This Shabbos we read Parshas Tetzaveh. In the Parsha we read of the making of the special priestly garments that were worn by Aaron and his sons. A regular Cohen had four special garments, while a Cohen Gadol – the high priest – had eight. Among these garments was one called the meil – an apron worn by the Cohen Gadol, by the high priest, whenever he performed any of the service in the Temple. This apron had a very special bottom to it. There was a mix of bells and “pomegranates”, as the Torah calls them, along the bottom of it. The bells were small golden bells that would make noise as the High Priest would walk around, while the “pomegranates” were balls of material that made no noise. The Torah tells us that by wearing this special garment, a special thing would happen. Vnishma kolo bevao el Hakodesh - the voice of the High priest will be heard when he comes to the Holy places, Vlo yamus - and he won’t die…On a simple level the Talmud learns from here the importance of not entering a home suddenly, so as not to surprise the people inside and catch them off guard. The Talmud says that the noise made by the bells on the apron of the High Priest served as a warning to all people around that the High priest was coming, so that no one would be caught off guard. From here the Talmud teaches us that even to our own home one should not enter suddenly. We should knock before we open the door, or in some way inform the people inside that we are coming in before we actually enter.
There is more to the lesson of these bells. The bells that make noise represent the noise that we make with our speech. The tongue that rests in our mouth represents the sound of the bell that makes noise. The Torah tells us that in merit of this special garment, Vnishma kolo bevao el Hakodesh - the voice of the High priest will be heard when he enters a holy place. This alludes to a lesson for us to have our voices “heard” when we pray to Hashem. One of horrific effects of speaking Loshon Hara, speaking words that denigrate another Jew, is that it affects the power of the words of prayer that we say. The Zohar tells us that when one speaks bad of someone else, Hashem does not listen to his prayers or to his Torah study. How often do we wonder why our prayers for someone to be healed, to find a marriage partner, to find a job,… are not answered the way we would like? The Chofetz Chaim points out that we must first check if we, the person saying the prayers, are pure from speaking lashan hora. If we are constantly saying harmful or negative things about others, this will prevent the words of prayer that we say from ascending to Heaven. We will not have our prayers answered, as they are not even heard in Heaven.
The Alshich adds another point to this verse. The truth is that there were just as many of the “pomegranates” made of material as there were bells. They alternated, first a bell, then a “pomegranate”, then a bell,… Why is it that the Torah refers to the bells were “in the pomegranates”, when it could just have easily said that the “pomegranates” were “in the bells”? He answers that the Torah was teaching us a most beautiful idea. The bell represents speech, as it makes noise. The “pomegranate” represents being quite, as it makes no noise. The Torah taught us that every bell should be “in the pomegranates” – that is that every time we speak, it should be outweighed by twice as much silence. As the Talmud phrases it, “if a word is worth a dollar, silence is worth two”. As much as we accomplish by saying the right things when we should, we accomplish even more by being quite when we should.