[based on Rav Shimshon Pincus ztl: Tiferes Shimshon]
One of priestly garments, worn by The Kohen Gadol, was the Me’il (robe), described in Shmot 28:31-35. This magnificent robe had 72 gold bells on it, separated by alternating pomegranate-shaped tassels of t’cheilet, purple and scarlet wool.
There are many beautiful explanations offered for the purpose and deeper meaning behind the bells, the pomegranates, the robe’s design, and its function to atone forLashon hara, etc. (discussed in some detail below.)
Using the Ramban’s explanation for the Me’il, Rav Pincus writes about an importantyesod… The Ramban explains that the Kohen Gadol wore this garment as a way to announce himself, so to speak, to Hashem before he went into the Kodesh, the holier parts of the Mishkan. He was asking for “permission” of Hashem to enter the Kodesh and perform his priestly service.
Why did the regular kohanim not wear the Me’il? Because there is an added level of approval needed for the highest leader. Such a role cannot be undertaken by just anyone. Such a person needs to ask permission and receive verification of his worthiness for the task.
Rav Pincus points out, however, that on Yom Kippur in the Kodesh HaKedashim, theMe’il was not worn; it was not one of the 4 articles of clothing worn by the Kohen Gadol on this holiest of days, per Vayikra 16:4.
The question begs — when the Kohen Gadol went into the holiest place of all, he no longer needed to introduce himself?? Of all times – when the Kohen Godel went lifnay v’lifnim, representing all of Klal Yisrael and pleading with the Master of the Universe for atonement – we would think that asking for permission to enter would be mostappropriate!
The greatest concentration of Torah in the world was in the Kodesh HaKedashim, since the Aron and Luchot HaBrit were housed there. The lesson, says Rav Pincus, is that Talmud Torah is available to anyone. No matter a person’s background, no matter a person’s level of observance – Torah is always available. We don’t need someone “closer” to Hashem than us to make an intro. No “hookups” needed. Noreshus needed, and no need to ask “permission” to access Torah. Anyone asher yidvenu libo can tap into the infinite lessons of Torah.
To quote Rav Pincus, and roughly translate –
את כתר התורה כל אחד יכול ליטולו ולשימו עטרה על ראשו
Everyone is capable of taking the crown of Torah and placing it as a crown on their own head.
I believe this yesod connects with another lesson learned out from the Me’il…
As mentioned above, The Gemara in Erachin 16a states that the robe atoned for the sin of Lashon hara; Hashem said, “Let a noisy object [the bells] atone for the act of making noise [Lashon hara].”
How so? What’s the connection?
I believe there are a few related ideas to help explain.
Rav Moshe Alshich prived an explanation for the Torah’s description of the arrangement of the bells and pomegranates. The bells and pomegranates were placed in alternating fashion: a bell, followed by a pomegranate, followed by a bell, followed by a pomegranate, and so on. Yet, the Torah speaks of the bells as being placed in between the pomegranates. Even though each pomegranate was surrounded by two bells, just as each bell was surrounded by two pomegranates, the Torah nevertheless chooses to specifically describe the bells as being surrounded by pomegranates.
The Alshich explains that the Torah here alludes to the great value of silence. The stress in the passuk is the siginificance of the pomegranates surrounding the bells — Megilla 18a teaches: “mila b’sela mashtuka b’trin” = a word is valued at one sela (coin) and silence is worth two (sela’im). Rashi explains: If one were to buy a word for one coin, it would be worth it to pay two coins for silence. For every measure of speech, one should have two measures of silence. The Torah thus emphasizes that each bell – each sound that a person makes – must be surrounded by two silent pomegranates.
To this point, often times Lashon hara is just noise; audible information to just fill space; For example, Reuvein speaks Lashon hara about Shimon. Reuvein’s real goal was not to speak against Shimon to ruin his reputation; he spoke Lashon hara because the silence was too bothersome, or because he couldn’t think of something better to say at that moment. He had some juicy news to share with his peers that he used it to gain some attention and popularity. Most people, when they speak about others, actually care little about the one they’re speaking against. They doing it for themselves — with an eye toward improving their own image and popularity, rather than (and carelessly inconsiderate of) the resulting damage to their fellow man. So as not to seem dull, we often engage in conversation that isn’t particularly profound, but fills the empty space.
This idea of guarding our speech by keeping our lips tightly closed, and only talking when we have something important to say, is even symbolized in the physical shapes of the bells and pomegranates of the Me’il. The bells with the ringers inside resemble an open mouth with a tongue. The pomegranates resemble a mouth tightly shut. Each golden bell was surrounded by a pomegranate on either side to remind us of our responsibility to think twice before we speak. In this way, we atone for the sin of Lashon hara.
Finally, the Gemara in Zevachim 18b explains that the term used for the simple garments worn by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur – Michnisei Bahd, Ketonet Bahd, Mitznefet Bahd, Avneit Bahd – were linen garments, learned out from a passuk in Yechezkel; Bahd = Pishtim = Linen.
As stated above, the absence of the Me’il from the Kohen Gadol’s garb when he entered the Kodesh HaKedashim on Yom Kippur, teaches us that no permission or access code is needed to tap into Torah. There is, however, (at least) one prerequisite for Talmud Torah and D’veikus with Hashem, and that is humility. This is signified by the Bigdei Pishtim – the simple, white, linen clothing, which were the only clothing allowed to be worn when encountering the Luchot.
I believe humility connects to the lessons of avoiding Lashon hara in that a humble person has no designs to put someone else down by spreading Lashon hara; he has no desire to one-up or overtake someone else. Instead he thinks – ‘I am so far from perfect myself, so who am I to speak ill of someone else??’ The Torah’s punishment for Lashon hara is tzara’at, not to cause him pain, but to humble and lower him in his own eyes and in the eyes of others. In fact (thanks to an internet search), Erachin 15b says that the remedies for speaking Lashon hara are Torah study and humility.
A few years ago, Rav Moshe Weinberger shlita, in his Shabbos Shuva derasha, noted that pishtim (linen) has the same letters as sefasi (lips). The Kohen Gadol, as an extension of Klal Yisrael, comes to Hashem offering just the teffilos of his lips. Lips of his, and the collective lips of Klal Yisrael, that were hopefully employed for good things throughout the preceding year. Lips that know when to stay closed, and lips that know when to be used for Talmud Torah, teffila, and redifas shalom.
Humility and proper treatment of others, are key ingredients to help ensure the fulfillfilment of our daily request of: Hashem sefasai tiftach, u’fi yagid tehilasecha.