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Shemot/Exodus 29:29 And the garments of holiness that are for Aharon shall be for his sons after him
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Inheritance and the division of an estate can often be a fraught process these days. Family members feel entitled to argue about who exactly gets what and how much of it - even a carefully written will may be challenged if someone thinks that they are not getting what they expected or their fair share! Here, years before his death,HaShem takes at least one matter out of Aharon's hand: the holy garments that he wears in his official role as Cohen Gadol, High Priest, are not to be divided or shared in any way. It is almost as if the garments don't belong to him at all, but to the office of High Priest and will be worn by the next person in the role. As the saying goes: the king is dead, long live the king! Let's look at this in some more detail and see what we can make of it for today - an era when there is neither a Temple nor a consecrated priesthood and, in any case, Yeshua is the High Priest of Israel.
Rabbi ElijahMizrachi starts our trail by noting that "the priestly garments are not an inheritance for his sons, but are passed on to the one who succeeds in the office of Cohen Gadol." Rabbi Hirsch agrees, adding that, "just as Aharon was invested with the office of High Priest by being clothed in the eight garments of the Sanctuary, so are his descendants to be invested in the honour and office of High Priest by clothing and anointing." The question of whether subsequent High Priests would be anointed is more contested. The Sforno tells us that "his descendants will not have to bring the sacrifices of consecration written here," while the Rashbam explains: "not to be literally anointed, but to be elevated to greatness in them as if by anointing." Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, agrees with Hirsch: "anointed and ordained in - when the previous high priest dies." Raphael Pelcovitz1 offers the most rational and definitive answer: "Only Aharon had to be invested into the office of priesthood through the medium of these sacrifices and the placing of the blood on his ear lobe, thumb and large toe. Henceforth the successors to this position would be consecrated by putting on the eight garments."
Amazing - this seems to say that simply putting on the garments is enough to consecrate and designate someone as the next High Priest. Nahum Sarna reports that "the eight garments that are the uniform of the High Priest, as described in Shemot 28:3-42, are to be handed down from father to son to be worn for the successor's installation ceremony, which is also to last for seven days." We can see the first instance of this taking place in B'Midbar 20:22-29 where the Torah narrates the death of Aharon and the investiture of his son as the successor High Priest, concluding with, "Moshe stripped Aharon of his vestments and put them on his son Eleazar, and Aharon died there on the summit of the mountain" (v. 28, NJPS). When Moshe and Eleazar came down, Eleazar was the High Priest. Reading between the Torah's words, Walter Brueggemann explains that "clearly the tradition is concerned to assure genealogical legitimacy and continuity in office."2 Thomas Dozeman ties this back into the biblical text: "the sacred garments of Aharon must be passed on to his sons, and whoever wears the garments for seven days in the tent of meeting becomes the next high priest."3
Taking a more philosophical approach. Leon Kass observes that "by an investiture in divinely designed clothes, an otherwise ordinary man becomes a High Priest, an office he retains so long as he wears the official vestments: the clothes make the officer. The office, like its attire, is a family heritage and obligation forever; the priest serves not because of merit or talent but because of law and lineage."4 It is the clothes that mark out the High Priest - wearing the long blue robe with the coloured pomegranates and golden bells, the breast-piece set with the twelve mounted precious stones, the gold chains and the head-piece, he could hardly be missed - everyone would know who he was. Whether educated or ignorant, whether slow or quick, no matter who he is or what he can do, everyone knows him, his role and his position within the community.
Disciples look and sound like their teacher; apprentices produce work like their master. In learning any trade, profession or vocation, the student learns more than the simple facts and techniques of their craft; they also acquire the opinions, choices and mannerisms of their tutor. We inherit more that material goods and property from our parents; we have been trained throughout our formative years by their world-view, their way of working and dealing with crisis. Telephone callers may be unable to distinguish between a mother and her daughter, or a father and his son; the vocabulary and intonation may be identical - a learned trait. In the ancient world, people were often named after their parents: Simon, son of John. Sons would also typically inherit the family business or way of livelihood - a tanner, a shepherd, a potter, a scribe - and be trained in that from an early age.
