By: Rav David Milston
Now That Rings a Bell Having dealt with the Mishkan and its vessels in the previous parasha, we now move on to discuss the priestly garments. The Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) wears the full quota of eight garments (except for certain times during the Yom Kippur Avodah,) whilst the regular Kohen wears just four of those garments. The four pieces of clothing that all Kohanim wear are: michnasayim (pants,) ketonet (long shirt covering most of his body,) avnet (sash,) and a migva’at (head covering,) or mitznefet in the case of the Kohen Gadol. The four additional pieces of clothing adorning the Kohen Gadol are: the eifod (apron,) the choshen (breastplate,) the tsits (headband with the words Kodesh laHashem ‘Holy to the Lord’ inscribed upon it,) and the me’il (coat.) Let us discuss the me’il worn by the Kohen Gadol. In fact, let’s be even more specific, and discuss the lower section of the me’il: “And beneath, upon the hem, you shall make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, around its hem; and bells of gold between them round about: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate upon the hem of the robe round about. And it shall be upon Aharon when he comes to minister; and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the holy place before the Lord, and when he comes out that he die not.” (Shemot, 28:33-35) Rashi understands the Torah to be describing two distinct additions to the coat hem. Empty pomegranate woven shapes alternate with golden bells around the entire hem: bell, pomegranate, bell etc. In contrast, the Ramban sees no point in having empty pomegranate shapes interspersed between the golden bells. He also questions how the bells are to be attached to the me’il if they are separate from the pomegranates, because there is no description of any extra ring that could attach them to the cloth. He thus concludes that the bells were inserted into woven pomegranate shapes along the entire length of the hem. The Abarbanel relates to this seemingly technical difference of opinion between Rashi and the Ramban but refrains from ‘taking sides.’ He explains three possible reasons why the High Priest would require bells at the bottom of his me’il: The first possibility is perhaps to act as a reminder to what he is doing and whom he is representing. The ringing bells help the Kohen Gadol concentrate on his objective. Alternatively, the bells may well act as a reminder to the other Kohanim that the Kohen Gadol is in the Heichal; it makes the subordinates aware of the holy man’s presence. Thirdly, we could understand the bells to be a type of request of Hashem to enter the holy areas of the Mikdash, like Esther had to make Achashveirosh aware of her intention to enter his palace. These three possibilities are certainly not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, with a little effort, and with a touch of sermonic insight, we can actually connect them all. The High Priest represents the holiest level of human endeavor in the Mikdash, and the Kohanim are the educators of our people. The three ideas symbolized by the bells represent the three areas every man and woman is expected to aspire towards during our short stay in this world. The first reason related to the High Priest himself – the need to concentrate and focus himself. We too must first work on ourselves; introspect and analyze, meditate and direct ourselves towards our ultimate goal in life. The second idea involved the relationship between the High Priest and the regular Priests. After working on ourselves and focusing on the inner self, our next area of perfection should be within our social reality – issues regarding other people – ‘Bein Adam LeChaveiro.’ Finally, the Abarbanel spoke of the bells as a request to enter, a request directed at the Almighty. Hence the third area of achievement is in the realms of the relationship between man and God. When we piece these ideas together, we can see that the Kohen Gadol reflects the three principle areas of human perfection. The Maharal explains that Shimon HaTzaddik tells us the world stands on three foundation stones – Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness.) Torah relates to individual introspection – the relationship between man and himself; Avodah relates to the ongoing dialogue between man and God, and Gemilut Chasadim – acts of charity, clearly relate to the relationship between man and his fellow man. The Netziv sheds a slightly different perspective to the bells on the me’il. Importantly, he initially points out that we should not be misled into thinking the Kohen Gadol wore the me’il in the Holy of Holies. We know this is simply not the case. The High Priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year, and he did not wear the me’il, so our verses cannot be referring to Yom Kippur. The Netziv explains that when the Kohen Gadol entered the Heichal – the Kodesh, all other priests respectfully waited outside. Our verse refers to the normal days when the High Priest decided to perform regular acts of Avodah in the Heichal. In such situations, he would enter alone, whilst the other priests waited outside in the Azarah. The objective of the bells was to pay tribute to the Kohen Gadol; a guard of