Yom Rishon, 10 AdarI 5775
Sunday, 1 March 2015
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Read an inspired commentary on this week’s Torah portion by one of our free-thinking Liberal Rabbis.

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Parashat Tetzeveh
27th Feburary 2015 - Rabbi Charley Baginsky

 The portion for this week deals with the clothes that the priest was to wear when officiating in the Tabernacle. The ritual garments to be worn by the High Priest seem to be rich with symbolic meaning. However, the Torah – ever succinct in its wording – does not tell us what that symbolism is and therefore over the centuries many commentators have made attempts to interpret the different details of the garments in all kinds of different ways. Year after year of reading this portion I am always fascinated by the golden bells and pomegranates that Aaron is told to wear when he enters the Holy of Holies. Later on the Torah clarifies this saying: "and his sound shall be heard when he goes in to the holy place before Adonai, and when he comes out, and he will not die—u’v’tzeto v’lo yamut" (Exodus 28:35).

 These adornments are replicated on our Torah scrolls today. Whenever we have young children come to visit the synagogue and we explore the Torah scroll together I draw the analogy with their fire bell at school. If a bell goes they know something important is going to happen, similarly as we draw the scroll from the ark the congregation, who may have drifted, are woken from their slumber at the sound of the Torah entering the service.

But this does not really answer the question as to why Aaron wore the bells. If God is all seeing and all knowing then surely God does not need to be woken up, to know Aaron is coming. Surely it cannot be the case that Aaron stood any chance of sneaking up on God? Rather most commentators understand this as respect, that as God is likened to a monarch and one would not enter or leave a monarch’s presence without announcing one’s intention is this not even more the case with God? Thus the bells answer this need. Others see the bells a bit like an engaged sign on a room– it lets people know that they should not enter.

The Chatam Sofer –a leading Orthodox Rabbi in Europe in the first half of the 19th century commented in the following way:

In reality, modesty is usually praised for the average person and certainly for a great leader. However, that is true only in secular or mundane matters. In matters of holiness, on the other hand, when we are dealing with matters that relate to national holiness, the sanctity of life, critical matters of destiny, then it is incumbent upon the leader to let his voice be heard loudly. He should speak confidently and commandingly to draw attention to the significance of the message. Hence, the Torah states that the sound should be heard when he enters the Sanctuary. (Chatam Sofer)

On one hand the clothes that the priests are to wear are to give them a sense of power and authority, to make them feel that they are there to fulfil a role. Perhaps a little like our prayer garb today, however on the other hand the stones on the ephod representing the 12 tribes serve to remind them that they are serving the people. Similarly the bells on one hand can be seen to demonstrate the respect that must be shown to God when entering into God’s presence on the other hand they remind Aaron to speak up.  Aaron spoke to God on behalf of the people. Today we do not have a temple and we do not have priests. The word Rabbi means teacher and is by no means God’s stand in on earth but rather every person is believed to have the potential to access God in their own way. Similarly, the bells ringing out the Torah can remind us not only to wake up to the part of the service, but that each of us has a voice which has the potential to make a difference, to impact on the lives of others.

In Judaism there are so many different types of voices – in the seventh wedding blessing we are told of seven: The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bride and the voice of the groom, the rapturous voices of the wedded from their bridal chambers, and of young people feasting and singing. But in between all these different voices is each person’s individual voice, a voice created in God’s image, a voice that is special and unique and powerful.


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