Priestly Garments

Feb 22, 2015

וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד׃

You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.

Exodus 27:20

וְהָיוּ עַל־אַהֲרֹן וְעַל־בָּנָיו בְּבֹאָם אֶל־אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד אוֹ בְגִשְׁתָּם אֶל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לְשָׁרֵת בַּקֹּדֶשׁ וְלֹא־יִשְׂאוּ עָוׂן וָמֵתוּ חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לוֹ וּלְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו׃

They shall be worn by Aharon and his sons when they enter the Tent of Meeting or when they approach the mizbayach to officiate in the sanctuary, so that they do not incur punishment and die. It shall be a law for all time for him and for his offspring to come.

Exodus 28:43

Following closely on the heels of last week’s portion, Tetzaveh opens with a command to prepare pure olive oil for the eternal lamp which the priests must light in the Tabernacle. From there, the Torah goes on to describe the clothing which must be made for the priests.


God tells Moses that his brother Aaron and his four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, must be consecrated as priests. To do so, Moses must make for them special priestly garments. Aaron is to serve as High Priest, and will wear eight special garments, while his sons will minister under him and wear four garments.


All priests will wear tunics, sashes, headdresses and breeches. On top of that, the High Priest will also wear a breastplate, an ephod (a special garment to attach the breastplate), a robe and a head-plate. These garments are described in great detail in the text.


The Torah says these special garments are to be worn “for splendour and for beauty”, or in Hebrew, for kavod and for tiferet. The Israel Bible asks, what is the difference between these two? Rabbi Meir Leibush Weisner, also known as the Malbim, defines kavod as the honor one receives for the gifts they are born with, while tiferet is the glory they receive for the results of their own efforts and hard work. The priestly garments signify both the God-given splendour of the priest’s position and the beauty of the energies they invest in the service.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

The Book of Exodus focusses on the Children of Israel becoming a nation and receiving God’s Torah. Clothing is generally seen as materialistic, and not necessarily a spiritual tool. Why do you think so much attention is given to the clothing of the priests?

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