Everyone inherits something from the past: their parents, spiritual leaders, even society. John the Baptist "wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey" (Matthew 3:4, ESV), so everyone knew he was a prophet; he looked and sounded just like Elijah! Yeshua too was widely recognised as a prophet: "the crowds said, 'This is the prophet Yeshua, from Nazareth of Galilee'" (21:11, ESV). He even alluded to it Himself what He said, "Nevertheless, I must go on My way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33, ESV). But there was something more; there was something in the magnitude of the miracles that Yeshua did, something about the authority with which He spoke, that people knew made Him unique - that made Him the Messiah: "the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, 'Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the L-rd! Hosanna in the highest!'" (Matthew 21:9, ESV).
When the disciples had been arrested by the Temple authorities for teaching about Yeshua in the Temple courtyard after the healing of the lame beggar at the Yaffa Gate, Peter and John made a bold defence of Yeshua, insisting that they must obey G-d rather than men. Luke records that, "when [the council] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognised that they had been with Yeshua" (Acts 4:13, ESV). What was this about? How did Galileean fishermen learn to speak like that? The council could tell that Peter and John were disciples of Yeshua. Following the precedent of the High Priest's garments, they were wearing Yeshua's clothes, they had inherited Yeshua's shoes and were walking in His way. They looked like Him, sounded like Him, carried His authority and had performed His miracles.
Rav Sha'ul was very deliberate in his disciple-making. No less than five times, he speaks of the new communities and disciples of Yeshua as followers or imitators using the word , a noun derived from a verb meaning to follow or imitate. He urges the Ephesians to "be imitators of G-d, as beloved children" (Ephesians 5:1, NASB); we are to strive to be like G-d, to exhibit His character, wisdom and grace, we are to be holy as He is holy. But three times, he uses himself as the model: "I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me" (1 Corinthians 4:16, NASB), "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Messiah" (11:1, NASB) and "Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (Philippians 3:17, NASB). The NJB translates this as "Take me as your pattern"; the NIV offers, "Follow my example". Sha'ul is encouraging the believers to behave as he does: loving the brethren, telling others about Yeshua, caring for the poor, speaking out against injustice. You have seen me following Yeshua, he says, now you can do it too by doing what what you have seen me do.
Could this be what Yeshua meant when He told the disciples to "Go and make disciples" (Matthew 28:19)? It's not enough simply to tell people about Yeshua and offer them His invitation to join the kingdom of G-d. Good as that is, that's just words. We have to show them who Yeshua is and what He is like by modelling His words and actions for them so that they can see Him in practice. We have to wear His clothes and walk in His shoes; we have to speak His words and do His miracles. It is like wearing the garments of the High Priest so that we are recognised, not as ourselves, but as authentic messengers of G-d in this generation. Sha'ul reminds us that the Father is conforming us to "the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29); He is making us like Him and this is how we make disciples, our primary objective and calling in these last days. The question we all need to ask is: are we wearing the clothes of glory that we have inherited in Messiah and showing Him to the world, or are they just hanging in the cupboard gathering dust?
1. - Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz is the translator, editor and commentator for the Artscroll edition of the Sforno's commentary on the Torah.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 460.
3. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2009), page 658.
4. - Leon R. Kass, Founding G-d's Nation - Reading Exodus (New Have, Yale University Press, 2021), page 495.
Further Study: John 8:38-39; Philippians 4:8-9
Application: Whose shoes are you wearing today? Are you recognisable as a disciple of Yeshua, a herald of the gospel and an agent of the King? What could you do to make the likeness of Yeshua clearer in your life so that He is more visible to others and draws them into conversation and closer to the kingdom of G-d?
Comment - 18:57 07Feb22 Jeremy Standen: Thank you for this drash on priestly garments. I believe a disciple would even study the daily behaviour of their Rabbi like eating, resting and personal conduct with the ordinary every day people. We can learn so much by watching the Master and as you said, reflect His persona to engage others. Wonderful teaching, thank you.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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