Likkutei Sichos-Parshas Tetzaveh: When running away from sin there is no place for political correctness

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Parshas Tetzaveh

When running away from sin there is no place for political correctness

(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 16 Sicha 2)

In Parshas Tetzaveh, we learn of the garments of the priests. A regular priest had four priestly garments which he would wear during his temple service while the high priest would wear eight garments. One of these eight garments was known as the Meil robe, and contained beautiful ornaments of pomegranates and bells on its bottom rim. There is a debate between Rashi and the Ramban as to the exact positioning of these bells, and if they were positioned inside of the cloth pomegranates, or between them. In this talk the Rebbe analyzes the two positions of Rashi and the Ramban and the core of their dispute. This enters into a general discussion as to the purpose behind the bells. Why were they necessary, and if they were necessary, why was the belled robe not worn when entering the Kodesh Hakedoshim on Yom Kippur? These questions reveal a special purpose and function which was represented by the high priest in his temple service, corresponding to the divine service of the sinner and Baal Teshuvah. The Rebbe explains that the service of a Baal Teshuvah is one that involves excitement and noise as opposed to that of a Tzadik which is one of calmness and silence. The lesson derived from this talk is that a person who comes from a sinful background and desires to better himself should not shy away from using whatever means possible of freeing himself of the evil, even if they are strange and unconventional, as when a person runs away from danger there is no time to contemplate matters of political correctness and whatever that can help must be done.


Explorations of the Sicha:

1. How were the pomegranates and bells arranged on the rim of the Meil robe?

2. Why did the Meil of the Kohen have bells? What function did they serve?

3. Why did the high priest not wear a robe with bells when he entered the Kodesh Hakedoshim on Yom Kippur?

4. What is the difference between the divine service of a Tzadik versus that of a Baal Teshuvah?


1. How were the bells of the Meil positioned on the garment?

The priestly robe known as the Meil, which was worn by the high priest, is described in the Torah to contain Techeilis wool pomegranates and gold bells on its bottom rim. The way this is described in the Torah is as follows:[1] “You shall make on its bottom Techeilis wool pomegranates… on its rim around it and gold bells inside of them around it.” Now, what is the meaning behind this description? Is it saying that the gold bells were inside of the actual pomegranates which were hollow, or does it mean something else? Indeed, we find two approaches in how to understand this verse, one being that of Rashi and the second that of the Ramban.

The approach of Rashi:[2]

Rashi explains that the bells were not placed inside of the pomegranates but rather between them. Between every two pomegranates there is a bell and between every two bells is a pomegranate Although Rashi agrees that the wool pomegranates were hollow in their inside, nonetheless, he does not hold that the bells were placed inside of them.

The approach of the Ramban:[3]

The Ramban questions the approach of Rashi, stating that according to his approach the pomegranates serve no purpose. The Ramban rejects the notion that the pomegranates were made simply for beauty purposes, as if this were to be the case, then it should have been made from gold and be in the shape of apples, similar to the ornaments placed on the menorah which contain apple shaped gold buttons known as Kaftorim. Furthermore, even if one can argue that they were placed there for beauty, this would not explain why they were hollow. Thus, concludes the Ramba, that one must say that the bells were inserted inside of the hollow wool pomegranates, and not in between them. Thus, the pomegranates were not placed there for beauty purposes but as an external garbing of the bells.

To understand the defense of Rashi’s position against the attacks of the Ramban, we must first introduce the general purpose of the bells that were on the Meil robe.


2. What purpose did the bells of the Meil serve?

The Torah[4] explains that the purpose behind the bells that were on the Meil is in order to make noise when the high priest enters the Heichal. The bells served as a warning sign to the public that the high priest was about to enter the Heichal. These bells were considered so important and serious that the verse emphasizes that through being careful in this the priest will be saved from death when he enters the Heichal. Now, the question is raised as to why it was at all necessary for the high priest to make noise before he entered the Heichal. After all, the verse[5] states that G-d is not served with noise and that rather He is to be approached with silence. Furthermore, on Yom Kippur itself the high priest entered the Heichal without wearing the Meil, and without needing to have the noise proclaim to others that he was entering Heichal. Thus, it is not clear as to what purpose the bells served, and on the contrary they seem to be contradictory to the requested divine service.


