February 13, 2022

Moed Katan 28

This Shabbat we will be reading Parshat Tetzaveh, which teaches us about the various בגדי כהונה (priestly clothes), and it is noteworthy that many of the classic commentaries on Parshat Tetzaveh quote a teaching about the בגדי כהונה that is found in today’s daf (Moed Katan 28a).

To explain this teaching we first need to leap further forward in the Torah where, immediately before Aharon dies, Moshe removes the בגדי כהונה worn by his brother and places them on his nephew Elazar (see Bemidbar 20:28). And it is given this association between the death of the righteous Aharon, and the בגדי כהונה that he was wearing, that we are taught in our daf that ‘just as the בגדי כהונה provide atonement, so too does the death of the righteous provide atonement.’

However, notwithstanding the frequency of this teaching being cited by so many of our commentaries, it is nevertheless a challenging idea: how can clothes – notwithstanding their splendour and beauty – serve to achieve atonement? In response to this question, I would like to share three original insights which I hope speak to you as they speak to me:

Firstly, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonne (1710-1784) explains in his ‘Toldot Yaakov Yosef’ (on Parshat Shemini) that just as the בגדי כהונה only atone when worn by, and when attached to, the Kohen (see Yoma 7b), so too, the righteous only atone if they are connected to, and if they work together with, others. What this suggests is that the teaching that ‘the בגדי כהונה provide atonement’ helps teach us that atonment comes from attachment, as opposed to detachment – which is why the source of this teaching relates to the detaching of the בגדי כהונה from Aharon, and their attachment to Elazar.

Secondly, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ferber (1879-1966) explains in his ‘Chamudei Tzvi’ (p. 104) – quoting an idea that he heard elsewhere – that just as the בגדי כהונה only atone due to the עבודה (priestly service) performed by the כהן (priest), so too, the righteous only atone if they repent, and perform good deeds, and do whatever they can do to assist, repair and improve whatever needs assistance, repairing and improvement. What this teaches us is that atonement and transformation only occur when actions are done that help others.

Finally, Rabbi Uri (Ira) Langer (1896-1970) explains in his ‘Or HaDe’ah’ (on Moed Katan) that just as the priestly clothes worn by Aharon reminded the people of his positive character traits (such as how he was a ‘lover of peace and a pursuer of peace’), so too, when a righteous person dies and we, having been inspired by their good deeds, make the choice to ‘wear’ some of the good deeds that they were renowned for, then their death, and the inspiration that we have drawn from their life, helps us achieve greater atonement from the deeds we do having been inspired by their example.

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