The Bells on His Robe

The Kohain Gadol - the High Priest was required to wear eight garments when he served in the Beis Hamikdash, the Holy Temple. One of the garments discussed in this week’s parsha is the Me’il - the Robe.

The Torah states that, at the bottom of the Robe, the Kohain Gadol was to wear “pomegranate shapes of turquoise, purple and crimson wool, all around the edge, and golden bells among them all around."  The Torah then proceeds to explain the function of the bells: “…its sound shall be heard when he enters the Holy Place before G‑d, and when he leaves, so that he will not die.”

Abarbanel’s explanation of the  necessity to have the High Priest hear the sounds of the bells is that it would remind him that he was about to enter or leave a holy place. This was prudent, as routine behavior can cause a person to become desensitized to the significance of the service he is about of perform. 

Indeed, we have a reminder in the Tzitzis that we wear on our four cornered garments. The rationale for these fringes is clearly stated in the Torah: “And you will look at them and you will be reminded all of G‑d’s commandments.” According to Haksav V’Hakabbalah, the Kohain Gadol needed an audio as well as a visual reminder. Because of the sensitivity of his status and where he entered, he needed an extra layer of reminder. 

The Three “V’nishma’s

Ba’al Haturim cites two other places in the Torah where the expression v’nishma-shall be heard is used. 

When the Jewish people were offered the Torah at Mount Sinai, they responded “Na’aseh v’nishma-We will do and we will hear”. The “we will hear” in Hebrew is identical to the word v’nishma concerning the noise made by the High Priest’s bells that rang when he entered the Holy Temple.

The third mention of the word v’nishma is in the Megillah, the Book of Esther. When the Persian King’s advisor suggested to him that he issue a decree for women to honor their husbands in the aftermath of queen Vashti’s refusal to appear before the king, the Biblical text states “V’nishma pisgam hamelech-And the edict of the king shall be heard.”

What’s the Connection?

How are these three references to the word v’nishma connected? The first is about hearing the words of the Torah, the second is the sound of the High Priest’s bells attached to his robe and the third is about hearing the king’s edict for women to give honor to their husbands. What connection is there between these three rather disparate themes?

Positive Impulsiveness

To discover the connection let us examine the first time this expression is used. As stated, when the Jews were offered the Torah they immediately consented and declared impulsively: “We will do and we will hear.” The Talmud states that it was a rather rash thing for them to commit themselves to the dictates of the Torah without first hearing what it was all about. However, this eagerness to embrace the Torah stood them in good stead. They were rewarded for this with the angels placing two crowns on their heads.

There is, however, a drawback to this impulsive approach to Torah if it is applied incorrectly. While their enthusiasm for the Torah was noble and praiseworthy, it must be augmented. Once a Jew accepts the Torah unreservedly he or she must make preparations to enter into its holy precincts with measured steps and serious reflection. Yes, any Jew, in whichever state he or she may be, can and must study Torah. Yet, we have the challenge to make the proper preparations for Torah study so that our acceptance of it is solid and enduring.

Three Preparations for Torah

What are the proper preparations for Torah?

First, we must acknowledge that the Torah is Divine. We do that orally by reciting the blessings on the Torah each and every morning soon after getting up. We do not rush into it without that acknowledgment.

Second, we must attempt to purge all improper and extraneous thoughts that would sully our minds. It is true that the Talmud states that “word of Torah cannot be contaminated,” and even a person who is ritually unclean may study Torah. Nevertheless, Maimonides and other great authorities advocate immersing in a Mikveh before prayer and Torah study. Certainly we should cleanse our minds before prayer and Torah study to ensure optimal absorption and effect on us. 

Third, a finite and biased mind and an egocentric attitude stand in the way of absorbing words of Torah that contain G‑d’s infinite wisdom. To allow the words of Torah to percolate and resonate within us we must divest ourselves of our preconceived notions and our egotistical mindset. Only when we become “empty vessels” can the Divine teachings of the Torah penetrate and integrate with us.

