TETZAVEH (Exodus, 27:20-30:10) — “Dress to Impress”

The Torah describes the special clothing that the Kohanim — Priests had to wear.  Every Kohain wore pants, tunics, and hats made of linen, (Ibid, 28:40, 42) and belts that were made of a linen and wool blend.  (This linen/wool blend, called Shatnez, is normally forbidden.)

These clothes were essential to the Temple Service: 

They (the clothes) must be worn by Aaron and his sons whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting (i.e., the Tabernacle in the desert, or the Temple in Jerusalem) or offer a sacrifice on the Altar, performing the Service in the Sanctuary.  Otherwise, they will have committed a sin… (verse 43) 

It’s not just that a Kohain was not permitted to perform the service when he was “out of uniform.”  He also was not permitted to wear the garments when he was NOT performing the Service. 


Why is the Torah putting so much emphasis on clothes?  Does it really matter how the Kohain is dressed?  Doesn’t that seem superficial?  Isn’t it what’s inside, what’s in his heart that really counts? 

While it is true that we should not overemphasize the importance of external appearances, we shouldn’t underestimate it either.  When one dresses for holiness, one feels an aura of holiness.  The Kohain officiated in the Temple in pure white, linen clothes.  They were special.  It put him into the proper mind set. He just wouldn’t accomplish the feelings of sanctity in a tee shirt and a pair of jeans.  Once his assignment in the Temple was completed, the Priestly clothes had to be removed.  Life outside of the Temple was common; life in the Temple was sacred.  The clothing requirement helped the Kohain to maintain perspective as to the uniqueness of the Temple Service. 

We are supposed to have special clothes for Shabbos.  We are supposed to have even more formal attire in honor of Yom Tov, the Festivals.  Dressing appropriately for the holiday gets us in the right mood. 

Conversely, a mourner rips his clothes.  He wears the torn garment throughout the week of Shiva.  Even a small child in mourning wears a garment that was torn for him by an adult, in order to emphasize to him the bitter sadness of mourning.  During the week before Tisha B’Av, we express our feelings of national sadness by prohibiting the wearing of Shabbos clothes. 

On a personal note, a Baal Bris, one who is personally celebrating a Bris (Mohel, parent, and Sandak, the one who holds the baby) is supposed to dress up.  When I perform a Bris on a weekday, I wear my Shabbos suit.  When a Bris takes place on Shabbos, I wear my Yom Tov suit. No one else may notice the difference, but I do.  Today is special; it is a personal Yom Tov for me and for the baby’s family.  The whole day takes on a different meaning, in part, because I am dressed for the occasion. (No, I haven’t figured out a special garb for a Yom Tov Bris, but I’m working on it! :-))


Many years ago, in Israel, I met a young man from the U.S. who was struggling with his Jewish identity and commitment.  He came from a non-religious background.  He had been a somewhat wild teenager, and the demands of religious commitment presented a major challenge to his self-control. 

A few weeks later, I met him again.  To my shock, he had cut off almost all his hair!  He had taken a Chassidic-style haircut – basically, a crew cut that left the Payos intact.  He had stopped shaving, and wore a black suit with a white shirt. 

He answered my unasked question.  “No,” he said.  “I haven’t become Chassidic.  But I decided to dress the part.  Let me tell you why.  I’m still often tempted to hang out in the bars with my old friends.  But how can I?  How would it look if people saw a guy who looks like me walking into a bar?  My new style of dress keeps me on the straight and narrow!”


External actions motivate internal feelings and inspiration.  That’s not being phony or disingenuous. That’s working on yourself externally to jump-start your internal feelings.  Are you annoyed with your child or your spouse?  Do you resent your neighbor or your co-worker?  Tell yourself how wonderful they are.  Find something good about them.  Keep telling it to yourself.  Eventually, you’ll actually believe it! 

Are you depressed?  Upset about something?  Worried?  If you wear your feelings on your sleeve, you will either alienate those around you, or make them as miserable as you are.  You will also feed your own depression and get even more upset. 

