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Only positive use of our mouth and tongue is considered true speech.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Teztave” (Exodus 27:20–30:10), and in it we read about the garments of the priests who served in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and later in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The regular priests would wear four garments while the High Priest would wear eight. The Talmud teaches that each of the High Priest’s eight garments was meant to atone for different sins. Let’s take a look at the robe of the High Priest:

“You shall make the Robe of turquoise wool. Its opening shall be folded over with a woven lip around its opening… it may not be torn. On its hem you shall make “pomegranates” of turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool, on its hem all around. Between them, there shall be gold bells all around… It must be on Aaron when he ministers so that its sound is heard when he enters the Holy place” (28:31-35)

We are taught that the Robe atoned for the sin of forbidden speech which is actually meant to be evident in its design.

Just like the bells on the bottom of the robe made sounds, so too our mouths simply make “sounds” when speaking in a way that we shouldn’t be. Only positive use of our mouth and tongue is considered to be true speech.

Now here’s an interesting observation about the Robe. The Torah describes the bottom of the robe as being a bell that was sandwiched between two pomegranates. However there were both 72 bells and 72 pomegranates. As such, the Torah could have described the bottom of the robe as being a pomegranate that was sandwiched between two bells!

It is explained that the emphasis on the bells being surrounded by the pomegranates drives home the lesson of noise and forbidden speech. Indeed, it is further taught that the bottom of the robe is meant to be reminiscent to a tongue, jaw, and cheeks. Just like the soft material that the pomegranates were made from would quiet and lessen the sound of the bells, so too we must guard our tongues with our teeth and jaws, ensuring only proper and permitted speech emerges from there.

In a related teaching, the question is asked: Why did God give us two eyes but only one mouth? The answer: Because we should probably not be relating more than half of what our eyes see. Much of what we see and know, especially about others, is better kept to ourselves. As the Talmud says, “A word is worth a coin, but silence is worth two coins.”

This is why the Torah describes the robe as one bell surrounded by two pomegranates and not the reverse: to remind us that the way to avoid sins with our mouths and merit atonement for such sins that the robe gives us, we must be careful with what emerges from our mouth and “silence” ourselves when appropriate.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.

How Do You Know When the Time is Right?

A Lesson in Education from the Lighting of the Menorah

Clothing Conveys Dignity and Respect
Learning About Common Courtesy from the Holiest Person on Earth

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