וזה הדבר: באיזה זכות היה אהרן נכנס לבית קדשי הקדשים… ר' יצחק אומר זכות השבטים היתה נכנסת עמו … י”ב אבנים שהיו נתונות על לבו של אהרן ועליהם שמות השבטים… מה טעם שיהא ר' יהושע דסכנין בשם ר' לוי אמר משל לבן מלכים שהיה פדגוגו נכנס אצלו ללמד סניגוריא על בנו והיה מתיירא מן העומדים עליו שמא יפגע בו, מה עשה המלך הלבישו פורפירא שלו שיהיו רואין אותו ומתייראין ממנו, כך אהרן היה נכנס בכל שעה לבית קדשי הקדשים ואלולי זכיות הרבה שהיו נכנסות עמו ומסייעות אותו לא היה יכול להכנס למה שהיו מלאכי השרת שם, מה עשה לו הקב"ה נתן לו מדמות לבושי הקודש הקב”ה מסתכל בהם ובבגדי כהן בכניסתו ביום הכפורים ונזכר לזכות השבטים שנאמר (שמות כח) ולבני אהרן תעשה כתנות. כשם שכתוב (ישעיה נט) וילבש צדקה כשרין וכובע ישועה בראשו וילבש בגדי נקם
This is the thing: Which merit allows Aaron to enter the Holy of Holies? Rav Yitzhak says the merit of the Twelve Tribes enters with him. There are twelve stones on the Breastplate and on them are the names of the Tribes. Why? So that Gd will gaze at them and at the garments of the High Priest on Yom Kippur and will recall the merits of the Tribes.
R Yehoshua of Sakhnin said in the name of R Levi this is similar to a child of a king, whose tutor wishes to accompany him to defend him, but the tutor is afraid of the guards standing there, who will perhaps beat him. What does the king do? He clothes the tutor in his own purple raiment, so that the guards will see him and be fearful of him. So too Aaron enters all the time into the Holy of Holies, but were it not for the great merits he carries with him and which provide protection, he would be unable to enter. Why? For the ministering angels are present there. What did Gd do? He gave him garments resembling the Gdly Garments. Gd gazes at them and at the garments of the Priest as he enters on Yom Kippur, and He recalls the merits of the Tribes, as it says (Exodus 28:40) “Make tunics for the children of Aaron” just as it says (Isaiah 59:17) “He will clothe Himself in righteousness like mail and a helm of salvation will be on His head, and He will wear garments of vengeance.”
There is an old saying that “Clothes make the man.” The kohanim, the priests, were given four linen garments to wear during Temple service: tunic, mitre, belt, and underpants. The High Priest was given four additional garments to wear over the four basic ones: the Tzitz — a gold plate worn on the head, the Hoshen which was a breastplate embossed with stones, the Ephod — somewhat resembling an apron worn backwards which attached the to the Hoshen in the back and held it in place, and Me’il which was a blue mantle ankle length worn underneath the Hoshen and Ephod and adorned with balls of yarn and bells on the seam. (The mitre of the High Priest was also distinctly shaped from that of the other priests, but was made out of the same materiel and served the same function.) These additional garments were all ornate, woven from linen and brightly colored wool and adorned with gold and precious stones.
In addition to lending majesty and dignity to the office, the special garments of the High Priest served an additional function. For each garment, we are told that he was meant to bear them, לפני ה׳, before Gd. The Ephod has two onyx stones that were borne on the shoulders. On the stones was inscribed the names of the Tribes of Israel, and we are told that Aaron is meant to “bear their names before Gd upon his two shoulders for a memorial.”
The Hoshen had twelve stones, and on each was the name of a tribe. Again the purpose was so that “Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before Gd continually.” The bells on the Me’il were supposed to ring and announce the High Priest’s coming so that “the sound thereof shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before Gd, and when he cometh out, that he die not.” Finally, the Tzitz, the golden head plate adorned with the very name of Gd “shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before Gd.”
