One of the garments worn by the kohanim which are described in Parashat Pekudei is the avneit (belt). The Torah (39:29) tells that the belt was woven from several different materials, including sheish (flax) and tekhelet – dyed wool. As the Gemara notes in several places, the avneit was, fundamentally, forbidden to be worn because it contained sha’atnez – wool and linen woven together. The Torah, however, explicitly required wearing the avneit when performing the service in the Mikdash, and thus it is permissible for the kohen to wear it for this purpose.
The Gemara (Yoma 12a, Chulin 138a) raises the question of whether this was true of the avneit worn by all kohanim, or only of the belt worn by the kohen gadol. Although the Torah explicitly describes the avneit as containing sha’atnez, it is uncertain whether this refers specifically to the avneit worn by the kohen gadol, or even to those worn by the other kohanim, and this issue is subject to a debate among the Sages. The Rambam, in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash (8:11), writes explicitly that an ordinary kohen (“kohen hedyot”) may not wear his avneit when he is not performing the service, because he would then violate the prohibition of sha’atnez. Clearly, then, the Rambam followed the view that even the avneit worn by ordinary kohanim contained sha’atnez, and this feature was not unique to the avneit of the kohen gadol.
Rav Meir Simcha Ha-kohen of Dvinsk, in his Or Samei’ach (Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash 5:16), suggests that underlying this debate is a more fundamental question regarding the relationship between the high priesthood and the status of ordinary kohanim. Namely, do we view the status of the kohen gadol as something entirely different from that of ordinary kohanim, or do we view a kohen gadol as essentially an ordinary kohen with special obligations and laws? The kohen gadol wears the same four garments as ordinary kohanim, plus an additional four garments. As he wears the same four garments as all other kohanim, we might view him as fundamentally a regular kohen who given additional responsibilities and privileges. Alternatively, however, we might view the additional four garments as a reflection of a fundamentally different status.
The Or Samei’ach asserts that if the kohen gadol wears the same avneit as other kohanim, then it seems more likely that he is, essentially, a regular kohen who is bound by special laws. The fact that he shares the exact same garments as other kohanim likely indicates that he is like them, only with a heightened level of sanctity reflected by his additional four garments. If, however, the kohen gadol wears a different avneit than other kohanim, and thus he and they do not share the same garments, we might likely conclude that he is not an ordinary kohen, as his status fundamentally differs from that of other kohanim.
Tomorrow we will iy”H explore several possible implications of this question.