Friday, March 6, 2009

TITZAVEH: THE SECRET OF THE POMEGRANATE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


In this week's parsha, Titzaveh, The Name is giving instructions asto how the kohanim are to dress when on duty in their role as caretakers ofthe Holy Tabernacle. In a sense, we are all kohanim, being that we are "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation- mamlechet kohanim vegoy qadosh."


Every garment serves a symbolic service or function. The text (Ex 28:2) sets the overall tone and standard for this sacred apparel. Above all, the verse says, the garments for Aaron and his sons should be both dignified and beautiful, "le'chavod u'le'tifaret." And to the degree that the priests are exemplars and role models of the sacred, we are meant to look to them for direction concerning all holy things.


Being that G*d is dressing (addressing) us today, we should ask what subconscious desires is He projecting on to us, as it were, by the clothes He chooses for us? As much as external clothing is said to reveal internal character, then G*d is showing us that we are beautiful inside. And G*d is also showing us that we are also dignified inside. After all, we are made in G*d's image. So we see that how G*d, our true parent, is asking us to dress ourselves, is a reflection of the way that G*d sees Himself. It is not only a statement that we are making about ourselves. It is even more a statement that we are making about G*d! It's about beauty and dignity.


One of the most fascinating of the sacred vestments worn by the High Priestis the robe. On the hem of the robe could be found pomegranates made of colored wool alternating with gold bells. Pomegranates contain within them exactly 613 seeds (I have counted), the number of mitzvot in the Torah. One thing we learn from this is that plain folk imbued with good deeds, though lacking in material wealth, are as precious to G*d, as gold and wealth are precious to people. We could learn from that analogy to reflect on our priorities.


Moreover, the Torah and the multitude of mitzvot within is G*d's special gift. So too, when we encounter another person, one made in the Divine image, we should look out for, be aware of, and show sensitivity to his special gifts, talents and concerns. We do violence to that person's sense of self and well-being by ignoring his individuality and uniqueness.


As every heart is a sacred Temple, so must we knock before we enter, just as the bells alerted G*d to the priest's presence (not that G*d needed it. We did.) History's first doorbell is recorded in marvelous detail by the text, as a prerequisite to a Divine encounter. " And Aaron shall wear this robe when he prepares the Divine service. The sound of the bells shall be heard when he enters the sanctuary and when he goes out, so that he not die (Ex 28:35)."


I can see why one should announce one's coming, but why one's going? In the same way that one defines the borders of a neighbor's sense of privacy by announcing one's entering, so too one is defining the borders by announcing one's leaving. The nature of sacred space (maqom qadosh) is defined by its notion of differentiation, much as the mundane is much noted for its quality of sameness. Indeed the halacha (the Jewish Way) instructs us to actively greet our guests and show them in, as well as accompany them along the way a short while after they leave.


Furthermore, can't G*d see our coming and going? Why would the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) have to announce himself? If we are instructed to show deference and honor to The Name, a being devoid of corporeal form, certainly mere mortals who lack corporeality and yet carry a Divine spark within, are deserving of a modicum of respect and honor, afforded by dint of their special provenance. This is the secret meaning of the pomegranate.


Lastly, what is the significance of the various colors of these woolen pomegranates? They are made of three colors: crimson, sky blue and dark red. These colors symbolize the various times of day- dawn (crimson), daytime(sky blue) and sunset (dark red), the changing colors of the sky as the sun (gold bell) moves across the heavens.


What this is saying to us is that G*d is near to us any time of day. The deepest meaning is that unlike a human king such as Ahasueros, the king of Persia in the upcoming Purim saga, who at his fancy could take your life for seeking him without anappointment, G*d will grant us an audience at any time. Any time of day or night is the right time to call out to G*d for help. To speak to G*d directly, unlike Ahasueros, Esther would not have to fast. To call out to G*d for help we do not risk death. Just the opposite!


The deepest meaning of our parsha is that G*d is our true king, and as sons and daughters of Divine royalty we are worthy to wear garments of blue today, not black, much as the High Priest and Mordecai wore blue in their day. And as we are all descended from "a kingdom of priests and a holynation," we should know that we are all worthy to wear garments of blue, for blue is the color of the sky, the color of the heavens, the color of the thread of the tallit. May our insides, then, be as heavenly as our outsides. And may we reflect G*d's Divine Light wherever we go.


Shabbat Shalom.

© 2000-2009 by Rabbi Baruch Melman

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!