SALT - Tuesday, 25 Adar 5781 - March 9, 2021


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  • Rav David Silverberg
            One of the special garments worn by the kohen gadol was the me’il (robe).  As we read in Parashat Pekudei (39:24-26), the bottom hem of the me’il was lined with pa’amonim – bells – and rimonim – decorations in the shape of pomegranates.  The Torah (39:25) commands placing the bells “be-tokh ha-rimonim” – literally, “inside the pomegranates.”  Rashi (28:34) explains this to mean that the bells and pomegranates were placed in alternating fashion, such that each bell was “inside” – meaning, in between – two pomegranates.  The Ramban (28:31), however, disagrees, and maintains that the bells were actually embedded within the material of the pomegranates. 
            The Chatam Sofer, in his Torah commentary, boldly suggests that perhaps both interpretations are correct.  Possibly, some bells were attached to the hem of the me’il independently, and others were embedded within the rimonim.
            The Chatam Sofer proceeds to explain the rationale for this arrangement.  The Gemara in Masekhet Arakhin (16a-b) comments that the bells on the bottom of the kohen gadol’s robe served to atone for the sin of lashon ha-ra – spreading negative information about one’s fellow.  The sound created by these bells earned forgiveness for this offense, which is committed through sound – specifically, by using the faculty of speech.  The Chatam Sofer posited that one commits a form of lashon ha-ra by inappropriately publicizing or speaking about his own qualities and accomplishments.  Disseminating flattering information about oneself generally is done for the same purpose as disseminating unflattering information about one’s fellow – to condescend and to assert superiority.  These two forms of forbidden speech, the Chatam Sofer suggests, are atoned through the two types of bells lining the hem of the me’ilChazal in other contexts speak of the pomegranate as a metaphor for spiritual success; the large number of seeds inside a pomegranate symbolize the large number of mitzvot performed by even average, ordinary people.  Accordingly, the Chatam Sofer writes, the bells embedded within the rimonim at the bottom of the me’il symbolize those who publicize their “pomegranates” – their good deeds and their accomplishments.  The other bells, which hung separate from the rimonim, atoned for the more familiar type of lashon ha-ra – negative speech about other people.
            The bells of the me’il rang whenever the kohen gadol walked, as he moved about doing his work in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  He did not need to call attention to himself; his work was “heard” naturally, on its own, without him having to speak or intentionally make any noise.  The ill of lashon ha-ra is rectified by ensuring that the only “sound” we produce that draws attention to ourselves is the sound of the kohen gadol – the natural result of our devoted work and efforts to serve God and do His bidding.  We should not try to be noticed by promoting ourselves or by denigrating others; instead, we should be like the kohen gadol, tending to our obligations and accomplishing to the best of our ability, thereby allowing our “bells” to “ring” naturally, on their own, through the success of our hard work.