At the conclusion of this blog, the reasons why the turban holds a special place in my heart, serving as a poignant reminder of my origins and the constant need to embrace humility.
A reminder of the Significance of the Garments
In our previous post, we learned that each of the eight golden garments of the High Priest in Jewish tradition is intrinsically holy and imparts atonement for specific sins when worn properly during Yom Kippur rituals.
The sages of the past taught that these garments, worn by the High Priest during Temple service, serve to atone for the sins of Israel. It is taught that similar to sacrifices, the priestly garments facilitate atonement for sin (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 88:B).
"This is one of the deeper aims of wearing these garments, and something for the kohen to ponder while they are upon him. For his everyday actions in the Temple transcend his own personal idiom and take on a more universal theme... he makes atonement and spiritual rectification for all humanity.
Thus we are taught:"
The tunic, which covers most of the priest's body, atones for killing.
The pants atone for sexual transgressions.
The turban, worn on the head, atone for haughtiness.
The belt, wound about the body and worn over the heart, atones for "sins of the heart" - improper thoughts
The breastplate atones for errors in judgment.
The ephod atones for idolatry.
The robe atones for evil speech.
The High Priest's crown atones for arrogance. (1)
Togues, Turbans, Hats, and Mitres
The distinctive hats worn by a Chef, pilot, and military general, each serve unique and significant purposes within their respective professions and religious roles.
For a Chef, the traditional toque, with its tall pleats, not only signifies rank but also acts as a practical tool in the kitchen, keeping hair out of the food and providing a symbol of authority and expertise in the culinary arts.
In the realm of aviation, a pilot's cap with its gold wings emblem serves as a symbol of skill and accomplishment, while also providing practical benefits like shielding the eyes from glare and maintaining a sense of professionalism during flights.
Similarly, a military general's ornate and decorated hat represents their leadership and command authority within the armed forces, while its design often signifies the branch of service and rank, aiding in clear identification on the battlefield.
Likewise, the turban and gold plate of the Jewish High Priest have a unique purpose and spiritual significance for us.
Color lithograph showing two representations of the garments of the Jewish high priest. Lithography by Mayer Merkel & Ottmann, New York; copyrighted by Hubbard Bro's (1874). Public Domain
And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet: HOLY TO THE LORD. And thou shalt put it on a thread of blue, and it shall be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear the iniquity committed in the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow, even in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD. Exodus 28:36-38 JPS 1917
And they made the tunics of fine linen of woven work for Aaron, and for his sons, and the mitre of fine linen, and the goodly head-tires of fine linen, and the linen breeches of fine twined linen Exodus 39:27-28 JPS 1917
White Linen Turban
The turban (mitznefet) was crafted from white linen, a color revered as a symbol of holiness and separation for sacred purposes. According to Mishne Torah, an extensive commentary on the Talmud written in the 12th century by the renowned Jewish philosopher and scholar Moses Maimonides, the High Priest's turban was formed by wrapping a 16-cubit or 24-foot-long linen strap around his head. (2) As stated above, in Jewish tradition, the white linen turban atoned for haughtiness.
The English word "plate" helps us to understand the difficult-to-translate Hebrew word tsiyts. Often understood in Hebrew as "blossom" or "shining thing." Exodus 29:6 further clarifies the purpose of the plate or tsiyts. "And thou shalt set the mitre upon his head, and put the holy crown upon the mitre."
Here the word "crown" is derived from the Hebrew word nezer meaning dedicated, crown, or consecrated.
The distinctive plate or crown attached to the turban was crafted of pure gold (tahor - clean or pure, without impurities). In Jewish tradition, the gold plate atoned for arrogance. This plate was inscribed (pathach - to open) in such a manner that the letters were raised and not engraved as understood in its contemporary use. The Talmud describes the method of engraving that was used to inscribe the words Holy unto God.
The writing of the High Priest’s frontplate was not embedded, i.e., it was not carved into the frontplate; rather, it protruded like the form on gold dinars (3).
