The Parting of the Choshen and the Eifod: A Peculiar Prohibition by Rabbi Shaya First


This week’s Parasha, Parashat VaYakheil Pekudei, discusses the Chosen and the Eifod: what is the connection between the two garments? In a phrase written first in Parashat Tetzaveh, and then repeated this week in Parashat Pekudei, the Torah writes that the Kohein Gadol’s Choshen should be connected to the Eifod by a thread of Techeilet, followed by: “VeLo Yizach HaChoshen MeiAl HaEifod” (Shemot 28:28). What does this peculiar phrase mean, and what is its significance?

     To answer these questions, we must first analyze the word Yizach. Since the Shoresh and origin of this word are unclear, the Mefarshim suggest a variety of interpretations. Rashi (ibid s.v. VeLo Yizach) states that Yizach originates from an Arabic word that means “to unhook” (Nun-Taf-Kuf). Ramban (ibid s.v. VeLo Yizach HaChoshen), however, claims that this word carries a connotation of not just separation, but also destruction (from the shoresh Yud-Samech-Chet). Therefore, the Ramban would interpret the Pasuk as a prohibition of destroying the connection between the Eifod and the Choshen. Rav Shimshon Refa’el Hirsch alternatively suggests that this word connotes movement, and that the Pasuk is forbidding the two garments from being moved away from each other. Yet other Mefarshim, including the Malbim commenting on Yeshayahu 23, translate Yizach as “elevate.” According to this understanding, the Pasuk is stressing the importance of the Choshen and Eifod constantly being at the same physical level.

Whether “Yizach” means to destroy a connection, displace, or elevate, it appears, on a simple level, that the phrase was only meant to convey the purpose of this connecting thread: to ensure that these two garments of the Kohein Gadol remain in their proper places on the Kohein Gadol’s chest. However, the Gemara (Yoma 72a) completely reinterprets the verse. It cites Rabi Elazar who states this verse introduces a formal prohibition against removing the Choshen from the Eifod. According to this reading, this clause is not a statement of purpose (as suggested by Rav Acha Bar Ya’akov in that same Gemara), but a formal command: Jews are proscribed from removing the Choshen from the Eifod.

What would be the logic behind such a peculiar prohibition? The Sefer HaChinuch (100) offers, arguably, the most straightforward explanation. He explains that the purpose of this Mitzvah is to ensure that the Kohein Gadol’s garments appear professional and regal at all times. It would not be proper for a Kohein Gadol to appear in public with sloppily arranged garments only semi-attached to their proper location.

  According to the Sefer HaChinuch’s understanding, the Mitzvah of ensuring these strings remain attached to their proper locations, stems from the same source as the general Mitzvah of wearing the Bigdei Kehunah in the Beit Hamikdash. With regards to the general Mitzvah, the Sefer haChinuch lists two purposes: first, to ensure that the Kohanim maintain the proper mindset while doing the Avodah; by wearing regal garments, they could maintain a constant reminder of the power, significance, and universal implications of their service. Second, having the Kohanim dress like kings would ensure visitors to the Beit HaMikdash would be left in awe by its splendor and beauty, and this would inspire them to respect everything it stood for. To ascertain that these goals were met, it was critical that the Kohein Gadol appeared regal at all times, never allowing even a minor deviation from the proper adornment of his pristine attire.

While the Sefer HaChinuch seems to address questions on the Gemara’s prohibition, there must be more to the story. There are many other possible ways a Kohein Gadol could have worn his clothing improperly, asides from not having the Choshen and Eifod attached properly. Yet, the Torah mysteriously identifies this lone example (along with, perhaps, not allowing the Me’il to rip-a discussion unto itself) to create a prohibition. Why only turn this particular connection into a formal negative commandment, as opposed to any other of the Kohein Gadol’s garments? Even the Sefer HaChinuch, after offering his explanation, acknowledges that this answer is somewhat lacking, and concludes his discussion with an unenthusiastic endorsement, “Ve’Ad SheShamanu Tov MiZeh, Nachzik BaZeh,” “And until we hear a better explanation, this one should suffice.” Despite the peculiarity of this prohibition, few commentators attempt to address this question.

Recently, however, I encountered a fascinating attempt to answer this question, based on a passage in the Gemara Arachin (16a). The Gemara writes that each of the Bigdei Kehunah atoned for a specific sin: the Mitznefet for haughtiness, the Me’il for Lashon HaRa, and the Tzitz for brazenness. The Eifod atoned for the sin of idolatry, and the Choshen for “Dinim,” ostensibly meaning the abuse of civil law.

So, as we originally inquired, why single out breaking the connection between the Choshen and Eifod as a Mitzvat Lo Ta’asei? Perhaps, by connecting the need for atonement for both idolatry and civil law, the Torah is imparting a deeper message. What is unique about these prohibitions? Idolatry is the paradigm example of a sin which is Bein Adam LeMakom (between man and G-d). A disregard for civil law, by contrast, is a paradigm example of a sin that is Bein Adam LeChaveiro (between man and his peers). Perhaps the message here is that attempting to distinguish between these two categories of sins is a critical mistake. Judaism believes that true religious success can only be achieved by developing oneself in each of these arenas, both Mitzvot Bein Adam LeMakom and in Mitzvot Bein Adam LeChaveiro. To prioritize one of these types of Mitzvot would be making a critical error regarding our mission in this world. Although the Beit HaMikdash itself is sometimes viewed as a place focused solely on developing our observance of Mitzvot Bein Adam LeMakom, it truthfully had elements of both realms. This peculiar prohibition of maintaining a connection between the Choshen and Eifod, is a profound reminder of that essential truth.

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