Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha



Larchmont Temple—Har Chayim

The F*-WORD…[F _ _ _ _]…Questions, Conflicts & Connection of FAITH



T’tsaveh—Exodus 28:1-5;31-35






HOW do the Kohen’s clothes frame our approach to God?

WHAT do the ‘sounding of the bells’ teach us about living Faith?




v.31-2   You shall make the robe of the Ephod of pure blue; the opening for the head in the middle, it shall be woven…so that it won’t tear

RASHI“Like the opening of a coat of mail”  From this we learn that in those days coats had their openings folded inside, so they would not tear.  As ONKELOS renders, like a suit of armor.

RAMBAN… What RASHI says about the robe is not correct.  The robe is something that wrapped around a person…but one can’t wrap oneself in a tunic.  If the robe were a coat, it would not resemble the ephod in the least.  It is not a coat, but a sleeveless cloak, which surrounds the whole body from neck down to feet.  Other robes have a collar sewn onto them, which completely covers the neck.  V32 stipulates that this robe have a collar woven into it, so when the Priest puts his head through, his neck is completely covered.

v.33   On its hem make pomegranates of blue, purple & crimson yarns, all around the hem, with bells of gold between them all around           

RASHI“pomegranates” They were round and hollow—like a chicken egg.  “golden bells”

That is bells which have clappers within them, “b’tocham saviv”—and between every two pomegranates, a bell, all around.

IBN EZRA…“pomegranates” Not actual fruit, but in their shape.  It is unsure how many there are.  The word translated “bell” is found in the Bible only in this context; but it is clear from V35 what it means: “b’tocham”—though some think that the bells were hidden within the pomegranates and rang from inside, they were placed “between them.”

RAMBAN… I do not understand why RASHI puts a separate bell between every two? If this were so, the hollow pomegranates would serve no purpose…In fact, the bells were not between the pomegranates at all, but, as the text literally says, “inside them.”

v.35   Aaron shall wear it while officiating, so that the sound of it is heard when he comes into the sanctuary before Adonai and when he leaves, so he will not die. 

RASHI… From this prohibition one can deduce the corresponding positive commandment— that he must be wearing it so as not to incur the death penalty.  If he enters the sanctuary lacking a single one of the prescribed garments, he is liable to death at the hands of heaven.

RAMBAN…In my opinion, our verse is about the bells…The explanation is that the sound is supposed to announce his presence, so that he may, as it were, be granted permission to enter before the Lord. 

For, according to protocol,. one who enters the king’s palace unexpectedly is liable to death, as Esther told Mordecai [Esther 4:11]  It alludes further to what is said in Yoma 1:5, that even the angels had to

vacate the Tent of Meeting so that Aaron could serve the King in private.  So too, Aaron must leave

just as he came, signaling the angels they are permitted to return…For when he comes into the

sanctuary, he is indeed “before the Lord.”

B’CHOR SHOR… That is, so that he does not sneak in on Me like a thief in the middle of the night.  From this we learn that one should not simply walk unannounced into someone else’s home, in case

he’s doing something that requires privacy.

Prof R’ALTER…In the ancient Near East, the inner sanctum was a dangerous place.  Any misstep or involuntary trespass of the sacred paraphernalia could bring death.  The sound of the ringing golden bells on Aaron’s hem goes before him, serving to shield him from harm in the danger zone.

The ANCHOR Bible… The term “pa’amon”, literally, ‘beater,’ may resonate with pa’am—foot, since these bells encircled Aaron’s feet and tinkled as he walked.  It is unclear, however, whether the suffix on “kolo” refers to Aaron or to his robe.  If the latter, we should render “its sound.” [cf IBN EZRA] More likely the reference is Aaron—the prooftext for which is Gen 3:8-10, where the “sound of Adonai” is called his “kol.”  What is the purpose of the bells? Our verse implies that if Aaron enters without the proper attire, God would kill him.[BT, Sanh, 83b]  One’s impression might be that the bells apprise God of the priest’s approach, reassured that the encroacher is no laymen, YHVH withholds His overwhelming aura. But the text does not actually say who hears the bells, using—rather—the ambiguous passive “v’nishma—will be heard.”  Aaron is no less in jeopardy when he departs than when he enters.  Apparently, both God and man need warning at the approach of the “liminal” priest, who stands between the Holy and the Impure—conditions inherently inimical one to another.  Similarly, on

Yom Kippur, the High Priest washes both before entering and exiting the Holy of holies. 

