Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin

enkinThis week’s Torah portion is Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10). In it, we learn about the unique garments that the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, was required to wear when he performed the service in the Beit Hamikdash – the Holy Temple. There was a special belt, turban, robe, vest, and more. Our commentaries are rich in interpretations and meaning of each of these garments, why they were worn and what they represent.

One of these garments was the “Me’il” – a long, four cornered, blue, woolen robe. At the bottom of this robe were several dozen bells. Yes, bells. As the Torah says: “The sound of the bells will be heard when he [the Kohen Gadol] enters the sanctuary before God”. So important is this bell-adorned robe, that if the Kohen Gadol were ever to enter the sanctuary without it, he would be subject to the death penalty.

One of the most prominent teachings regarding the robe is the importance of privacy. Think about it – anytime the Kohen would simply walk, bells would be going off! Everyone knew when the Kohen Gadol was coming! There were no surprises. So too, our sages teach us, we should be sure to honor the privacy of others. For example, we learn from here that one must knock before entering a room. Just like the occupants of a room would hear the Kohen Gadol arrival as he approached, we must be sure to knock before entering a room to inform those in the room of our presence.

But here’s the question: The Kohen Gadol was the holiest man in the world! And which rooms, in which house, did he enter most? The rooms of the Beit Hamikdash! The house of God! Does God really need to have a “knock on the door” for Him to know who was approaching the sanctuary? Does God really need to hear the bells to know that the Kohen Gadol was about to perform the service? And why is the lesson of privacy, of “knock before entering”, being taught to us by the Kohen Gadol, the holiest man in the world? Couldn’t the Torah find another context to teach us this lesson?

The answer is both beautiful and simple. There is no better role model in the world to teach us the relatively “minor” lesson of “knock before entering” than the Kohen Gadol! Why? Because sometimes, when people are on such a high spiritual level, sometimes when people are primarily focused on getting closer to God, they often forget “the small stuff”. Indeed, as mentioned in past United with Israel Torah portion posts, there are two types of mitzvot: Those between man and God and those between man and his fellow man. The Kohen Gadol is teaching us that even when a person –such as himself- is so focused on the mitzvot between man and God one cannot forget the mitzvot between man and his fellow man. And from what better venue to learn how to conduct ourselves in our own homes, then looking at the House of God as our example? The search for spiritually can never supersede common courtesy and etiquette.

So please, knock before entering!

Shabbat Shalom (and Purim Sameach) from Israel!

Rabbi Ari Enkin