“These are the vestments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash” Exodus 28:4
OUR MAIN Torah reading this week gives a huge amount of detail about the priestly garments; their intricate design and their manufacture. As my mum is a talented Judaic textile artist, I was instantly drawn to these descriptions of the fine linen, brightly coloured yarns, the engraved stones and gold work.
While the text does offer details, it is not always enough to visualise exactly how the item looked. For example, the headdress is, according to Rashi, a kind of domed cap, while Nachmanides rejects Rashi’s suggestion outright and argues it is a 16-cubit long cloth wound around the head (much like a turban I suspect).
In either case (and heaven forbid rabbis should agree), the combined effect of these garments was clearly an impressive sight. Having left the riches of the Egyptian cult behind, the Israelites presumably had a strong sense of how to do worship and ritual with style and wanted to offer the best that they could to God.
The priests would robe up and down in a special chamber before approaching the altar. As we adorn ourselves with costumes and hide our true selves this coming Purim, I wonder how comforting it was to the priests to have these magnificent costumes to hide behind in performing the most important rites of the Temple cult.
We all have costumes and hats to hide behind and create personas with in our day-to-day lives and perhaps even in our religious lives. Sometimes that pretence creates a helpful tool, through which we can perform our duties, or be the person we might like to be. But, of course, in Judaism everything is balance, and eventually the costumes or robes will be stripped away, leaving us as the simplest, most vulnerable version of ourselves: before our Maker, and before each other.