3. The bells were similar to a knock on the door:

The Ramban[6] explains that the bells served a similar purpose to that of a doorknocker. It is unbefitting for one to barge into a house without first knocking on the door and informing the occupant of one’s arrival. All the more so with the king of kings, one who enters his chambers without asking permission is liable for death. Thus, prior to entering the Heichal the high priest must so to say knock on the door and ask for permission to enter, which is done through making the noise with the bells. Now, the reason that on Yom Kippur there is no necessity for the high priest to wear the robe with the bells is because G-d already set aside this day for the Jewish people, and for Him to be alone without any intermediaries and therefore there is no need for the intermediary of the bells to announce the high priest’s arrival.

According to this interpretation it ends up that the ringing of the bells is not part of the service of the high priest but rather a preparation for it. We will now offer an explanation that connects the ringing of the bells to the actual service of the high priest, through first introducing the difference between the service of a Baal Teshuvah versus that of a Tzadik.


4. The difference in divine service between a Baal Teshuvah and Tzadik:

A Jew who was sinned and since repented serves G-d in a very noisy manner, similar to a man who is hurriedly running away from another man who is chasing after him to do him harm. Such a person pays no attention to any rules of politeness, and screams and shouts and runs wildly in order to escape his assailant. The same applies by one who repents for his sins. When one realizes how distant he is from G-d either due to his sins, or due to his feelings of being an independent being, this arouses within him a panic filled passion to run away from his current self, and thus he does so in a noisy fashion. Thus, he may pray very loudly with screaming and shouting and through making various different hand motions. As is well known, when the Baal Shem Tov was asked as to why his followers make all these wild hand movements during prayer, he replied that when somebody is drowning and is shouting and making hand movements to save himself, you do not ask this question, and the same applies during prayer when a Jew is trying to save himself from his evil inclination.

All the above is the divine service of the Baal Teshuvah, however, by the righteous the opposite approach is used, in which one serves G-d in absolute serenity and silence, as the verse[7] states, “Lo Berash Havayah.” The reason for this is because in order to be a proper receptacle to receive from the divine revelation of the name of Havayah which is above the order of the world’s, one is required to have absolute nullification and submission to G-d which is expressed in silence. However, one who is not on this level and is still trying to become a receptacle for the name of Elokim [which is the name that gives existence to evil], then he specifically needs to run away and serve G-d in a noisy manner.


5. The reason the high priest would wear a robe with bells during the regular year:

Based on the above, we can now explain why the high priest would wear a robe with bells during the year. The high priest in his temple service represented all factions of the Jewish people, including sinners, and was not just a representative of the righteous. Accordingly, the high priest would perform his service in the temple with a noisemaking garment, hence representing the noisemaking of the sinners at the time that they repent. On this the Torah states that if the high priest does not desire to wear the robe with its bells, as he does not desire to represent the sinners, then he is liable for death, which metaphorically means that his entire divine services becomes nullified.


6. The reason that on Yom Kippur the high priest had to serve without bells:

On Yom Kippur the high priest would enter into the Kodesh Hakedoshim. His entrance into the Kodesh Hakedoshim must be done in silence, without any noise, and hence he does not enter it while wearing the robe with the bells. The reason for this is because on Yom Kippur the entire Jewish people are similar to angels, and have a connection with G-d similar to that of Tzadikim.

We will now explain the relationship between the pomegranates and the bells and as to why according to Rashi they were in between each other and not one within the other.


