Parshat Tetzaveh

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וְעָשִׂיתָ אֶת מְעִיל הָאֵפוֹד כְּלִיל תְּכֵלֶת: וְעָשִׂיתָ עַל שׁוּלָיו רִמֹּנֵי תְּכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן
וְתוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי עַל שׁוּלָיו סָבִיב וּפַעֲמֹנֵי זָהָב בְּתוֹכָם סָבִיב … וְנִשְׁמַע קוֹלוֹ בְּבֹאוֹ אֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ
And you shall make the robe of the ephod entirely out of blue wool …
And you shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet wool …
and gold bells between them… Its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary …
and when he leaves.” — Exodus 28:31-35


Just this past summer a rare find was announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Buried for some 2,000 years in a drainage channel along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, was a tiny spherical gold bell with a pierced segment for attaching to something.

Why was this particular bell so exciting? Because maybe, just maybe,  this was one of the golden bells mentioned in the Torah as decorating the hem of the High Priest’s robe — the me’il. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) had a special set of eight garments he wore for the Temple service. One of these was a robe of blue wool, the me’il techelet, which was decorated along the hem alternately with woven pomegranates and with seventy two of these small golden bells.  As the Kohen Gadol would walk around doing his duties the chimes of the tiny bells would announce his presence. The archaeologists from Haifa University who made the find feel there is a strong probability this bell was one that fell from the Priestly robe. It still rings when you shake it, two thousand years after falling into the muddy drain.

So why did the Kohen’s robe need bells?

The Talmud (Erchin 16a) tells us that each of the eight priestly garments atoned for a different sin when worn by the Kohen Gadol. The me’il, the blue robe, atoned for sins of speech. G-d said, “Let the sound (of the robe) atone for the sound (of sinful speech).”  The Talmud explains that the “quiet” incense offering atoned for sinful speech done “quietly” i.e. in private, and the “loud” me’il atoned for sinful speech done “loudly” i.e. in public.

We need no reminder about the positive power of speech. With speech we can encourage, inspire and motivate; with speech we can sooth, calm and heal. Yet that same power of speech can be used, not to build, but to destroy. With speech we can lie, hurt and offend; with speech we can deceive, torment and humiliate.

Our Sages teach us that the hardest aveirot (sins) to avoid are those we do by talking … because talking is what humans do constantly, it’s how we communicate and socialise. The easiest way to make conversation — after the niceties about the weather of course — is to talk about others. We talks about our family and friends, and when that runs out we tend to talk about the others we are not such big fans of … and that’s where the danger lies. The Talmud mentioned earlier also says:  “Lashon Hara (negative talk) kills three: The one who said it, the one who listened and the one about whom it was said.”

There is a story told of a mother who noticed her son was telling tales, and talking badly about others. When she told him off he didn’t understand what was wrong, so she asked him to bring her a pillow. She told him to rip open the pillow and scatter the feathers to the wind – and of course they blew everywhere. “Now,” she said to her son, “fetch me back all the feathers and you will understand what I am telling you.

But Mother,” he cried, “that’s impossible. How can I possibly bring them all back?

Exactly,” was her response, “and the same is with the words in your mouth. When they are still in your mouth they are under your control, but once they leave your mouth you cannot bring them back, whatever damage they may do!

Interspersed with the golden bells on the hem of the me’il were seventy two pomegranates, woven from turquoise, purple and scarlet wool. One of the symbolisms of the pomegranate is that it is full of hundreds of seeds: Say our Sages, “Even the greatest sinners of Israel are as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds.” We all have bad points, but so too do we all have good points … as they say, even Al Capone loved his mother! Let’s ensure that before we talk negatively about others, we think about their good side, the “pomegranate seeds” and keep that precious golden bell of speech from rolling into the mud.  Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent


Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and  director of  Chabad of Ireland.

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