In Parashat Tetzaveh, Aharon and his sons are established and identified as a unique group within the greater Jewish people. Those from the family of Aharon, referred to as Kohanim, are charged with a special obligation of serving Hashem in the Temple through the performance of its rituals and sacrifices. The Kohanim serve Hashem in the Temple wearing special garments: “VeAsita Bigdei Kodesh LeAharon Achicha LeChavod UlTifaret,” “And you shall make holy garments for Aharon, your brother, for honor and glory” (28:2).
The Rambam (Hilchot Kelei Mikdash 8:10) codifies the Halachah that a Kohen Gadol is punished with death by Heaven if he enters the Temple without one of the eight required garments. What was the purpose of these garments, which seem to be are so integral to the Temple service of the Kohanim, and why is the punishment for their neglect so grave?
The Gemara (Arachin 16a) suggests that the discussion of Bigdei Kehuna is purposely juxtaposed to that of the Korbanot in order to teach that both the donning of the priestly garments and the bringing of Korbanot share the unique power of atonement. Thus, the importance of these garments does not lie merely in their ability to serve as physical adornments; they carry profound spiritual significance as well. Along these lines, the Ramban explains that the garments have a dual function. On one hand, they serve as royal garments that dignify and glorify the Kohen. The garments themselves elevate the physical stature of the Kohen and transform him to the status of an individual of “honor and glory.” However, the garments additionally allow the Kohen to elevate himself in his own spiritual relationship with Hashem. Thus, the garments serve to increase the honor bestowed upon the Kohen by the people, and Hashem by the Kohen. Therefore, the Rambam explains, it is insufficient for the Kohen to merely wear the clothing. Instead, both he who sews and he who wears the garments must be conscious of the clothes’ holiness and significance. Without this active cognizance and intent, the garments become meaningless.
In Megillat Ester, it is written that Achashveirosh made a party in his own honor to display his wealth: “BeHaroto Et Osher Kevod Malchuto VeEt Yekar Tiferet Gedulato,” “When he displayed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty” (Ester 1:4). The Gemara (Megillah 12a) understands the terminology of “Tiferet” used in this Pasuk as a reference to the priestly garments which Achashveirosh wore at the party, and “VeKeilim MiKeilim Shonim,” “And no two vessels alike” (Ester 1:7) as a reference to the vessels of Beit HaMikdash which Achashveirosh brought out and used.
Based on this Gemara, the Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Efraim of Luntchitz, comments (Shemot 28:39) that Achesheivrosh understood the power of the atonement that both the holy garments and temple utensils had. He used the Altar Meal (Seudat HaMizbeach) as a model for the eating and drinking that transpired at his feast, and even went so far as to name his advisors according to the varying sacrifices offered in the Temple. Achashveirosh believed that by acting in a manner that replicated and symbolized acts of repentance and atonement, he would actually receive atonement for his sins. Apparently, he was unaware that these acts are meaningless without the proper intent and sincerity.
The importance of the Kohen’s holy garments serves as a constant reminder that actions require intent and introspection. All of these physical behaviors and elements (the Temple, the clothing, and the sacrifices) assist in the atonement process, but only with the proper focus and intent.
Yom Kippur, the day that typifies the atonement process, is a day that is often compared to Purim- it is a Yom KePurim, a day like Purim. As we begin our preparations for Purim, we are reminded that Purim, too, mandates a higher level of introspection. All of the Mitzvot that we fulfill on the day of Purim give us the opportunity to elevate our actions and even our very selves, but only with the proper intent. Like the Kohanim who entered the Temple, we all must approach this day of Purim by performing all of the Mitzvot with intent to increase our own holiness and God’s Holiness in the world and in our lives.