Triennial Reading-Tetzaveh, Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 1 through Chapter 29, verse 18.
This week’s Parsha lends itself to an almost literal reading—Tetzaveh describes in great detail the duties of the kohanim, and the rituals that those priests were responsible for. The detail is incredible—all the colors and fabrics of the priestly vestments are described. We are told that every priest wore four vestments, and that the high priest—the Kohen Gadol—wore an ADDITIONAL four. In this Parsha (and only in this Parsha), we read nothing of Moshe, and, instead, Aharon—quiet older brother of Moshe—moves from the background to the foreground.
I want to focus on one detail. What might seem to be a tiny detail, a detail that hardly merits mention. On a literal level, this detail represents a part of the high priest’s wardrobe, and it appears at the hem of Aharon’s robe. In other words, it’s the BOTTOM, the lowest part, of his priestly outfit. We are told that at the hem of the robe were “golden bells and pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet.” This line is just one of many in Tetzaveh that lovingly specifies the details of ritual practice and wardrobe.
If we imagine for a moment what these hems must have looked like, we can only guess at their beauty, at their majesty. But here I want us to move beyond the literal and to think about another sensory aspect of these priestly garments—the sounds of those bells. The bells announced Aaron’s arrival—and I’m guessing that the sound of those bells must have been like the ring tone on your cell phone—you recognize it as your own. So, people must have been able to recognize Aaron’s ring tone wherever he went. His comings and his goings.
But it’s also important to note that the sound of those bells works in TWO directions, not one. On the one hand, the people know that Aharon is coming. On the other hand, Aharon HIMSELF is aware of the sound that he makes as he performs his priestly role, as he moves from place to place.
So what, you might ask? That was then, this is now. But let’s think more about those bells. What does it mean that people would know that Aaron was approaching? To me, it makes clear that they won’t be surprised by him. No sneak attacks. There’s a midrash that tells us that, even when someone knows you’re coming, you should make a noise out of respect, as if asking for permission. In fact, to underline this point, Rashbam says, “Do not enter YOUR house suddenly.” Think about that—YOUR OWN HOME. Even on your own property, you need to give the people there some time to prepare, a little warning.
So, what we are describing here is basic courtesy—DEREK ERETZ. If we have to enter OUR OWN homes slowly, how much greater a responsibility must we have to enter the homes of OTHERS with care and without haste? Even the high priest had that same obligation, that same boundary. And even when invited. And if the ranking official of the holy spaces had to conform to this compassionate behavior, all of us must be under the same obligation.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman