Insights into Exodus
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein
9 Adar, 5758 - March 7, 1998
Some people have the impression that the Torah does not attach any importance to
aesthetics: after all, "How many chassidim have YOU seen at the Museum of Modern Art
lately?" is what you may be thinking. (Except maybe for the Chagall exhibit.)
"Art for art's sake" is not a slogan of classical Judaism, it's true; but
"Art (and Artistry) for G-d's sake," on the other hand, certainly is.
"This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him (anveihu)," sang the Jews after
the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, and Rashi
notes that the word, anveihu, is related to the word, noi, which means, "beauty"
or "splendor." The Talmud explains that we should beautify the mitzvos we
perform in the service of G-d: have beautiful tzitzis, mezuzah, lulav, etc.
Just take a look at this week's parsha, which details the special
garments that the kohanim--Aharon and his sons, and their descendants--wore while
performing the divine service in the
Mishkan and the Temple. And I mean LOOK, if you can: there are many books
illustrating the Mishkan that help make the Torah's descriptions jump to life, including a
entitled, The Tabernacle (Soncino Press), a collection of photographs of an actual model
of the Mishkan and its vessels constructed by the Israeli artist, Moshe Levine.
After giving the commandment to take pure olive oil for the Menorah, Hashem tells Moshe:
"Bring near to yourself
Aaron, your brother, and his sons with him, from among the Children of Israel...to
minister to me. You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aaron, your brother, for
glory and splendor. And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted people whom I have
invested with a spirit of wisdom...they shall make vestments of sanctity for Aaron, your
brother, and his sons, to minister to Me."
(28, 1-4; Artscroll Chumash, pp. 465,
We see clearly that the garments were supposed to be
beautiful. But their beauty was not just for the eye's delight: it was, explains the
Rambam (as quoted in Rabbi Elie Munk's Call of the Torah), intended to increase reverence
for the Temple. Just as a lovely synagogue brings honor to the Torah and can enhance
one's appreciation of what takes place there, so, too, does the unique clothing of the
kohanim inspire us--even today--with a sense of the grandeur of our Holy Temple and its
service. Ramban further points out that the garments resembled clothing worn by
kings at that time--nothing but the finest for the ministers of G-d in the Beis Hamikdash!
But the priestly garments were more than just aesthetically pleasing and finely crafted;
they were invested with deep symbolic (and mystical) signifigance, as evidenced by the
fact that the craftsmen needed a divine "spirit of wisdom" to make them
(Ramban). The Talmud and Midrash delineate how each garment was intended to achieve
atonement for the Jewish people for a particular sin: the multi-colored ephod (apron) of
the Kohen Gadol, recalling the apron worn by idolaters, atoned for idol worship; the
embroidered avneit (belt), which every kohen wore over his heart, atoned for impure
thoughts, and so on.
Let's take a brief look at the symbolism of one of the garments of the Kohen Gadol, the
"You shall make the Robe (me'il) of the Ephod entirely of
turquoise wool. Its head-opening shall be folded over within, its opening shall have a
border all around of weaver's work...it may not be torn. You shall make on its hem
pomegranates of turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool, on its hem all around, and gold bells
between them, all around; a gold bell and a
a gold bell and a pomegranate on the hem of the robe, all around."
(28, 31-34; Artscroll Chumash, pp.
Our Sages tell us that the me'il atoned for the sin of
loshon hara--gossip and slander--spoken publicly. What's the connection? The
Talmud says that the bells on the bottom of the me'il, which were meant to announce the
entrance of the Kohen Gadol into the Sanctuary, produce a kol, or voice, just as the one
who speaks loshon hara uses his voice; the one kol atoned for the other.
The Ba'al Haturim points out that there were 72 bells and 72 pomegranates on the hem, a
number alluding to the 72 shades of white which the Mishna says could confirm that a
had tzara'as--the disease which, in ancient days, afflicted those who spoke loshon hara.
The Kli Yakar beautifully explains that the blue color of the me'il would lead a person to
reflect on the sea, about which Hashem tells Iyov (Job), "...I prescribed bounds for
it, and set bars and doors, and said, 'Hitherto shalt thou come, but no
too, say our Sages, G-d made two "walls" to restrain the tongue and keep it from
overspeaking its bounds: the teeth and the lips. Just as G-d keeps the sea in check,
so, too, are we meant to keep our tongues in check.
The Alshich, quoted in Lekach Tov, asks why the Torah needs to emphasize that the gold
bells were between the woolen pomegranates on the hem of the me'il: "You shall make
hem pomegranates...and gold bells between them, all around..." It would have
sufficed to say that bells and pomegranates were next to each other on the hem. He answers
that the bells
represent the spoken voice, and the pomegranates, the closed mouth; the Torah comes to
teach us that we should be silent twice as much as we speak--one bell between two
As in so much of Jewish life, aesthetic delight and ethical instruction were (pun
intended) deftly woven together in the priestly garments.
Insights Into Genesis
Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
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