letters).

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky