"And you shall make sacred garments for Ahron your brother for dignity and glory." (Shemot 27:2)
The garments of the Kohen Gadol the High Priest were designed to create an impressive visual appearance. Halacha also regulated other aspects of the Kohen Gadol's appearance. In these cases, as well, the purpose of the regulation was to assure a positive physical appearance. Our pasuk indicates that this attention to appearance was intended to assure that the Kohen Gadol would be treated with dignity and respect. This is surprising. Our Sages often taught the importance of not being impressed by superficial behaviors or appearances. Instead, we are to assess a person based upon the individual's inner self. Why does the Torah stress superficial aspects of the Kohen Gadol? More shocking is the prohibition against the Kohen Gadol's marriage to a widow. This prohibition is also designed to protect the public image of the High Priest. Why should the Torah acknowledge a shallow prejudice against the widow? Would it not be preferable for the Torah to allow this marriage? Such a policy would counter any social stigma attached to the widow.
These laws demonstrate one of the unique qualities of the Torah. Torah takes human weakness seriously. The Torah was created to govern an actual society. In the real world, prejudice and superficiality exist. The Torah recognizes these faults. At the same time, it attempts to correct human behavior. Both measures are essential. Failure to recognize human frailty would result in a system poorly equipped to deal with an actual human being.
The Torah also attempts to improve upon these human limitations. The garments of the Kohen Gadol are an excellent illustration of the Torah's method of dealing with this dilemma. The Torah requires that the Kohen Gadol wear beautiful garments. However, these garments are more than attractive vestments. Every detail of design is guided by an intricate system of halacha. The observer is attracted to the beauty of the garments, and hopefully, this initial interest leads to contemplation of the ingenious laws. The observer comes to recognize that the greatest beauty is not in the superficial material dimension. Instead, true beauty is found in the world of knowledge.
"And these are the garments that they shall make: a breastplate an ephod, a jacket, a patterned tunic, a turban, and a belt. And they shall make sacred garments for Ahron your brother and for his sons so that they will serve as priests to me." (Shemot 28:4)
The pasuk describes various garments of the Kohen Gadol. In total, the Kohen Gadol wore eight garments. Maimonides comments that the eight golden garments of the Kohen Gadol consisted of the four worn by the common priest, plus the jacket, ephod breastplate and headband. This statement troubles the Kesef Mishne. In fact, only the four special garments included gold thread. The other garments worn by both the Kohen Gadol and the common Kohen did not include gold thread. Why, then, does Maimonides refer to all eight of the garments as "golden"? Perhaps, Maimonides wishes to teach an important lesson. The eight garments of the Kohen Gadol are not individual items. Instead, they merge into a single vestment. The four common garments join with the four woven with gold to create a new entity. This new, integrated, vestment is the "golden vestment" of the Kohen Gadol. In this case, the individual garments are not "golden" because they contain gold thread. They are golden through inclusion in the overall vestment.
"And you should make a Breastplate of Judgment of a woven design. Like the design of the Ephod you shall make it. You shall make it of gold, blue, purple, scarlet wool and twisted linen." (Shemot 28:15)
The Kohen Gadol wore eight garments. These consisted of the four garments worn by every kohen and an additional four special vestments. One of the special vestments was the Choshen Mishpat the Breastplate of Judgment. The Choshen hung from the shoulders of the Kohen Gadol. The vestment was made of woven cloth. Embedded into the Choshen were precious stones representing the shevatim the tribes of Bnai Yisrael. The Choshen had a unique function. Questions could be posed to the Kohen Gadol. He would respond by consulting the Choshen. Maimonides explains this process based upon the Talmud. The question would be brought to the Kohen Gadol. He would immediately be overcome with the spirit of prophecy. The Kohen Gadol would look at the Choshen. The response would be transmitted to him in a prophetic vision. The answer was expressed through the letters engraved upon the stones of the Breastplate. Not every issue could be resolved through the Choshen.
Rashi comments, in Tractate Eruvin, that questions of halacha were not addressed in this manner. In the Prophets we find that the Choshen was consulted on national issues. A king might refer to the Choshen for guidance regarding a military campaign. The limitations upon the use of the Choshen reflect an important principle of the Torah. Prophecy cannot be used to resolve issues of halacha. Such questions are the responsibility of the Sages and the courts. They must address these issues using the standards of halacha and their own intellects.
Rabbaynu Yonatan ben Uziel makes an amazing comment that seems to contradict this principle. The Choshen is referred to, in our pasuk, as the Breast-plate of Judgment. What is the relationship between the Choshen and judgment? Rabbaynu Yonatan ben Uziel explains that the Choshen could be consulted over legal issues! This seems to contradict the principle that issues of halacha cannot be resolved through prophecy. The last mishna in Tractate Edyot suggests a similar contradiction. Our Sages teach us that the Messianic era will be preceded by the reappearance of Eliyahu the prophet. The mishna explains that Eliyahu will help prepare the path for the Meshiach. Raban Yochanan ben Zakai posits that one of Eliyahu's functions will be to clarify issues of lineage. Maimonides explains that Eliyahu will identify those individuals who have become completely alienated from their Jewish roots. They will be welcomed back into Bnai Yisrael. In addition, impostors whose lineage is imperfect will be identified and excluded from the Jewish people. This would seem to be another example of prophecy used as a means to resolve an issue of halacha.
Rav Tzvi Hirsch Chayutz Ztl, based upon a careful analysis of Maimonides' comments, offers a brilliant response. He explains that the limitation of prophecy as a tool in halacha needs to be more fully understood. This limitation excludes prophecy from being used to determine the proper formulation of the law. For example, in order for a person to be punished by the courts for eating a prohibited substance, a minimum quantity must be ingested. Assume a person consumes less than this amount. Perhaps, the individual eats a portion of prohibited fat that is less than the size of an olive. Is this prohibited by the Torah or is this activity prohibited by the Sages? This issue is disputed by Rebbe Yochanan and Rebbe Shimon ben Lakish. The dispute revolves around the formulation of the Torah prohibition. Such an issue cannot be resolved through prophecy. Sometimes a question of halacha develops in a case in which the formulation of the law is clear. Questions of lineage often develop in this manner. The question does not stem from a dispute regarding the formulation of the criteria in halacha. Instead, the application of these laws is uncertain. Consider a case in which we simply do not know the lineage of the individual. Rav Tzvi Hirsch Chayutz suggests that prophecy is not excluded as a means for resolving these factual questions.
This explains the mishna in Tractate Edyot. Eliyahu the prophet will not resolve issues of lineage through altering the formulation of the law. This would indeed constitute a violation of the principle excluding prophecy from matters of halacha. Eliyahu will deal with factual issues. He will divine the true family history of the individual and determine the true facts in the case. This approach can also explain the comments of Rabbaynu Yonatan ben Uziel. There is a place in halacha for prophecy and the Choshen. This is the area identified by Rav Chayutz. Questions that are factual and not related to the formulation of the halacha could be referred to the Choshen.
"And for the sons of Ahron you should make tunics. And you should make for them sashes. And hats you should make for them, for honor and glory." (Shemot 28:40)
This pasuk enumerates three of the garments worn by the kohen. The Jerusalem Talmud in Tractate Yoma notes that the plural is used in reference to the tunics. The Talmud explains that this alludes to the requirement to make two tunics for each kohen. These comments are difficult to understand. All of the garments in the passage are described in the plural. Yet, there was no requirement for the kohen to have two sashes or two hats. The plural is apparently used in agreement with the subject of the pasuk. The pasuk is describing the garments of the sons of Ahron. The subject the sons of Ahron is plural. Accordingly, the reference to each garment is in the plural!
Rashi, in his commentary on Tractate Yoma, discusses of the two tunics of the kohen. The Talmud explains that one of these tunics was of lesser quality. Rashi comments that each tunic had a specific function. The garment of lesser quality was worn when removing the ashes from the altar. This garment was then removed. The kohen dressed himself in the better tunic to perform his other services. This practice was designed as an expression of respect. The garment used to remove the ashes from the altar became soiled. It was henceforth unfit for the more elevated priestly services. Rashi's comments explain the need for two tunics. However, why must the first tunic be of lesser quality? Rashi apparently maintains that the requirement for two tunics was not merely practical. The first tunic was specifically of lower quality in order to distinguish it from the primary tunic. The primary tunic was worn during the offering of sacrifices. In order to emphasize the special significance of the primary tunic and the service associated with the garment, a secondary tunic was created. Its lower quality emphasized the sacredness of the primary tunic. In other words, it would have been inappropriate for the two garments to be of equal quality. This would fail to emphasize the elevated status of the primary tunic. From this perspective, it appears that the two tunics were not independent garments. Instead, they functioned as a single unit. The secondary tunic alluded to the sanctity of the primary garment. The two tunics are really one entity consisting of a primary and secondary element.
Now the comments of the Jerusalem Talmud can be better appreciated. The pasuk refers to this single entity of the tunic. However, the Sages created an allusion to the dual components of this entity through reinterpreting the pasuk in a non-literal sense. The passage now has a twofold meaning that accurately describes the tunic as a single unit composed of two parts. (Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon [Rambam / Maimonides] Mishne Torah, Hilchot Klai HaMikdash 10:11.)