Take a hint from the Kohanim; dress to impress yourself and others.  Put on a happy face. 🙂 You may even find that it fits!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz



 “Hide and Seek”  (2010) 

… when a righteous man like Moses says something, G-d listens.  Moses “cursed” himself, albeit conditionally … Even that request could not go totally unanswered … 

Read more


 “Heartburn — Full Time!” (2008) 

…Torah study is a full-time job: 

This Book of the Torah is not to leave your mouth.  You shall contemplate it day and night, in order to observe, to do, all that is written in it.  (Joshua, 1:8) 

… Rabbi Yochanan … said that if one recites the Shema every morning and every evening, he has fulfilled the requirement of “This Book of the Torah is not to leave your mouth.  You shall contemplate it day and night.” 

…   How… do we define a few moments of prayer in the morning and then again in the evening as a fulfillment of that verse?  A quick 2-minute Shema twice a day, spending the rest of the day engaged in trivial pursuits, and we call that “contemplating it day and night”?  Who are we trying to fool? … 

Read more.


  “Clothes FAKE the Man” (2007) 

…How does such an event take place?  How do children of Holocaust survivors participate in a conference whose purpose was to deny the obvious truth?  How could they stand arm-in-arm with people who want to see them dead? 

There are only two possibilities.  They are either wicked, evil, despicable people, or they are out of their minds… 

Read more


“Light up your Life!” (2006) 

…The Menorah, which remained lit 24/7/365, could only be fueled with oil that was “crushed for lighting.”  Olives were crushed by hand in a mortar until a single drop, totally clear of sediment, came out.  This “custom-made” clear olive oil, crushed for lighting, was the only oil that was acceptable for the Menorah.  (Obviously, they went through a lot of olives!) 

After the first drop came out, the olives were ground in a mill.  The resultant oil, although unfit for the Menorah, was acceptable as an ingredient in meal offerings.  Rashi explains that the Menorah lighting oil could not have any sediment in it.  For the meal offerings, however, this was not a problem. 

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of Blessed Memory, explains why the Menorah was different from the meal offerings… 

Read more.


“Tea Leaves and Poison Ivy” (2005) 

Yale University is one of the most prestigious centers of learning in the world.  There is a great deal of knowledge that can be acquired in that historic institution. 

I once tried to read a Yale diploma.  There was a problem.  While I can speak, read, and understand, at various levels of proficiency, English, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish, I wasn’t prepared for the diploma from “Universitatis Yalensis.”  When it comes to reading or understanding Latin, as the saying goes, “It’s Greek to me!” 

But wait! I noticed an old friend! Was that – yes! It was! – Hebrew! Perhaps I would be able to read something after all. The logo consisted of an open book with Hebrew letters… 

Yale University!  That honored, venerable storehouse of knowledge!  How could people who are so intelligent act so goofy?! … 

Read more.


“Galbanum in Spice, so Everything’s Nice!” (2004) 

… The Priest was required to burn incense on a special Altar every morning and every afternoon.  The sweet smell of the incense serves to endear us to our Creator.  In fact, the Talmud tells us that while Moses was in Heaven receiving the Torah, the Angel of Death divulged to him that he could “assuage” G-d’s anger with incense.  (See Deuteronomy, 17:6-15, where Aaron ends a Divine plague by igniting incense.) 

Why was the incense so special and powerful?… 

Read more.


“Dress to Impress” (2003) 

… Why is the Torah putting so much emphasis on clothes?  Does it really matter how the Kohain is dressed?  Doesn’t that seem superficial?  Isn’t it what’s inside, what’s in his heart, that really counts? … 

Read more.


“Bless Your Heart!”  (2002)

… Wouldn’t it be great to always know the correct answer to your question? 

In the Temple, this was the case.  The High Priest wore a breastplate … embedded with stones that lit up to answer questions. … When the High Priest was asked a question, certain letters lit up.  The High Priest would then determine the answer by figuring out what the letters were spelling. 

How did this lofty and holy work end up in the hands of the “Aaronites?”  What did Aaron do to deserve such honor? … 

Read more.


 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on February 13, 2003 at 7:31 am  Leave a Comment  

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