The Torah in Parashat Tetzaveh describes the special garments worn by the kohen gadol, including the tzitz – a thin strip made from pure gold which the kohen gadol wore on his forehead, and which bore the inscription, “Kodesh le-Hashem” (“sacred to the Lord” – 28:36-38). By wearing the tzitz, God instructed, the kohen gadol would “bear the iniquity of the sacred offerings which the Israelites would consecrate” (28:38). The Gemara (Yoma 7a and elsewhere) explains this to mean that when the kohen gadol wears the tzitz, sacrifices which were inadvertently offered in a state of tum’a (impurity) were rendered valid. The phrase “avon ha-kodashim” (“iniquity of the sacred offerings”) refers to the “iniquity” of accidentally offering a sacrifice that had become tamei and thus invalid, and it instructs that through the tzitz on the kohen gadol’s forehead, such a sacrifice, after the fact, is considered valid, such that a new one need not be brought.
Another function of the tzitz is mentioned by the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 10:6), which comments that the tzitz atones for sins that are somehow related to the forehead. According to one view, this means that the tzitz atones for the quality of brazenness – the lack of shame – which is described as a characteristic which expresses itself on the forehead. (The Midrash notes the verse in Yirmiyahu (3:3) in which the prophet condemns the people for having “the forehead of a harlot woman,” referring to their brazen, shameless misdeeds.) According to another view, the tzitz atones for blasphemy – a quality embodied by the Philistine general Golyat, who daily hurled insults at Benei Yisrael and their faith, and was then killed when he was struck by a stone in the forehead.
Rav Eliezer Horowitz of Tarnogrod, in his Noam Megadim, advances the theory that the tzitz might have also atoned for a different sin – the sin of insincere piety. The Torah speaks of the tzitz atoning for “avon ha-kodashim,” which could be read as referring to the “iniquity of the sacred actions.” The “sacred actions” which we perform could be “iniquitous” – if we perform them insincerely, with ulterior motives, just for show, for the sake of our reputation. And the tzitz thus atoned for these “sacred actions” which were, in truth, sinful.
What connection might there be, according to this theory, between the tzitz on the kohen gadol’s forehead and the sin of disingenuous piety?
The tzitz, essentially, served as a the kohen gadol’s “label,” precisely defining his role and identity. It stated that he was “kodesh le-Hashem” – consecrated for the service of the Almighty. The way we avoid insincerity and artificiality in our religious observance is by carrying with us at all times the “mission statement” of “kodesh le-Hashem,” that we are here to serve God. Of course, we are not expected to live at the standard of focused religious devotion to which the kohen gadol was held. Nevertheless, his designation as “kodesh le-Hashem,” as being entirely and exclusively devoted to serving God, represents the mindset with which we must all live – that we have been brought into this world to serve God. If we carry this “mission statement” of “kodesh le-Hashem” each day, then we our religious observance will be genuine, honest and sincere, truly aimed at fulfilling this lofty life mission, without any ulterior motives.