I see a doctor whose daughter is a first-year resident. I don’t know what her specialty is, and I don’t know what hospital she works at. She caught Covid because the hospital, in the early stages of the pandemic, didn’t have PPE.
In case you don’t know, PPE stands for “personal protective equipment.” In the context of novel corona virus, PPE encompasses masks, face shields, gloves, and gowns. In other contexts, personal protective equipment may include gloves, safety glasses, shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, vests, and full body suits.
The pandemic overwhelms us, but occupations other than doctors, nurses, nursing aides, and physician assistants need to wear their own version of PPE. Coal miners need hard hats, safety glasses, masks or respiratory protection, ear protection, steel-toed boots, and reflective clothing. Loggers wear hard hats, ear protection, safety glasses or face masks, Kevlar leggings, boots that have chain-saw resistance, and hand protection. Firefighters wear clothes that are resistant to heat, a helmet, a kind of SCUBA air tank and the appropriate breathing apparatus, and heat-resistant boots and gloves. You didn’t think of firefighters wearing PPE, did you?
In this week’s Torah portion, there is a detailed description of the High Priest’s clothing (this is not the first time I wished the Torah came with illustrations). The clothing is personal protective equipment. Twice, the Torah warns the High Priest that he should wear the prescribed clothing to ward off death. The hem of the robe of the High Priest should be affixed with alternating bells and pomegranate, “so that the sound of it is heard when he comes into the sanctuary before the Lord and when he goes out – that he may not die.” (Ex. 28:35). Aaron and his sons should wear linen breeches “to cover their nakedness . . . . They shall be worn by Aaron and his sons when they enter the Tent of Meeting or when they approach the altar to officiate in the sanctuary, so that they do not incur punishment and die.”
You didn’t think clergymen’s garments are personal protective equipment, but clergymen talk to God, and are responsible for following rituals correctly. If you don’t think clergymen’s clothing are PPE, you must have missed the story of Aaron’s two older sons. In the days when God punished even a minor deviation of prescribed ritual, the High Priest’s clothing was PPE.