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Gossip Kills: The Bells of the High Priest’s Robe, part 3, Exodus 28:31-35, by Dr. Terry Harman

“Bells and Pomegranates of the Blue Robe” photo by Dr. Jason Eric Renna, 2022

January 4, 2024

Exodus 28:31-35 (JPS 1917)

And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue. And it shall have a hole for the head in the midst thereof; it shall have a binding of woven work round about the hole of it, as it were the hole of a coat of mail that it be not rent. And upon the skirts of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the skirts of the robe round about. And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and the sound thereof shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not.

 

Gossip is Perilous

Gossip is destructive. If we say we never gossip, we may be fooling ourselves. The sages of the past warned us that everyone is guilty of evil speech during their life. It is just hard to avoid )Bava Basra 165a). The Proverbs are rich with warnings against gossip and evil speech.

 

  • “In the multitude of words there wanteth not transgression; But he that refraineth his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver; The heart of the wicked is little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many; But the foolish die for want of understanding.”  Proverbs 10:19-21 JPS 1917

 

  • “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets; But he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth a matter.” Proverbs 11:13 JPS 1917

 

  • “A froward man soweth strife; And a whisperer separateth familiar friends.” Proverbs 16:28 JPS 1917

 

What do the distinctive elements of the bells and pomegranates of the High Priest’s blue robe have to do with the subject of gossip? I am glad you asked! Jewish commentators suggest the three colors of the pomegranates and the golden bells were not merely decorative additions but carried profound symbolism. The blue robe has three reminders to guard our tongues and be careful what we say. The mouth, the bells, and the pomegranates say, “Hold your tongue!”

 

The Practical Purpose of the Bells

The distinctive elements of the blue robe (Meil) are the golden bells and alternating pomegranates. On each side, were 36 pomegranates crafted from threads of blue, purple, and scarlet wool. Additionally, 36 golden bells jingled as the High Priest walked. As he moved, the golden bells produced a subtle jingling of a soft melody. These bells had a practical purpose during the sacred ceremonies.

 

“The great object of the bells was to make known to the people, by a sensible manifestation, every movement of their representative, every act that he performed on their behalf. The bells enabled them to follow in their thoughts the entire service that he was engaged in, to join their prayers and praises with his, and offer to God a common worship.” (1)

 

However, the bells also carried a deeper spiritual lesson for those who observed the High Priest in the outer courtyard and for the High Priest as he or participated in the rituals within the Holy Place.


“The Bells and Pomegranates of the Meil” photo by Terry Harman, © 2000

The Spiritual Purpose of the Bells

The symbolic purpose of the bells was to produce a spiritual awareness of gossip. We learned from part one of this series that traditional Judaism teaches, the wearing of the blue robe with the overlapped opening for the head was to prevent ripping. However, the bottom hem of the robe adorned with bells and pomegranates atoned for the sin of gossip or evil speech (Zevachim 88b). In Hebrew, the specific sin of gossip or evil speech is loshon hora. As the Talmud puts it "a clothing that makes sound will atone for the sin of sound (i.e. gossip)." (2)

 

The bells symbolize the importance of being aware of our speech, not only when we are in the presence of God in worship but also when we are on the streets talking about others. A wise man once said, “If you cannot say something good, don’t say anything at all.”

 

The Warning of Death

I am puzzled by verse thirty-five; “And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and the sound thereof shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not.” What is this verse trying to communicate?

 

There is one common myth associated with this verse. If the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies with sin in his life, he would be struck dead before the Ark of the Covenant. The trouble with this opinion is it is not scriptural according to Leviticus chapter sixteen. (3)

 

Since the warning of death is not connected with the High Priest’s duties within the Holy of Holies on The Day of Atonement and the High Priest never wore the blue robe with the bells into the Holy of Holies, then what is the possible meaning of this warning of death? Gossip kills!

 

“Why would the Torah specifically mention this detail in reference to the robe? We can understand this verse based on the midrashic statement that Loshon Hara kills three people: the speaker, the listener, and the party being spoken about (Devarim Rabba). If we internalize the lesson of the robe, and withhold ourselves from improper speech, we can save all three parties from death.” (4)


The High Priest is a human being who is the mediator between God and man. It would be easy to recall all the negative the children of Israel have done. Like Jona, it would be easy to become embittered that the Lord would be so forgiving and gracious to wrongdoers.


It would be tempting to even gossip before the Lord to remind him of wrongdoing. He must remind himself that he not only represents the people living honorable lives he also represents the noisy clambering people who complain and frequently do wrong (Sanhedrin 37a).


Conclusion

The bells serve as a reminder to the High Priest that each action he takes leaves a lasting impact. Regardless of our public status, how we earn our living or our role in our house of worship, we too must approach our lives with a sense of holiness in our work and interactions with others. This does not require us to be perfect but more intentional in all we do “unto the Lord.” Of foremost importance is guarding our tongues from gossip.

 

The bells teach us the importance of spiritual awareness. In a world filled with distractions, the gentle cadence of our steps calls us to be present, mindful of the consequences of our choices and our words. This heightened awareness leads to a more intentional and purposeful existence, grounded in spirituality.

 

During my twenty-three years as a chaplain at Manteno State Hospital and Shapiro Developmental Center in Illinois, I served alongside one of my heroes – Rabbi Minard Klein of Park Forest, Illinois, of blessed memory. As was our habit, we ate lunch together on Tuesdays and discussed family, ministry, life, and naturally the Bible. One particular conversation remains with me. Rabbi Klein said,


“My son, there are three crowns in life.

The crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship.

But the crown of a good name is superior to them all.”


1. Am I conscious of the Lord’s presence in my life?

2. Do I recognize the sacred spaces in my life?

3. Am I bringing honor to the Lord in my daily actions?

4. Does my walk match my talk?



References

(1)   Ellicott, Charles John. Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers. Bible Hub. Retrieved from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/exodus/28-35.htm


(2)   Zweig, Rabbi Yitzchak. "Tetzaveh 5780 - Aish.com,” accessed January 4, 2024.


(3)   For an in-depth study refuting this common myth please refer to my two blogs on the subject. See https://www.thetabernacleman.com/post/rope-around-high-priest-s-ankle and


(4)   Wagensberg, Rabbi Abba. "Symbolic Clothes." Aish.com, Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10). Accessed December 27, 2023.

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JP
JP
1月13日
評等為 5(最高為 5 顆星)。

Luk 18:13  “But the tax collector standing at a distance would not even raise his eyes to the heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘Elohim, show favour unto me, a sinner!’

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Amen

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訪客
1月05日

great. thanks for the information

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訪客
1月05日
評等為 5(最高為 5 顆星)。

love this Terry

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訪客
1月04日
評等為 5(最高為 5 顆星)。

I always wondered why there were bells on the robe. What about the cloth pomegranates?

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The next blog discusses pomegranates.

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