The Cohen Gadol – “High Priest” – wore special clothes. Among them was a robe, and on the hem of his robe hung metal “bells” in the shape of apples or pomegranates (depending on which commentary) that made noise as he walked.  This noise was so important that the Torah tells us that if he failed to wear the garment and failed to produce this ringing noise, then the High Priest would not live out the year (Ex 28:35, 33).

The question is, why is this robe and its noise so important?  Indeed, the Torah informs us that the closer we approach to God, the more quiet it is.  As the verse (Melachim 1, 19:11-12) says, “Not with the noise of God…but with a still small voice,” and the Zohar comments, “There – in the quiet – God is to be found.”  So, it would seem counter productive for the High Priest to wear a garment that produces much noise.

The Cohen Gadol is a representative of all of the Jews.  His job is to usher all Jews into the spiritual level that provides atonement in the holy Temple.  Among the Jews are all types, from ba’alei tshuva (those who have strayed from the path and returned to it) all the way to the highest tzadikim (“righteous men”).  While the avoda, or path of worship of the tzadik was quiet, that of the ba’al tshuva was noisy.  There is a reason for that – the ba’al teshuva has been in bad places, in places that stifle and bury the Godly soul – and he wants to escape from that.  He wants to get away, he can no longer tolerate the filthy atmosphere and environment that are opposed to anything spiritual and Godly.  He wants out.  And therefore he runs, like a madman screaming at the top of his lungs, away from the bad and toward the good. 

Since it is the task of the Cohen Gadol to usher all Jews into the realm of holiness, he must include the noisy ba’alei teshuva with him as well.  And that’s why he has bells on the hem of his robe as he approaches the holiest chambers of the Temple.  With those bells he ushers in the ba’alei teshuva as well so that they are included with all of the rest of the Jews. And who among us is not, at least on some level, a ba’al teshuva?  We call have something to fix, something to rectify…

However, there is one time of the year, Yom Kippur, when the Cohen Gadol does not wear his robe with the bells.  On this day, it is not necessary to make noise.  On Yom Kippur, the Cohen Gadol approaches the holy of holies and as he enters, a tremendously high spiritual light emerges that engulfs all Jews, regardless of their spiritual status.  It is not necessary for the High Priest to specify which Jews are with him.  The light of atonement reaches all Jews, regardless, and it is not necessary for the High Priest to specify a particular Jew, so on this day he does not wear his robe that makes noise.  Instead of the Jews approaching the holy of holies, the light goes out and reaches them, wherever they are.

One more thing that becomes clear from the High Priest’s robe; when we seek to reach other Jews with a message of holiness and spirituality, we should not think that we must do so quietly and privately.  The nature of the “marketplace” of both commerce and also of ideas is loud and noisy.  To reach other Jews, it is necessary to join the marketplace – and the only way to do that is to make noise, in order to get the message successfully out into the public arena.

For a longer, more detailed version, see www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 16, pp 336-341

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