7. The pomegranates represent the sinners as opposed to apples which represent the righteous:

In Scripture, the Jewish people are compared to both apples and pomegranates. The difference between them is as follows: The comparison to apples is in reference to Jews who were righteous and of very high spiritual levels. The comparison to the pomegranates, however, is in reference to the sinful Jew, who contains rotting parts but is nonetheless filled with Mitzvos like a pomegranate. Now, the Ramban holds that if G-d desired to represent the Jewish people on the Meil he would’ve chosen the apple which represents the righteous, and therefore he rejects the explanation of Rashi and holds that it’s only purpose was simply to garb the bells which was used as a form of asking permission of entry to the Heichal, as explained above. However, according to Rashi, the entire purpose of the robe is to show that the high priest also represents the sinful Jew in his temple service, and therefore he holds that the pomegranates served an intrinsic purpose of beauty to represent the sinful Jew. These pomegranates were then surrounded by bells which represent the repentance of the sinful Jew which is done with much noise and excitement.


8. The advantage of the divine service of a Baal Teshuvah, who is very noisy and excited:

Although the noisy and boisterous divine service of a Baal Teshuvah is a result of him trying to run away from his sinful past, nonetheless, in truth it contains an advantage over the divine service of the righteous who serve G-d with calmness and serenity. When one serves G-d in a calm and serene manner it prevents him from going above and beyond his natural limitations. However, when one serves G-d in a noisy manner, he breaks the boundaries and limitations of his natural self and serves G-d with deeper soul powers than the righteous. This is one of the reasons that the sages state that in the place that the Baal Teshuvah stands even a complete tzaddik does not stand, as the noise of the repentance reveals deeper parts of the divine soul.


9. The need to break political correctness and proactively perform Shlichus and bring other Jews closer to Judaism:

The lesson that we learn from the above talk is that when it comes to the work of making Baalei Teshuvah, it does not suffice to retain a calm and passive state in which one waits for the people to approach him with their questions and desire to repent, and only then engages with them. Rather, one is required to be proactive and go out of his way and go into the streets and approach people and arouse them to want to become Baalei Teshuvah. He needs to approach people and ask them to put on tefillin and not wait for them to approach him. He needs to knock on doors and offer them to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah, and not wait until someone who is interested calls him on the phone. This proactive offensive of bringing Judaism to the masses is similar to the noisy and boisterous service of the Baal Teshuvah, and corresponds to the bells at the rim of the Meil which need to make noise in order to help turn the “pomegranate Jews” into “apple Jews.”


10. The noise of the sins of the world needs a corresponding noise of holiness:

Another reason for why in today’s generation it is necessary to be proactive about one’s Judaism and spreading it to others, is in order to counteract the loudness and publication of sinful behavior in today’s generation. Just as sinful behavior today is no longer done in quiet and is publicized all over the streets with great noise and pride, so too, one’s divine service needs to also be done with great noise and publication to counteract it.


The Lesson:

· When needing to repent and fix a bad habit or behavior, don’t only look at the conventional methods which may not work for you. Try to think of any method possible to help your situation, as unconventional as it may be, as when running away from evil there is no time for political correctness. Thus, for example, if one wants to stop himself from the habit of biting his nails on Shabbos then he should consider wearing gloves, even during the summer in order to help him break his habit. The same applies to any other activity that one is having trouble breaking through, that he should be open to even unconventional methods of treatment, so long as in the end of the day he will fix the problem.

· Don’t feel you must be politically correct during prayer, and Daven in silence without movement as many people do, which consequently affects their concentration and excitement. Prayer involves the soul running away from the darkness of impurity, and there is nothing wrong with needing to express yourself while doing so, even if it means raising your voice in prayer and you making hand movements, or crying. There is no room for etiquette behavior when you’re trying to save yourself from drowning.

· Don’t be shy to approach someone and offer him the ability to perform a mitzvah, despite the fact that you are not sure what his reaction may be. Especially in this generation, we must be on the offensive to spread Judaism to counteract the offense of all matters of impurity found in the streets and media.


[1] Tetzaveh 28:33

[2] Rashi on Tetzaveh 28:33 “Rimoni” and “Besocham Saviv”

[3] Ramban on verse Tetzaveh 28:31

[4] Tetzaveh 28:35

[5] Melachim 1 19:11-12

[6] Ramban on verse Tetzaveh 28:3

[7] Melachim 1 19:11-12

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