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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tetzaveh: Using the "blues" to control speech
December 23, 2007
The special garments of the kohanim were worn to achieve atonement. The me'il atoned for people who gossip. A gossiper who did not cause any harm with his gossip would need atonement through the me'il. The special garments of the High Priest would no doubt only achieve atonement if the individual transgressor repented. The Rashbam compares the blue-wool of the me'il to the blue strings of the tzitzis. Just like the sea is limited in its flow so a person should limit the flow of his words. The sky and the other parts of creation never changed and always did as they were commanded by G'd. The final step is to associate the blue colour with G'd's Throne of Glory. Every time a person keeps his mouth closed he will merit such a great reward. "Who is the person who wants life who loves days to see good?"
In this week's Torah portion (Shemos 28:1-2) G'd instructs Moses to appoint Aaron and his children as kohanim. G'd further instructs Moses to supervise the production of their special garments, four for the regular kohanim, and eight for the Kohein Gadol (High Priest). The Talmud (Erechin 16a) points out that immediately after the instructions regarding these garments G'd instructs Moses (Shemos 29:1) how to bring the special offerings for the inauguration of the Tabernacle. Says the Talmud, "This comes to teach us that just like the offerings were brought to achieve atonement for transgressions of the Jewish people, so too were the special garments of the kohanim worn to achieve atonement."
Atone with sound
The Talmud continues to give a detailed description of what each garment atoned for. One of the garments worn by the Kohein Gadol was a robe known as the me'il. Unlike the other garments that were multi-coloured, the me'il was made entirely of blue-coloured wool. This garment, says the Talmud, came to atone for people who gossip. The Torah gives detailed instructions how it should be sewn and says: (Shemos 28:32-35) "… a gold bell and a pomegranate [of wool], a gold bell and a pomegranate on the hem of the robe all around. And it shall be on Aaron [when he comes] to conduct his service, and its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary …" The Talmud concludes: "Says G'd, let the garment with a sound come and atone for a transgression done with a sound."
Harming with evil tongue
In Parashas Tazria (Vayikra 13) we learn about the various plagues that would afflict a person's house, garments, and body as a punishment for gossiping. The Talmud asks why would these punishments occur if one achieved atonement by the me'il of the High Priest? Obviously, this was not a personal atonement just for the High Priest if he had gossiped. The High Priest was a representative of the whole Jewish nation, and the special power of his garment no doubt benefitted everyone. The Talmud answers that any gossip that a person talks is a transgression of Torah law. However, the punishment of these miraculous plagues would only apply if the gossiper actually harmed the other person with his evil tongue. If a gossiper did not cause any harm with his gossip, he would still need atonement, and this is where the me'il had its function.
Regret and remorse
It is important to note that when a person brought an offering on the altar, he would only achieve atonement if he would repent for his transgression at the time of his offering and confess his wrongdoing (see Vayikra 5:5-6). Similarly, the special garments of the High Priest would no doubt only achieve atonement if the individual transgressor repented.
Blue wool and strings
The Rashbam in his commentary (Shemos 28:31) compares the blue-wool of the me'il to the blue strings of the tzitzis. The Talmud (Menachos 43b) explains the significance of these strings. The blue colour of the tzitzis, says the Talmud, is similar to the colour of the sea. The sea has a similarity to the dark colour of the sky towards evening. And the sky is similar to the colour of G'd's Throne of Glory. Our sages understood that when one sees the blue strings of the tzitzis the first thought association that comes into one's mind is to compare this to the deep blue of the vast ocean. However, a spiritual person is expected to direct his thoughts towards Heaven and associate the colour of the sea with the colour of the sky. This in turn should bring a person to contemplate G'd's Heavenly Throne of Glory. In this way, from a simple glance at a physical string, one is able to connect with the highest level of spirituality. In the same way, says the Rashbam, when someone would see the blue robe of the High Priest, one would go through the same motions and eventually associate this with G'd's Throne of Glory. This connection would no doubt help a person to feel remorse for his evil talk and to repent for his wrongdoings.
Limitations on speech
The Kli Yakar explains that even the thought associations that connect to the sea would already assist a person to reflect on his speech. In regards to the sea it says (Job 38:10-11) "I have instituted breaks and I have put doors and locks, and I have said, 'you can come till here and no further'. And here your proud waves shall stay." The nature of water is to flow and spread all over. However, G'd has established limitations to control its spread. In the same way, say our sages, G'd has given man the ability to speak, and by nature many people like to give free reign to their flow of speech. However, here too G'd has made limitations on what is permissible to speak and what is not. So when a person sees the blue garment, he should associate it with the sea and, in this way, he will remember that just like the sea is limited in its flow so a person should limit the flow of his words.
Sky never changes
When a person further associates the blue colour with the sky, says the Kli Yakar, it is supposed to bring to mind the words of the Yalkut Shimoni in Parashas Haazinu (paragraph 942): G'd instructed Moses to tell the Jewish people "Look at the sky that I have created for your benefit. Did it ever change its ways? … If the Heaven and the other parts of creation never changed and always did as they were commanded by G'd [at the time of creation], even though they receive no reward for obeying G'd's command and they have nothing to worry about if they do not obey. You, who get reward for doing what is right and get punished when you transgress My instructions, and you have your children to worry about, how much more should you be careful not to change and do what I have instructed you."
When a person takes the final step and associates the blue colour with G'd's Throne of Glory it reminds him that one day his soul will have to come back and stand in judgment in front of G'd's Throne. All these thoughts will help a person to do what is right in general and to control his speech in particular.
Keep mouth closed
The Vilna Gaon writes in his famous letter that every time a person keeps his mouth closed he will merit such a great reward that even the angels cannot fathom the greatness of this reward. Such self-control, says the Gaon, will serve as atonement for a person's transgressions and will save him from Divine punishment both in this world and the World to Come. As it says in Mishlei (21:23) "The one who guards his mouth and his tongue will guard himself from distress and anguish."
Wants life and loves days
This is what King David says (Tehillim 34:13-14), "Who is the person who wants life who loves days to see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit." The double expression of someone who "wants life" and "loves days" refers to the two worlds that man was created to live in: this one and the one to come. For the person who is careful not to gossip and speak evil about others will be able to enjoy life in this world and get on with everyone in society. And at the same time, this person will be sure to receive a beautiful portion in the World to Come.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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