honor as he entered the Heichal. However, the Netziv notes that whenever human honor is involved, there is also a danger the person may lose direction, forget his place, and even forget God. The Kohen Gadol therefore wears a me’il of blue linen to remind him of the Heavens, just as we are supposed to wear a blue thread in our tzitzit for the same reason. The honor represented by the bells is offset by the blue linen in the coat. This beautiful comment immediately reminded me of a comment of Rav Yosef Nechemia Kornitzer to the famous Mishna at the beginning of the third chapter of Pirkei Avot. The Mishna tells us that if we remember three things we will never sin: We must know where we come from – “a putrid drop,” we must know where we are going – “a grave filled with worms,” and we must know before whom we will ultimately have to stand – “the King of Kings, the Almighty God.” Rav Yosef Nechemia explains that while these words put our lives into frightening perspective, we must be careful not to diminish our importance to the degree we no longer believe in ourselves at all. Hence the great Rabbi ‘composed’ a parallel text: We must know where we come from – From Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. We must know where we are going – To the glory of Olam Haba, and we must know before whom we will ultimately have to stand – the King of Kings, the Almighty God. In the same way the me’il reflects the importance of the High Priest while putting him into universal perspective with the blue linen, so we too must internalize our potential as human beings while never forgetting we are only human, however great we may be! The Alshich explains the bells in line with Rashi’s description. Firstly, he rather cleverly points out that if the hem of the me’il was as Rashi describes, i.e. alternating bells and pomegranates, then why does the verse imply the bells were in between the pomegranates? Surely if they were interspersed then the pomegranates were also in between the bells? The message directly relates to the Gemara in Zevachim (88b.) The Talmud is of the opinion that each part of the priestly attire atones for a fundamental human transgression. The me’il is said to atone for evil speech. The Alshich understands that the Torah’s emphasis on the bells located between the pomegranates, even though the opposite is equally true, teaches us a subtle lesson. The Torah is comparing the silent woven pomegranate to the noisy, vocal bell. For every word spoken, there should be two words left unspoken. The bell, the voice, is surrounded by the pomegranate – by silence. The Alshich even suggests we were given two eyes so we realize we should tell only half of what we see! To emphasize his point, the Alshich also suggests the bells were made of gold, because this is a relatively quiet metallic form, indicating we should speak pleasantly, in friendly tones. The golden bell could also represent the need to speak only when we have something of value to say! Rabbi Orenstein prefers to rely on the Ramban’s understanding that the bells were placed individually inside each woven pomegranate. He understands the bells to symbolize youth; loud, excited, enthusiastic, but lacking in depth, needing direction at best, devoid of common sense at worst. The advantages of youth are energy and enthusiasm; the disadvantages are a lack of wisdom and direction necessary to channel that enthusiasm to good use. Our mistakes are only compounded by our misdirected energies. On the other hand, the woven pomegranate represents the silent adult who is slower and sometimes even apathetic in his actions, yet full of the wisdom of life. The pomegranate represents the mitzvah-fulfilling Jew (there is a custom to eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah because they are said to contain 613 seeds.) The advantages of older age are depth and wisdom; the disadvantages are often cynicism and apathy. The ideal is that our me’il in life should be adorned with the winning combination of pomegranates and bells. We should never lose our energy, our enthusiasm, our fresh approach to life, and when we can combine that with acquired wisdom then the sky is the limit. Let us conclude with the striking words of the Chatam Sofer: The Kohen Gadol represents the highest echelon of spirituality in the Jewish people. His clothes are not his alone; they relate to all of Am Yisrael. Humility and silence are apt middot in the world of materialism and secularism, but in matters of the soul our voice must be heard. The bells are placed on the High Priest’s me’il so the spiritual role model can be seen and heard by one and all. It is the duty of spiritual leaders to make their voice heard; humility is not relevant when direction is needed. Moshe Rabbeinu, the most humble of all human beings, was most vocal and active in matters of Heaven. In a world where strong, wise leadership is lacking, the spiritual voice must be heard. The Almighty’s truths are far more ethical and moral than any laws thus far initiated by man, and this is what Am Yisrael is supposed to bring to the world. Let our spiritual bells ring so that all mankind can hear and learn.
|Additional shiurim from this category can be found in:||Parshat Shavua (Tetzaveh)|
|Uploaded:||Tuesday, March 3, 2009|