What did Moses wear when communing with the One Above?

He had a simple wardrobe – a white cloak.

That’s remarkable, says Shem miShmuel, because the kohanim (the priests in the Temple), whose work was bringing down high levels of holiness and divine light from Above, needed to be covered with at least four and as many as eight garments. The Levites (their helpers), whose service was singing and elevating the offerings and prayers of the Jews, did not need any special clothes. But, Shem miShmuel asks, since Moses was the highest and most holy of all the people involved in service of the One Above, why didn’t he dress in the garments of the priests?

...the kohanim had to wear extra clothes ...as they went about their service in the Temple.

First, says Shem miShmuel, we need to understand why the kohanim had to wear extra clothes (either four or eight garments) as they went about their service in the Temple.

By way of explanation, Shem miShmuel says this was because the kohanim were involved with a higher level of divine light. What was this light? It was the light that was formed during the six days of creation. It was so powerful it could illuminate from one end of the world to the other. G‑d hid this light away for the benefit of the righteous in the future, and also in order to prevent the wicked from using it.

Shem miShmuel says that this light could not have been physical light, because even a very intense physical light would not have enabled anyone to see from one end of the world to the other. The world is round, and no amount of light would have enabled one to see over the horizon. So, it must have been a spiritual light.

This spiritual light is associated with the first day of creation, a very propitious time, when the kindness (chesed) of G‑d was most influential. It was this illumination and G‑d’s kindness which brought the creation to a state of love and union with the One Above. The only problem was that it did the same thing for the wicked; even though they didn’t deserve it, when illuminated by this light, even the wicked were able to cleave to the One Above in love and revelation. Therefore, G‑d set it aside for the future, when the entire world would deserve it.

(His students used to ask a similar question of the Kotzker Rav, the grandfather of the Shem miShmuel. They noticed that there no longer seemed to be the same level of the ahavat Yisrael – love among Jews – in their generation as in former generations, such as in the time of the Ba’al Shem Tov. He answered that in the earlier generations, the famous Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev had managed to open the "storehouse of love" Above, but that the wicked had used this "storehouse of love" for their own unholy purposes, and it had therefore closed again.)

...if it’s too good, it’s not for this world, yet.

In other words, if it’s too good, it’s not for this world, yet. The kohanim, whose work was to bring light, kindness, and revelation down into the world, had to do so quickly and quietly. They couldn’t be obvious about it, which is why they had to wear special garments to conceal their movements.

The Levites were not involved in bringing revelation down into the world, but in lifting the world up. This was a task requiring discipline and caution. It didn’t attract any would-be evil doers, because the forces opposed to holiness were not lured by discipline and asceticism. Therefore it wasn’t necessary to conceal the movements of the Levites, and they didn’t need to wear any special clothes.

If so, then what about Moses?

The Torah tells us that "rays of light emerged from his eyes, and they [the Israelites] were afraid to approach him." That is, it was clear to all that regarding Moses, "fear of G‑d" permeated his being. Nobody wanted to approach him, for fear of being "burnt" by the high level of G‑dliness surrounding him. Therefore, it was sufficient for Moses to wear a simple white garment.

And that may be why there is a Kabbalistic custom to wear white on Shabbat, says Shem miShmuel. It is known that Shabbat is higher than any other day of the year, except for Yom Kippur. And just as the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) would wear four white garments on Yom Kippur, so it is a custom now to wear white garments on Shabbat.


[From "Inner Lights from Jerusalem" based on Shem miShmuel and other Chassidic and Kabalistic Sources, translated and presented by Rabbi David Sterne. ]