Service of The Kohen Gadol: Hand Washing
I had no idea what the purpose of the loop and button was, but when the salesman told me that, “the pants even have a French Fly,” I wanted the pants. Having worn hand me downs all my life, except for my Bar Mitzvah suit, I wanted my first purchase of a new suit to be special. I didn’t know much about clothes except that “French” was the ultimate. Plus, the suit was by Pierre Cardin, which certainly sounded French to me. I thanked God when my rebbi, who was taking me shopping, chose that suit for me.
I excitedly called home and informed my father that my new suit was so special it even had a French name and a French Fly. My father was not impressed. I guess Pierre Cardin doesn’t make Kapptas. But, as a very well dressed 14 year old, a man of the world in his French-cuff shirt from Epstein’s discount clothing, I could handle my father’s total lack of appreciation of French things, except, of course for French Fries
As exhausted as I was after my sister’s wedding, I didn’t just climb out of my suit into bed, I made sure my hands were clean, and folded that suit with professional care. I was proud to have such a suit as part of my flimsy wardrobe.
I had a similar experience dressing in my street clothes when leaving the hospital a few days after surgery. They were not French, but after wearing hospital gowns for three days, they were the ultimate in fine clothing. I felt as if I were a different man than the one who stuffed those clothes into the plastic bag provided by the hospital. I had, shall we say, been through a lot, and saw life in a new way. My street clothes were not only special because they were not a hospital gown, they were different because I was different.
My father’s Friday night silk robe, worn at the Shabbat table was not quite as holy when worn by me.
Some clothes make the man. Some men make the clothes.
I often wonder why the Kohen Gadol sanctified his hands before removing his clothes. I understand that he must after dressing in order to prepare for the next part of the Yom Kippur service, but why after the service before removing his clothes?
The clothing he wears make the man, in the literal sense during the Second Temple; they gave him the status of the Kohen Gadol. He sanctified his hands and feet after dressing in order to rise to his clothing.
When he completes one stage of the Yom Kippur service, he is a new man. He makes the clothing. He gives them their status. He sanctified his hands and feet before removing the clothes to acknowledge and honor who and what he has become. He is beyond Pierre Cardin and all French designers. He is holier than the clothes.
We wash our hands before we eat in order to eat with awareness and honor. We wash again before Bentching to honor what we have gained from eating the meal with awareness and intention.
I always wash my hands before I pray or perform a Mitzvah. I wash before I drive to Baltimore to visit my mother and fulfill the Mitzvah of honoring my mother. I wash before I learn. I started washing my hands after prayer, Torah study, and Mitzvot, as a statement that I am different because of my prayer…
It’s a wonderful feeling. Try it and see.