Friday, March 2, 2012

TITZAVEH; THE SECRET OF THE POMEGRANATE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman



The clothes we wear say so much about who we are as people. Are we meticulous, neat, slovenly or pretentious? Does what we wear on the outside reveal much about who we are on the inside?

Do we wear cotton, linen or polyester? or perhaps fig leaves? Or maybe a simple tunic?

As graphologists can discern one's character by the art of handwriting analysis, so too can a trained observer understand people by the clothes they wear. This won't work for teens. They are too busy showing how superficial it is to judge by externals. And how right they are.

And little children obviously are different as well. They usually don't dress themselves. They are held captive by the whims of their parents. Children's clothes often reflect the subconscious choices of the parent and the image the parent wants to project to the world, concerned as parents are with the need to cultivate and imbue the child with a certain set of values.

Similarly, in this week's parsha, Titzaveh, Hashem is giving instructions as to how the kohanim are to dress when on duty in their role as caretakers of the Holy Tabernacle. We, as kohanim ourselves, being that we are "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation- a mamlechet kohanim vegoy qadosh," are G*d's children, keviyachol- as it were, prey to a certain Divine sartorial whimsy. But whimsy is perhaps the wrong word, in that it suggests a lack of purpose or intention.

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 a dressing (addressing!) us today, as our Divine parent, we should ask what subconscious desires is He projecting on to us, as it were, by the clothes He chooses for us, Aaronides all, as it were, in the broadest sense?

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 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! Holy and beautiful!

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! Whatever era or locale in which we live, the guiding Torah rules in fashion are the twin ideals of both beauty and dignity. Tzniut - Jewish dress of modest sensibility, can reflect both.

One of the most fascinating of the sacred vestments worn by the High Priest is the robe. On the hem of the robe could be found pomegranates made of colored wool alternating with gold bells. Pomegranates symbolically contain within them exactly 613 seeds (yes, I have counted), equal to 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 precious to G*d. They are as precious to G*d much as as gold and wealth are precious to people. Moreover, the Torah and the multitude of mitzvot found within is G*d's special gift to us- a means of connecting to the Source of Life.

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 his uniqueness. We acknowledge each person as a unique gift. How revolutionary among religions. What a Divine gift!

As every heart is a sacred Temple, we must knock before we enter. We may steal a glance, but we may never steal a heart. We must ask permission before taking. Knock first. Or ring the doorbell.

History's first door bell 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)." So perhaps then, this hints that the "goodly fruit" of the Garden of Eden may also have been the pomegranate, being that both warnings contain similar contraindications.

Now 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.

Moreover, 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 G*d, who is a being devoid of corporeal form, in a reversal of the classic formulaic al achat kamah ve-kamah -"how much more so," certainly mere mortals who lack incorporeality and yet carry a Divine spark within, are deserving of a modicum of respect and honor afforded by dint of their special provenance. As we give honor and deference to G*d, isn't it fitting that we show respect to His creation? This is the secret meaning of the pomegranate. How revolutionary among religions. What a Divine gift!

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

What this is saying to us is that G*d is near to us any time of day- whether at dawn, daytime or sunset. Whether in our youth, our midlife, or our dotage! The deepest meaning is that unlike a human king such as Ahasueros, the king of Persia in the upcoming Purim saga, who on a whim could take your life for seeking him without an appointment, 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. G*d does not need an appointment to speak with Him!

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! We risk life - eternal life!

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 Hareidi black, much as the High Priest and Mordecai wore blue in their day. The secular Israeli boy and girl scouts of today intrinsically know this and as the flag of Israel has deep blue, so too are their uniforms a manifestation of a symbolic expression of a Divine sense of color.

Black is the color of mourning. But now we have figuratively and
literally returned home back to Zion. Our mourning is now over. The morning of our redemption has just begun!

And similarly, as we are all descended from "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," we should all 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 all reflect G*d's (blue or red or crimson) Divine Light wherever we go.

Shabbat Shalom.

© 2000 - 2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.

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About Me

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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!