By Rabbi Nosson Greenberg
In this week’s parsha we learn of the instructions regarding the manufacture of the bigdei kehuna – the official clothing of the Kohanim. One of the eight articles worn by the Kohain Gadol was the me’il – the robe. There is a well-known argument between the mefarshim regarding its lower hem. Rashi is of the opinion that it was fringed with small golden bells alternating with pomegranate-shaped tassels of blue, purple and scarlet wool. The Ramban, however, posits that the bells were inserted inside the tassels. Asks Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, we know the Torah tells us that the Kohen Gadol had to wear a special change of uniform made of white linen when entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. Chazal explain that wearing clothing with gold on that holiest of days in the inner sanctum is considered a spiritual faux pas for it reminds Hashem of the sin of the Golden Calf (which is the last thing anyone would want to remind Hashem of on Yom Kippur – a day of forgiveness). But if Ramban is correct, then why was it deemed inappropriate to don the Me’il? The only gold on that particular garment was hidden inside the tassels and thus could not be seen and would not trigger any association with the Eigel?
Perhaps we can suggest the following understanding. Recently, a neighbor of mine from my Lakewood days told me a beautiful vort. According to Rashi, the bells being next to the empty tassels teach us a valuable message. Chazal tell us that the wearing of the me’il brought national forgiveness to Bnai Yisrael for the sin of talking lashon hora. Specifically, it was the gentle chiming of the bells as the Kohain Gadol walked around doing his avodah that brought about the forgiveness. [As the gemara tells us (Airachin 16a) “Yavo davar shebakol veyekhaper al ma’aseh hakol” -“Let the noise [making] object(s) come and forgive for acts of the voice.”] In addition, Rabeinu Bechaye (Chovos Halevavos) tells us that one who speaks lashon hora loses all his mitzvos and they are given to the one who was the target of the malicious speech. This is why the bells are positioned next to hollow pomegranate-shaped tassels: because a Jew full of mitzvos is compared by Chazal to a pomegranate full of seeds (Airuvin 19a). But when one acts like the bell clanging with lashon hora, then his mitzvos will be lifted from him left hollow and empty like the tassels at its side.
So, what we have is that the pomegranates were not merely cute decorative tassels but rather an object representative of the human being, and how empty and hollow it can become. Now we can understand the concern of Chazal with the me’il on Yom Kippur. Showing up in the Kodesh haKadashim on the holiest day of the year wearing any form of gold is a no-no. It’s insensitive to wear something that is a second cousin of the Eigel, the greatest sin in history. But do you know what’s worse? To enter on Yom Kippur all tasselled up representing mankind with gold coccooned inside! What message do you think that might be sending to the Ribono Shel Olam? That the Eigel was not just a passing fad but was rather Heaven forfend internalized, entrenched, comfortable and essential? Not a good message at all.
Better the Kohain Gadol wear snow-white clothing. No gold, no problem.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.