I am incredibly grateful for the exceptional craftsmanship of my friend, Daniel Smith. He was the talented artisan behind the "engraved" gold plate I now use during my teaching. The accompanying picture beautifully captures the intricate process of bringing the letters to life, and I am thankful for his dedication and skill in creating such a remarkable piece for me.
Always Placed Upon His Forehead
The gold plate held a strategic position on the forehead, precisely in front of the face of the High Priest, as indicated by the term "mul panim" in Hebrew. Secured in place by blue twisted cords of wool, the hue of this wool was derived through a meticulous process involving the marine snail - Murex Trunculus. This color, known as tekeleth, signified royalty and was a luxury to produce due to its expense.
For centuries, the art of creating this majestic color was lost to the annals of history. However, in recent times, Orthodox Rabbis in Israel have made a remarkable discovery, uncovering the long-lost formula for reproducing this prestigious hue. Their efforts have revived a sacred tradition and brought back a deep connection to the regal past of the High Priest's attire. The restoration of this historical knowledge is a matter of profound significance, preserving a rich heritage and renewing the reverence for these sacred garments in modern times.
Intriguingly, while the Torah does not explicitly mention this detail, the Talmud adds a mind-blowing revelation about the placement of the turban on the priest's head. According to the Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 19, the turban was positioned in such a manner that a deliberate space was left between it and the crown on his forehead. This space served a remarkable purpose, as it allowed the High Priest to don the tefillin, the phylacteries of the head.
Amidst this sacred arrangement, the High Priest's hair remained visible between the crown and the turban, and it was there that he placed the tefillin. The tefillin contains the sacred verses from the Torah, an embodiment of the divine words entrusted to the Jewish people.
HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 JPS 1917
Within this holy repository, the essence of God's commandments is carefully preserved, connecting the High Priest directly to the sacred wisdom that guides and sanctifies the people.
As we ponder the significance of this awe-inspiring tradition, we find ourselves immersed in a profound reverence for the spiritual tapestry woven within the High Priest's garments. This revelation sheds light on the depth of purpose and symbolism underlying each element, offering a glimpse into the sanctity of ancient traditions and the profound connection between man and the Divine.
Holy to the Lord
The profound teachings of the Talmud reveal the significance of the gold plate or crown attached to the humble turban. Who does it atone for sin, you ask? Both the High Priest and the people of God. Not merely for the haughtiness and arrogance that may grip the hearts of the people, but also as a poignant reminder for the High Priest himself. Even in his sacred role, he must guard against the allure of haughtiness and arrogance, for he is called to minister in the presence of the Almighty.
With every donning of the white linen turban adorned with the illustrious gold diadem, the High Priest is humbled. He reflects upon the moments when he might get "too big for his breeches" and when arrogance dared to touch his soul, and he remembers his solemn duty to intercede for the atonement of a people who too have fallen prey to this insidious trait.
Unlike the lofty crowns and diadems adorning the kings of the nation, which proudly perch atop their heads, the High Priest's crown bears a profound message, deliberately positioned upon his forehead. A potent symbol, indicative of the very dwelling place of haughtiness and exalted thoughts.
The placement of this sacred emblem beckons our attention to the depths of human nature. For within the corridors of our minds, the seeds of pride and grandeur may take root, ever yearning to ascend to the summit of our consciousness. But the High Priest, in his divine wisdom, accepts this symbolic burden, embracing the weight of the crown upon his brow.
In this powerful act, he becomes the embodiment of humility, demonstrating that even in the highest stations, one must never forget the vulnerability of the human spirit to be ensnared by vanity and conceit. Thus, with each step he takes, the High Priest carries not only the weight of the golden crown but also the mantle of a living lesson in the art of remaining grounded, anchored in humility, and attuned to the sacred truths that lie within the chambers of the heart.
