The kohen gadol (high priest) wore eight garments and accessories when serving in the Holy Temple. Some, such as the choshen (breastplate), are more familiar, others less so. Let’s explore one of the lesser-known ones: the golden tzitz.

What Is the Tzitz?

The details about the tzitz, like all of the other components of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), were communicated to Moses by G‑d. This is how the Torah describes it:1

Make a plate (tzitz) of pure gold, and engrave on it as on a seal, “Holy to G‑d.” Place it upon a blue thread, so that it will be on the turban; it shall be opposite the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron will absolve the guilt of the holy things which the children of Israel sanctify, all of their holy offerings; it shall be on his forehead constantly, for their acceptance before G‑d.

The tzitz was an ornament2 that the high priest wore on his forehead. The high priest wore eight garmentsIt consisted of a gold band with the words Kodesh La-Hashem (“Holy to G‑d”) inscribed on it in relief.3 One or more strings4 of sky-blue wool5 were threaded through holes in the band; these went around the high priest’s turban (mitznefet), and were tied at the back of his head to hold the tzitz in place.

Its Purpose

The verses quoted above state that Aaron used the tzitz to “absolve the guilt of the holy things.” The great commentator Rashi explains:

Offerings in the Holy Temple had to be brought in a state of ritual purity. If either the offering itself or the kohen (priest) performing the service was impure, then the offering would be disqualified and the kohen would be guilty of a transgression. In certain cases where an offering was brought in a state of impurity, the tzitz made it acceptable to G‑d.6

Additionally, our sages state7 that the tzitz, positioned as it was on the kohen gadol’s forehead, brought about The person was righteous and deservingdivine pardon for the sin of impudence, known in Hebrew as azut panim, “hardness of the face.” (The term “forehead” is used in this sense in Jeremiah 3:3; the Zohar8 makes the association more explicitly, referring to impudence with the Aramaic term tokfa de-mitzcha, “hardness of the forehead.”9 )

The Zohar describes how this worked: the kohen gadol could observe whether the words inscribed on the tzitz, “Holy to G‑d,” were reflected on the face of the person standing before him. If so, that meant that the person was righteous and deserving of a share in the world to come. If not, then the kohen gadol knew that he was impudent, and the high priest would pray for G‑d to have mercy on the wicked person and forgive him.

The Tzitz in History—and in Rome

The tzitz played a key role during the Jews’ war against the Midianites.10 The war was in retaliation for the Midianites’ attempt—instigated by the wicked prophet Balaam—to corrupt the Jewish people by seducing them into immoral behavior and idolatry. During the battle, Balaam attempted to escape by using his magical powers to fly through the air. Pinchas responded by displaying the tzitz with G‑d’s name engraved on it, A substitute wouldn’t have fooled the Romanswhich caused Balaam to fall to the ground, where he was captured and killed.11

In the aftermath of that war, the tzitz was also used to determine which of the captive Midianite women had been involved in the affair and were to be executed.12

After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, all of its treasures and accessories were brought to Rome (hence the persistent legend that the menorah and the other Temple vessels are somewhere in the Vatican library). The Talmud quotes Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Rabbi Yosei, as saying, “I saw [the tzitz] in Rome, and the words ‘Holy to G‑d’ were inscribed on it on one line”—this was in response to the other sages, who said that the inscription was on two lines.13

The Tzitz and Moshiach

Chassidic sources note that the word tzitz symbolizes Moshiach, who is described as eagerly awaiting G‑d’s call to come and redeem us from exile—“standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering (meitzitz) from the lattices.”14

Now, the tzitz was worn on the kohen gadol’s forehead, and the forehead represents a willpower that is higher than intellect.15 Thus we learn, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that we will bring Moshiach by developing total trust in G‑d, even when the situation is hopeless according to human logic.16