These preparations are especially important when we study the inner dimension of Torah, specifically the teachings of mysticism, such as Kabbalah and Chassidic thought. And while it is true that we cannot wait for all of the preparations before engaging in Torah study, it is certainly a goal that we should aspire to reach.

This explains the second reference to the word v’nishma in the context of the Kohain Gadol’s entry into the Beis Hamikdash. Before one enters into the holy precincts of Torah study, Mitzvah observance and prayer, one must make the necessary preparations. Otherwise the Torah states he may die. On a spiritual level this means that if we engage in these holy exercises without adequate preparation, although we enter with great enthusiasm and passion, the inspiration will ultimately fizzle out and “die.” While we must be impulsive and excited about accepting the Torah, we must simultaneously be deliberate and focused as we enter into its domain in order for it to become a permanent fixture in our lives.

Preparing to Leave

Moreover, even when the Kohain Gadol leaves the Sanctuary he must hear the sounds of the bells on his robe. The implied message is that even when we take leave of the holy experience and we go out of the Beis Haknesses -synagogue and Beis Hamidrash-House of Study to be involved in mundane pursuits of earning a living, we have to make preparations for that transition.

Simply immersing oneself in the spiritual ocean of Torah and then abruptly leaving it to go onto “dry land” can be hazardous to one’s health. Deep sea divers know that they need to make a gradual transition from the deep sea onto dry land otherwise they are in danger of contracting decompression sickness known as “the bends” that can be fatal. The analog to this concept is that a person steeped in Torah or prayer has to recognize the need to translate the lofty ideals into day-to-day life. If we fail to make the gradual and deliberate transition from the holy to the profane we risk suffering a spiritual form of decompression illness that can derail our spiritual progress.

This is the underlying rationale for the Havdalah service at the end of Shabbos or Jewish Holidays. It assists us in making a gradual transition from the holiness of Shabbos to the weekday. In addition, it is customary to eat a special meal after the Shabbos is over called Melave Malkah - Escorting the Queen as a further way of easing into the weekdays.

Now that we have attained the excitement to embrace the Torah, coupled and tempered with our cautious and incremental preparations for its study and practice, we now reach the third and final step in our spiritual journey.

In the first two steps we incorporated the two crucial ingredients for making Judaism resonate within us. The first is a passionate and impulsive acceptance of the Torah even if it goes against our rational mind. We connect with the Divine without question or hesitation. This initial, impulsive approach to Torah is followed and complemented by a thorough process of preparation. In this way, the Torah penetrates not only our soul’s spiritual consciousness but it also reaches into our intellect and our emotions. Ultimately, even our animal soul becomes receptive to the teachings of the Torah.

The Entire World Hears the Edict of the King

However, this individual focus does not suffice. The entire world should hear and embrace the message of the Torah: the Jewish people embracing the 613 commandments and non-Jews their seven Noahide commandments. This the point where the third reference to v’nishma comes in and assures us that ultimately—upon following the first two steps of v’nishma—a guaranteed third v’nishma will come to fruition. G‑d’s word will spread to the entire world with the coming of Moshiach and the true and complete Redemption.

This is the underlying spiritual meaning of the third reference to v’nishma in the Book of Esther in the context of the king’s edict. According to our Sages, every reference to the word “king” in the Megillah can also be allegorically interpreted as a reference to G‑d, the Supreme King of Kings. The Book of Esther in thus describing the edict of the king also alludes to G‑d’s edict; it will ultimately be heard in all His kingdom, consonant with the verse: “G‑d will be the King of the entire earth; on that day He will be one and His name will be one.”

The Hebrew words pisgam hamelech-edict of the king in one form of Gematria (where we add up the numerical value of the letters plus the number of words) equals 620, which is also the numerical value of the word Keser-crown. This is alludes to the time when G‑d will put the crown on Moshiach’s head and lead us, imminently, from the profane existence of Galus into the Holy precincts of the Third Beis Hamikdash.