It makes sense that Aaron alone was given special garments to wear before Gd, because he alone is permitted entrance to the Holy of Holies. Once a year, on Yom Kippur, he enters and stands inside, before the Ark of the Covenant, to conduct the service of the day. It is then that the Shemot Rabba suggests he is to bear the names of the tribes on his chest and shoulders so that their merits may be remembered by Gd and serve as protection for both him and them. No other human is allowed in the Temple on that day while he is conducting the service. Indeed, Rashbam suggests that the other priests are meant to hear the bells of the Me’il and clear the way for him. Without the qualities and protections imported by those garments, he too would be barred access. Ata Konanta, the Avoda we say on Yom Kippur, describes him as “Arranged in linen and adorned with stone, girded in all of them like a ministering angel.” No human could enter into the Sacred Space, but adorned in angelic garments, he transitions into something more and he can enter into the inner sanctum to plead for his people. Clothes really do make the man.
Except, they don’t, because what I just wrote is false. As the Torah states in Parashat Ahrei Mot, the High Priest didn’t wear any of these four special garments into the Holy of Holies at all. He was expressly forbidden to do so. Instead, he was to wear four simple white linen garments, almost as if he were a regular priest. So why does the author of the Avoda, and the Commentators on the Torah, and Shemot Rabba suggest otherwise? Did they all err on a matter known to children? And if the garments are not worn in the Holy of Holies, what does the Torah mean when it implies all these garments are worn לפני ה׳, before Gd?
Ramban tries to wiggle around this problem. True, the High Priest does not actually conduct the service in the Holy of Holies in his special garments, but he is required to conduct all the regular services on Yom Kippur, and he wears his special garments for them. Thus the Midrash is right that he bears the names of the tribes when he enters the Temple on Yom Kippur, just not in the Holy of Holies. But this answer is a cop-out. How could it be that the service of the day done in the Holy of Holies does not require special garments to shield the High Priest from Heavenly wrath, while the routine service done on all other days by ordinary priests in the outer areas of the Temple apparently does? Even if we accept this could be true, the Midrash mentions the Holy of Holies, so it cannot be talking about the outer service at all. The contradiction appears unsolvable.
But the answer to our dilemma is the High Priest does need to bear the names of the Tribes before Gd, just as he needs to bear Gd’s name upon him always. But he doesn’t do so by wearing physical garments that carry the names of the Tribes or that bear the name of Gd. Rather each of the four special garments hints to a quality that he must possess, and those qualities are what he has to bear continuously. The Hoshen and Ephod represents the Priest’s relationship with Israel, and their aspirations and merits. The Tzitz represents his and their relationship with Gd. The Gemara in Zevachim explains that the bells on the Me’il represent speech, and that this garment atones for evil speech.
The qualities embodied by the garments are somewhat paralleled in the four statements of Malachi about the ideal Kohen.
בְּרִיתִי הָיְתָה אִתּוֹ הַחַיִּים וְהַשָּׁלוֹם וָאֶתְּנֵם-לוֹ מוֹרָא וַיִּירָאֵנִי וּמִפְּנֵי שְׁמִי נִחַת הוּא. תּוֹרַת אֱמֶת הָיְתָה בְּפִיהוּ וְעַוְלָה לֹא-נִמְצָא בִשְׂפָתָיו. בְּשָׁלוֹם וּבְמִישׁוֹר הָלַךְ אִתִּי וְרַבִּים הֵשִׁיב מֵעָון. כִּי-שִׂפְתֵי כֹהֵן יִשְׁמְרוּ-דַעַת וְתוֹרָה יְבַקְשׁוּ מִפִּיהוּ כִּי מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, הוּא
My covenant was with him, of life and peace. And I game them to him and awe, and he feared Me and he trembled before My name. The Torah of truth was in his mouth, and falsehood was never found in his mouth. In peace and uprightness, he walked with me and turned many from sin. For the lips of a priest guard understanding, and they should seek Torah from his mouth. For he is an angel of Gd of Hosts.
These are the four qualities the priest need continuously. 1) The priest needs to to have the fear of Gd on him. 2) He needs to be pure in speech 3) He needs to teach torah to the masses and 4) to turn them from sin. If he has these qualities, then he is ready to represent his people on the highest day of the year and commune with Gd in the Holy of Holies. If not, he will fail.
So do clothes make the man? It seems clothes can inspire and guide. They represent how one is supposed to be seen, what values one must strive to embody. Clothes get the High Priest to the door, so to speak. But to actually walk through and enter the Holy of Holies, Gd demands not the clothes, but the heart.