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Ephod, Breastplate & Robe - 3 Unique Vestments

In the Torah portion of Tetzaveh the priestly vestments are described at length. Among the garments worn by the High Priest were the ephod , the breastplate, and the me’il , the robe. After the commands concerning the making of each, the verse tells us what purpose each served:

With regard to the ephod the verse states:1 “Place the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as remembrance stones for the children of Israel; Aharon shall carry their names on his two shoulders before G-d as a remembrance.”

At the conclusion of the command of the breastplate the verse states:2 “Aharon will thus carry the names of the children of Israel on the decision breastplate over his heart when he enters the Sanctuary; it shall be a constant remembrance before G-d.”

Concerning the robe the verse states:3 “Aharon shall wear it when he performs the service; the sound [of the bells] shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary before G-d, and when he leaves….”

Thus, each vestment accomplished its purpose - remembrance, etc. - by the very fact that Aharon entered the Sanctuary while wearing it. This was not the case with the other vestments worn while performing the service - they accomplished nothing in and of themselves.4

When the High Priest entered the Sanctuary garbed in the eight vestments and performed the divine service, two things were thus accomplished: The entry itself accomplished remembrance, etc., by his being garbed in the three special vestments. Then there was that which was accomplished through his actual service , this being dependent on his wearing all his vestments.

The High Priest served as an emissary5 of the Jewish people. His task was to unite the Jews with G-d. Thus, the High Priest’s entry and service correspond to accomplishments of the Jewish people.

A Jew’s unification with G-d is twofold: a) through his service of Torah and mitzvos ; b) as a result of his intrinsic relationship, for he is considered G-d’s child or servant even prior to his service.

These two things are alluded to in the High Priest’s service: First comes his entry into the Sanctuary, indicative of the Jews’ remembrance before G-d (independent of their service). Only then begins the service of the High Priest, symbolic of the spiritual service of each and every Jew.

The reason why the entry of the High Priest was connected to the three abovementioned garments will be understood accordingly, for these garments hint at the various categories of Jews:

The gemstones on the shoulder straps of the ephod and in the breastplate were inscribed with the names of the Tribes of Israel - the Jewish people. This refers to the loftier kind of Jew, within whom may be found the “revealed and inscribed” Judaism.

The robe, on the other hand, descending as it did close to the ground, alludes to a less lofty category of Jew. The fringe of the robe featured bells and pomegranates, for “Even the ‘emptiest’ Jew is as full of mitzvos as a pomegranate [is full of seeds].”6

The “remembrance before G-d” was accomplished by the High Priest’s entry wearing all three vestments; should even one category of Jew be missing, the priest’s action lacks significance. For the unity of the Jews with G-d defies division - it encompasses all Jews equally.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXI, pp. 185-188.

The Two Altars

At the conclusion of the portion Tetzaveh7 the Torah commands that an altar be built and placed within the Tabernacle for the sole purpose of offering incense. This Interior Altar supplemented the Exterior Altar (placed in the courtyard of the Mishkan), upon which all other offerings, libations, etc., were brought.

Why were two altars necessary, one in the courtyard and limited to offerings, the other within the Mishkan itself and limited to incense; why would one altar not suffice?

Chassidus explains8 that the two altars corresponded to two levels of Divine revelation: the Interior Altar to the internal revelation that transcends creation, the Exterior Altar to the more overt and less revelatory level of G-dliness that descends within creation.

The External Altar - corresponding as it did to the more external level of G-dliness - was thus in a less sacred section of the Mishkan , while the Interior Altar - corresponding as it did to the more internal level of G-dliness - was found within the more sacred portion.

In terms of man’s spiritual service, we find two general categories as well: a) that of refining and separating good from evil and elevating the good to holiness - a form of service known as birurim ; b) a higher level, where one does not have to combat evil, rather one strives to achieve a greater degree of unity with G-d.

The Exterior Altar, corresponding as it did to the G-dliness found within creation - with creation containing aspects of both good and evil - was limited to the less superior form of service, that of elevating the physical through sacrificial offerings: the service of birurim.

The Interior Altar, on the other hand - corresponding to G-dliness as it transcends evil - was for the spiritually superior service of incense, or ketores , etymologically related to kotar , or cleaving9 - achieving a greater degree of cleaving to G-d.

Parallels to the two altars are also to be found within all Jews, for the Mishkan as a whole is found within the heart of every Jew, as our Rabbis comment10 on the verse,11 “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in them” - “It does not say ‘I will dwell in it’ rather, ‘I will dwell in them’ - in the ‘heart’ of each and every Jew.”

Here, too, the Interior and Exterior Altar correspond to the internal and external levels of the Jewish heart:12 the external level of a Jew’s service - the external level of his heart - is occupied in the service of birurim , while the internal level is occupied in achieving a greater degree of cleaving to G-d.

Simply stated, a Jew is supposed to occupy himself not only in the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos , but also in permissible things such as eating, drinking and the like. However, this is not to say that such mundane matters are indulged in for their own sake; the intent should be to use the activity for a sacred purpose13 - “All one’s actions should be for the sake of Heaven.”14

A person may mistakenly be led to think that since his involvement with the physical is entirely for a spiritual purpose, he may therefore involve not only the heart’s external level, but its internal level as well.

But since these are, after all, physical actions, one should employ only the external aspect of the heart in performing them; the internal and more profound level - one’s Interior Altar - should be reserved for matters of a purely holy nature.

However, in order to achieve this superior form of service, a person must first employ his Exterior Altar in the service of birurim , imbuing all his physical thoughts, words and deeds with sacred purpose. Only then can he utilize his Interior Altar to achieve a greater degree of cleaving to G-d.

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. VI, pp. 185-187.


1. Shmos 28:12.
2. Ibid. verse 29.
3. Ibid. verse 35.
4. See ibid. verses 41 and 45.
5. See Nedarim 35b.
6. See Eruvin 19a; conclusion of Tractate Chagigah.
7. Shmos 30:1ff.
8. Toras Chayim, Shmos 443a and onward; Derech Mitzvosecha 86b.
9. Similar to the saying in Zohar III, p. 288a: “with one perfect union have I cleaved to you.”
10. See Likkutei Sichos III , and places cited there. See also Toras Chayim ibid.
11. Shmos 25:9.
12. Toras Chayim and Derech Mitzvosecha ibid. See also Likkutei Torah, Sukkos 78b; Shemini Atzeres 86d et al.
13. See Likkutei Sichos III , pp. 907, 932.
14. Avos 2:12.



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