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This week's portion: God's afterimage, and letting our light shine

Kedushat Levi on Aaron's clothes

Reb Zalman tells a wonderful story about a rabbi serving his first pulpit. The president of the board catches sight of him studying a text in his office, and says to a colleague with some consternation, "I thought we got a finished one!"

The anecdote never fails to draw laughs in our community, because we know that the work of studying Jewish texts is never "finished." In that spirit, I've started studying the writings of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, one of the great Hasidic masters of the late 1700s, along with my hevruta David. We're going to try to meet each week to translate and discuss some Kedushat Levi. This week we studied two teachings, one short and one long. Here's the short one.

"And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory [or: gravitas] and for splendor. And you shall say to all who are wise of heart, 'Y'all shall make garments for Aaron to sanctify him,' etc." (Exodus 28:2-3)

We will see that Moshe sanctified Aaron (in ensuring) that Aaron should be clothed in the Holy Blessed One (Kudsha Brich Hu.) For the souls of the righteous are vessels for the highest divine qualities. That's what it means when the Torah says "You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother" -- that there should be, fashioned out of Aaron's very soul, holy garments.

An explanation of "for glory and for splendor": these are the Holy Blessed One and the Shekhinah. Those who were wise of heart made garments for Aaron out of his very self-ness. That's why in the first text it's written "for Aaron" and when it comes to those who are wise of heart, the text reads simply "Aaron."

- R' Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev

The Torah text tells us that Moshe was commanded to make holy garments for Aaron, and then it tells us that Moshe was instructed to tell those who are "wise of heart" (the same description given to those who contributed to the building of the Tabernacle) to make Aaron's garments to sanctify him. Reb Levi Yitzchak reinterprets this. For him, this text isn't just about stitching some  of linen together. This text is about Moshe ensuring that his brother would be garbed on behalf of God in a deep way. The souls of the righteous, Levi Yitzchak tells us, are vessels for divine middot or qualities; Aaron's very soul becomes his garment.

In the Torah text, God tells Moshe that the garments should be made for Aaron "for glory and for splendor." On the surface, this appears to be a statement about priestly dress: the priest should be dressed in a splendid and glorious fashion. But for Levi Yitzchak, those two words connote aspects of divinity -- specifically, the Kudsha Brich Hu ("The Holy One Blessed Be He," or in my preferred locution, "Holy Blessed One" -- that's God's transcendent side) and the Shekhinah (God's immanent presence.) Aaron's garments should be made of his very soul, for the sake of God's immanence and God's transcendence, for the sake of the divine masculine and the divine feminine, for the sake of God Who is inconceivable and God Who is as near to us as our own heartbeats.

Aaron's holy garments, fashioned out of his soul, enable him to be clothed for the sake of divine transcendence and divine immanence. Those who are wise of heart, says Levi Yitzchak, fashioned garments for Aaron out of who he most quintessentially was in the world. He hangs this interpretation, in part, on a tiny inconsistency in phrasing: first the text says לאהרן ("for" or "to" Aaron) and then says אהרן ("Aaron" without a preposition in front.) To those who have ordinary minds/hearts, the situation was simply that skilled craftspeople were making clothes for Aaron. For those who are wise, however, it's clear that the clothes are made out of Aaron himself, out of his quintessence, for the sake of God.

In that sense, this passage can be understood in a new light. It's not just about stitching some clothing for a long-ago high priest, but rather, it teaches us that those who serve God can be garbed in the purity of their own souls in the service of the divine.

Shabbat shalom!