In the grand tapestry of his sacred service, he grasps the essence of humility, knowing that even in the highest position as Cohen Gadol, the allure of self-importance must be shunned. With every step in this divine journey, he learns the profound lesson of remaining steadfast in his humility, for it is through this meekness that he finds his strength and stands as an unwavering advocate for his people before the Almighty. Holiness unto the Lord was his watchword and song!
HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Personal Connection to this Scripture
As I traverse the country with my teaching props, especially the High Priest garments, the Menorah, and the Ark of the Covenant, I am humbled by the praises bestowed upon me for the attention to detail and craftsmanship evident in these creations. It brings me immense joy to witness how these props breathe life into the teachings of the Bible.
Yet, I am acutely aware of the peril that lurks within these accolades. There lies a danger of succumbing to the allure of self-importance and losing touch with the very inspiration that led me to pursue the principles of the Bible. This realization humbles me further, reminding me of the importance of staying grounded and remaining true to the sacred values that guide my work.
Discharged from the Army and Short on Cash
As my grandmother used to say, don't get "get too big for my breeches," I reflect on the time in 1978 when I found myself stumbling my way to San Jose, California. At that point, I was without a place to live, now referred to as being homeless, not by choice but due to limited resources.
Having recently been discharged from the Army, money was scarce, and life was challenging. For a brief period, I managed to afford a motel room at the Ooh la Lodge in San Jose, California. While not the most luxurious establishment, it provided a clean and modest shelter during those trying times.
Old postcard from the Ooh la Lodge, circa unknown
No Proof of Identity
I must share that during that time, all I possessed was a driver's license issued by the state of Indiana, which was simply a paper driving license without any pictures. California had pictured identification but not the good old state of Indiana.
I had my original Social Security card and a copy of my military DD 214, but no credit cards or other forms of identification. Indeed, those were different times, not only a different century but also a different millennium. I managed to secure a job with a tree trimming company, earning $4.25 per hour, which seemed like decent money in 1979, except for the fact that the Bay Area was an expensive place to live in.
For several months, I diligently worked and saved my hard-earned paychecks. However, I faced challenges in opening a checking account due to the lack of proper identification to prove my identity. Despite this obstacle, I was too proud to ask my boss for help. Consequently, cashing my paychecks became a difficult task. There was an option to cash them at the local bar on Fridays if a purchase was made, but this prospect terrified me. You see, I had recently managed to remain sober from all alcohol and drugs for less than two months, and I feared that stepping into the bar would tempt me beyond what I could handle.
As a result, I made the decision to save my paychecks, hoping that a solution would present itself in due time. My pride prevented me from seeking assistance from my boss, as I was determined to figure things out on my own, even if it meant facing hardships along the way.
My Hotel California
I found a way to "Jimmie" the lock on the front gate of the yard where the tree company's trucks were parked. At the end of the day, I would get into my 1976 Ford F-100 pickup truck with "3 on the tree" and pretend to leave for home, just like everyone else. As soon as the coast was clear, I returned to the work site and hid my truck beside the tall Douglas Firs alongside the Crew and Bucket Trucks of the company.
I had a cab on my pickup truck, which provided a place to sleep and protect myself on cold, rainy days. I blacked out the cab windows and created a pallet to sleep on, using cardboard boxes to store the few clothes I had accumulated. Throughout the week, I would eat cold sandwiches until I learned how to heat up homemade burritos, wrapped in tin foil, on my truck's warm manifold. To ensure I had water for the week, I would walk over to the gas station with empty plastic gallon milk jugs and fill them up.
Behind my truck and between the Douglas Firs, I had stashed a wooden pallet to stand on for bathing. I'll leave it to your imagination how I managed to wash my hair and body and rinse with the gas station water. As a treat on weekends, I would travel to the ocean at Santa Cruz and use the pull chain showers that surfers used to wash off the saltwater.
It felt great to pull that chain and have fresh water to wash off the soap and shampoo. After my time in the military, I didn't mind the limited accommodations. However, when the cold winter rains became too much to handle while standing on the pallet, I had to find an alternative solution - and that's when I discovered the 24-hour laundromat!