What belongs to each realm must stay there…[cf Lev 16:4ff]

The “sound” also allows hearers to participate vicariously; even if they can never see him, at least they can smell and most especially hear Aaron’s ministrations as he approaches the Lord.


 Rabbi Ya’akov Tzevi MECKLENBURG… [b.Posen, 1785, d. Konigsberg, 1865…Rabbi of Konigsberg for

over 30 years…Author of Torah Commentary: HaKTAV V’HaKaBBALA & Siddur Comm’ty: IYUN TEFILAH]

…I believe that the commandment to have the bells at the rim of the robe of the High Priest is similar in nature to the law to have fringes on the four corners the garment.  The commandment of Tzitzit has as its purpose to remind the wearer of all the other mitzvoth, as Torah states: “Ur’item oto uz’chartem—you will look at them and remember…” [Num 15:39]  In the case of the bells on the Priest’s robe, the reminder comes by way of hearing rather than seeing.  When the wearer, the High Priest, hears the bells, he will become conscious of God’s Presence.  He will also reflect on his own office—the responsibility which rests upon him as the people’s highest representative before the Lord. 

…Here in our verse, the objective of v’nishma is only that the wearer hears these sounds and his consciousness is alerted to the supreme task he is about to perform.  The reason this is expressed in passive conjugation may point to the effect the sound is to have on the person hearing.   The appropriate translation of the verse would then be:  “…so that he will become aware of the meaning of their sound as he enters the Sanctuary.”

The pomegranates, made of cloth, surrounded the bells from every angle.  As a result, the sound of the bells would be so very muffled that outsiders could not possibly hear.  The pomegranates themselves were woven of twisted threads, which by their very nature, acted as a sound barrier.  In fact, the effect of the pomegranates muffling the sound of the bells was so strong that even the High Priest who wore the garment could hardly hear the sound.  He had to attune his ears…Nonetheless, even this muffled sound of bells ringing, when it was discerned,  proved sufficient to make him aware…



Rabbi Moshe ben Chayim ALSHECH … [b.Adrianople[Turkey], 1508, d. Damascus, 1600…Settled in S’fat in 1530, studied with & became member of BET DIN of Yosef Karo  Prolific writer & preacher: Commentaries on Daniel, Shir, Torah, Psalms, Prophets]

Key Kabbalist of his day/age….P’shat driven Commentary of 5 Books=TORAT MOSHE]

We [our Sages in Midrash Rabbah] have explained that the robe of the Ephod is to atone for the sin of a loose tongue.  A garment that ‘sounds off’ when the wearer moves corresponds to the sounding off of people engaging in idle chatter or gossip….Our Sages have so regulated the use of our speech since it is employed more than any other organ.  One need not be brilliant to understand that if man can be elevated by the power of his tongue, defiling oneself by wrongful use of the tongue is equally easily achieved.

RAMBAM subsumed abuse of the power of speech under 7 headings:

  1. Flattery—misrepresenting with one’s words to gain favor
  2. Tale-bearing
  3. Frivolity
  4. Insult
  5. Revealing of Secrets/Indiscretions
  6. Libel
  7. Coarse Language

The true cause of all the above is idle talk.  When one opens one’s mouth without constructive purpose, one creates the opportunity to cause harm with the tongue.  The author considers benches in public places invitations to loshonhorah…

R’ SHIMON ben GAMLIEL taught us that “I have not found anything better for the body than silence.” [Avot 1]  Not alone for the benefit to the body, but the benefit for the soul…One might have thought that whereas idle chatter is harmful for the multitude, the educated need not restrain their conversation unduly. R’ Shimon teaches us this is not so.  Even too much learned talk is no substitute for sincere action.

…Torah instructs that the Kohen Gadol’s robe must be designed that “pi rosho” not the opening of the cloak but “the opening of its mouth”  shall have a hole for the head inside.

Torah here suggests that the peh—the mouth, and the rosh—the head, must be aligned.

The mouth is not to reveal what the mind knows must be concealed.  Torah demands that the exteriorer be a true reflection of the interior….

The symbolism of the pomegranates and the bells on the lower hem may be this.  The tongue inside the bell which causes the sound on impact is like the tongue in our mouth.  When the tongue is not wagging, there is silence.  The alternating pomegranates, closed balls, suggest the thought that a closed mouth is preferable at least 2/3 of the time, as the pa-amon—the bell, is beyn ha-rimonim—between the pomegranates.   Man has only one mouth, but two eyes.  His mouth need not reveal all that his eyes perceive…Indeed, the tongue could not even if it tried…So for the highest of priests…So for all Israel.


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