SALT - Monday, 6 Adar I 5776 - February 15, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Parashat Tetzaveh (28:32) instructs that a binding must be woven around the opening of the me’il – the kohen gadol’s robe – to ensure that the material will not rip.  But while this appears to be the meaning of the verse, the Gemara, in Masekhet Yoma (72a), explains it differently, establishing that the Torah here introduces a prohibition against tearing any of the priestly garments.  According to the Gemara’s reading, the words “lo yikarei’a” (“it shall not be torn”) is not the reason for the binding woven onto the opening of the me’il, but rather an imperative, forbidding tearing the priestly garments.

            As many writers have noted, the Gemara applies this prohibition to all the bigdei kehuna, and not merely to the me’il, despite the fact that the command of “lo yikarei’a” appears specifically in reference to this garment.  The question thus arises as to why the Torah issued this prohibition specifically in this context, if it in fact applies to all the priestly vestments.

            Rav Chaim Kanievsky, in his Ta’ama Di-kra, offers a simple answer, suggesting that extra care was needed to avoid tearing the me’il.  The me’il, as the Rambam describes in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash (chapter 9), was simply a piece of material with a hole in the middle through which the kohen gadol placed his head.  The two sides of the me’il were not connected at any point – not even under the arms – except at the shoulders.  Rav Kanievsky suggests that the me’il was therefore especially delicate, and thus particular care was needed not to ruin it, more so than the other bigdei kehuna.  For this reason, perhaps, the Torah chose the me’il as the context in which to introduce this prohibition, to emphasize the special caution that was required when handling the me’il.

            Alternatively, Rav Kanievsky suggests, the Torah introduced this prohibition in the context of the me’il because one might have otherwise assumed that it applies only to the other priestly vestments.  Since the me’il is already “torn,” in the sense that it is completely open on either side, tearing it further would not have any considerable impact.  Any additional tear might appear negligible, and so intuitively, it would not fall under the prohibition of tearing the bigdei kehuna.  Perhaps for this reason, Rav Kanievsky writes, the Torah chose specifically this context to introduce the law of “lo yikarei’a,” to emphasize that this prohibition applies even to the me’il, despite the fact that an additional tear might not outwardly seem significant.