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yesh omrim

a blog that reclines to the left


The bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

15 March 2004

I generally take a positivist attitude to the mitzvot. For example, some people will look at the commandment against combining meat and milk, and adduce some Deep and Significant Reason for the commandment, e.g., it’s a symbol of the distinction between life and death. I say we can’t mix milk and meat because God prohibited it, and prohibiting things for reasons we don’t understand is part of God’s job description, His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts, etc.

However, sometimes the Torah, in the course of issuing a specific commandment, provides a specific reason alongside it. For example, in the week-before-yesterday’s parsha, there are detailed descriptions for the vestments of the priests. In the middle of all these engineering instructions, one phrase stands out: after describing the bells to be tied to the hem of the High Priest’s robe, the text says (Exodus 28:35) “…and their sound will be heard when he goes into the sanctuary before the Eternal and when he goes out, so he will not die.”

There are a variety of interpretations of that “so he will not die” part, but since we read this parsha on the day before Purim, Nachmanides’ comment seems apropos: “…He said that He commanded regarding [the bells] so that they be heard in the Sanctuary, [and the High Priest] would enter before his Master as if with permission, because one who enters the courtyard of the king suddenly has committed a capital offense against protocol, as in the case of Achasuerus (Esther 4:11).”