On its hem make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, all around the hem, with bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe. – Exodus 28:33-34

In addition to providing detailed instructions for the Tabernacle (mishkan), the Israelites learn through Moses how they are to dress and install its functionaries, the priests. The high priest’s garments, to be worn by Aaron when carrying out his official duties, are multi-layered and richly embellished like the mishkan itself. The hem of the robe, for example, must have an alternating border (Rashi) of pomegranates in royal colors and bells which ring as he walks.

The purpose of the bells is stated in the Torah:…so that the sound of it is heard from when he comes into the sanctuary before the Lord and when he goes out – that he may not die (Ex 29:35). Commentators have long derived an ethical teaching from this that is just as valuable today as it was when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai said: One who enters his own house or, needless to say, the house of another, unexpectedly, the Holy One hates, and I, too, do not exactly love him (LR 21:8). In other words, we should make our presence known before entering someone else’s home or other personal space.

The significance of the pomegranates, which is not stated, also merits our attention. In Jewish tradition, the pomegranate (rimon) often symbolizes righteousness based on the belief that the mature fruit has the same number of seeds as there are miztvot: 613. In the ancient world, these bell-shaped fruits were associated with fertility and renewal. The Songs of Songs explicitly associates pomegranates with the attractiveness of the beloved woman, called My perfect one (6:9). Understood allegorically, this is God speaking of Israel.

Aaron’s outermost priestly adornments made of precious metal and stones project strength and protection. The visible hem of his underlying robe with its bells and pomegranates surely project love.

Leave a reply