Laundromat to the Rescue
During the winter, I would go to the laundromat around 3:00 AM. It was usually deserted, except for three Mexican fellows who would come in and plug in a hot plate to cook their food for the day. I assumed they were migrant workers, but who knows, they might have been the same people I had seen standing in groups at certain places, waiting to be picked up for day work as laborers.
Growing up with a father who was a dockman, cursed and drank excessively, and held racist views similar to Archie Bunker from "All in the Family," I must admit I didn't have a favorable opinion of Mexicans or migrant workers. We would acknowledge each other with the "man nod" but never engaged in conversation. I didn't speak Spanish, and I assumed they didn't know English.
Concrete Sinks Become a Washing Station
On certain days, I would load up the washing machine with quarters to clean my work and street clothes. The dryers were on the opposite side of the bank of washers. However, just around the rear corner of the laundromat, there was a concealed concrete sink, hidden from the view of the front windows and most of the rest of the laundromat. It was perfect for washing myself. I no longer needed water jugs and a pallet! On the other side of the laundromat, the migrants used the space to wash clothes and cook. I often wondered, "How do these guys stay so clean? I never see them washing up at the laundromat."
On several occasions, I noticed migrants observing me as I would take off my shirt and washed, rinsing my hair, arms, and chest. Once the top half was done, I'd put on a clean shirt and then strip down naked to wash my lower extremities, repeating the process. I had a system that allowed me to bathe in less than ten minutes, all the while praying that no one else would come to wash clothes at 3:00 AM.
Humility Learned from Compassion
One early morning, as I finished my routine at the laundromat, one of the migrants motioned for me to come over. They handed me two things. First, I received three cooked and wrapped burritos fresh off the hotplate. Second, they handed me a piece of common cardboard. On one side was a hand-drawn map with directions to a truck stop near Highway 101. On the other side, two quarters were Scotch-taped to the back of the cardboard. No more baths at the concrete sink!
It was a humbling moment. People that I had not cared much for and even looked down upon showed compassion towards this white boy from the Midwest who was just trying to make a living with limited resources, much like they were.
I've only shared this story one other time. Captain Daniel Paredes of The Salvation Army in East Chicago, Indiana, asked me to preach and share this story with his congregation on Sunday, Christmas Day in 2011. He kindly translated it into Spanish as I delivered the sermon and concluded with this story.
"Grandma, I try not to let myself get bigger than my britches." God has been faithful in my lowest points in life and in my better moments in life. In truth, it is not solely my skills that have brought these teachings to life, but rather the guidance and wisdom of those who have passed down these traditions through generations. I am but a humble vessel, honored to be entrusted with this task of sharing the profound messages of the Bible through tangible representations.
With each encounter, I am reminded of the importance of humility and gratitude. It is through the teachings of the Bible and the wise teachings of others that I find the strength to remain steadfast and true. In embracing humility, I hope to continue illuminating the sacred teachings, allowing them to touch the hearts of those who seek truth and inspiration in the timeless words of the Bible.
I have not bathed at a laundromat in nearly forty-four years. I will never forget the compassion of three men trying to earn a living the best way they knew how.
Jehová te bendiga, y te guarde;
Jehová haga resplandecer su rostro sobre ti, y tenga de ti misericordia;
Jehová alce sobre ti su rostro, y ponga en ti paz.
Números 6:24-26 Reina-Valera 1960
(1) Temple Institute, "Priestly Garments," accessed August 1, 2023, https://templeinstitute.org/priestly-garments/.
(2) Chabad.org, "Klei Hamikdash - Chapter 8.19," accessed July 24, 2023, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1008233/jewish/Klei-Hamikdash-Chapter-8.19.
(3) Sefaria, "Gittin 20a.16," accessed August 3, 2023, https://www.sefaria.org/Gittin.20a.16.