You shall make the Robe of the Ephod entirely of turquoise wool. Its head-opening shall be folded over within. It shall have 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 before
Each of the Kohein Gadol’s (High Priest’s) eight holy garments, says the
Talmud (Er’chin 16a), were a means of atonement for a different sin. The
Me’il ha-Ephod (Robe of the Ephod) brought forgiveness for sins-of-the-
tongue. “Let the sound of the Robe bring forgiveness for sins associated
with the sound (of speech).” If the function of the Me’il is to correct
our misuse of speech, its design must contain allusions to how to avoid
The Alshich writes that it’s peculiar that the Torah describes each bell
as being surrounded by two pomegranates. There were seventy-two bells and
seventy-two pomegranates hanging from the meil’s bottom seam, so in fact
one could just as easily have said that each pomegranate should be
surrounded by two bells.
Ostensibly, the idea that “its sound shall be heard when Aaron enters the
Holy,” was to ‘announce’ the Kohein’s arrival in the Sanctuary. To whom
was he announcing it? Hashem, as it were, does not need to be told that
Aaron is on his way. (See Ramban who cites a Midrash that implies it was
to warn the angels that even they must leave the Holy of Holies when Aaron
entered on Yom Kippur).
The bell surrounded by pomegranates, writes the Alshich, symbolizes the
tongue—surrounded by the jaw and its cheeks. Just like the soft material
of the pomegranates dampened the harsh sound of the bells, we too must
guard our tongues with our teeth and jaws, ensuring only the pleasantest
speech emerges there-from.
Why did Hashem give us two eyes—but only one mouth? To remind us, he says,
that only half of what you see you should relate. Much of what we see and
know is better kept to ourselves. This is why the Torah describes one bell
surrounded by two pomegranates, although the opposite was also true; to
remind us that the way to avoid sins of the tongue, and receive the
atonement associated with the Me’il, is by limiting what emerges from our
mouths in the first place.
The Gemara (Megillah 18a) says, “A word for a sela (coin)—silence for
two.” Rashi explains: “If one were to buy a word for one coin, it would be
worth it to pay two coins for silence.” Perhaps the Gemara alludes to the
speak-half-as-much-as-you-know rule that the Alshich finds in the double
pomegranates and the two-eyes-one-mouth; for every word you speak, make
sure it is accompanied by two measures of silence.
The Bobover Rebbe zt”l notes that the Gemara uses an unusual term for
silence—mishtuka, instead of the more common sh’tika. He explains that the
Gemara is praising a very specific silence; the silence when we give pause
to consider what we’re about to say before the words leave our mouths.
Both the one sela, and the two, he says, refer to someone speaking. “If a
word spoken is worth one sela, then one spoken mishtuka/from silence is
Perhaps the two pomegranates surround the bell allude to a period of
silence and forethought before we speak, and to another one after we have
spoken. Sometimes in the heat of a discussion, despite our best
intentions, we fall pray to foul speech, and unwittingly hurt others, are
over-aggressive, exaggerate, etc. Part of shmiras ha-lashon (working
towards proper speech) is not only to consider what we are about to say,
but also to objectively examine what we already said, in order to ensure
that we are ‘keeping to our words.’
Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman tells a childhood story that still haunts him when
he thinks about it. One time on the bus ride home, the boys’ conversation
wandered to a certain wealthy and prominent member of their community. As
is often the case, being in the public eye sometimes means having one’s
quirks and idiosyncrasies on constant display, and having to deal with the
ridicule of those who make it their business to make fun of people whose
success rubs them the wrong way.
The boys on the bus began discussing this man; it didn’t take long for the
conversation to go awry. One of his classmates, whose skills of imitation
were of some renown, regaled the assembly with his near-perfect take off
of the man’s ‘penguin-like’ walk and posture, and his ‘frog-like’ voice.
Others took their turns discussing critical issues such as ‘how little he
gives to charity considering how rich he is,’ ‘how overdone that last
chasuna he made was,’ and ‘how cool he thinks he is in his new car.’ They
were having a grand-old time. Little did they realize the man’s son was
sitting (cowering?) in the seat just in front of them, hearing everything
When the bus stopped at the son’s stop and he got up to leave, some of the
boys began to realize what had just happened. Were those tears in his
eyes? As he turned to leave, he left no doubt. His face was red with
crying, and he bitterly called out, “I hate you—you’re so mean,” just as
the bus doors slammed behind him.
There are no words to describe the shocked silence of the boys left
sitting on the bus. There was nothing to say that could right their wrong.
They just sat there, each of them considering how he must have felt
listening to them the whole time.
“Afterwards I thought to myself,” says Rabbi Wachsman, “what if one of us
had been fast enough to jump off the bus together with the boy? What if he
started chasing him down the street. The boy was in no condition to speak
to anyone—he was devastated.
“‘Go away—I’m not mocheil you—ever! Don’t bother asking for mechilah
(forgiveness). Just leave me alone!’
“‘Please stop—stop running, just for one minute. I want to talk to you.’
“‘Stop chasing me—I told you I’m not mocheil—go away!’
“Eventually, he manages to catch up with the boy. ‘Please, just give me
one minute… I heard your father has a big factory, and that he pays well—
do you think he’d give me a summer job?’”
What could possibly be more insensitive? He’s just spent his entire bus
ride ridiculing his father to his son’s great shame, and now he thinks he
can run down the same son in the street and ask his father to do him a
favour? It’s beyond absurd.
Yet how many times do we commit the identical crime? Avinu she-
ba’Shamayim, our Father in Heaven, is also the loving Father of the people
we choose to slander, ridicule, and degrade with our derogatory speech.
How does it feel, so to speak, for a Father to have to endure hearing His
beloved son spoken of in such terms? How much pain does He feel? How great
is His anger?
Hours, and sometimes minutes later, the time for tefilah (prayer)
inevitably comes—it could be shacharis, mincha, or ma’ariv. And there we
are, siddur in hand, supplicating our Father to grant us all our
needs. “Oy Tatte—give us health, give us wealth, give us nachas!” Under
such circumstances, do our prayers stand a chance of gaining favour in His
A pomegranate and a bell, a pomegranate and a bell… and his voice will be
heard when he approaches the Holy. When the great Kohein approaches our
Heavenly Father on the holiest of days, and beseeches him to grant Israel
its needs and wishes, it’s the bell surrounded on each side by the
pomegranate, reminding us to minimize our speech, control our chatter, and
think before we say what we shouldn’t, that ensures his voice will be
heard on High.