In this week’s parsha, the Torah describes one of the garments of the high priest (kohen gadol) as having lots of bells sown around its base (Exodus 28:33). Most would consider that alone to be strange enough, but the parsha also informs us that the high priest’s garments are designed specifically to exhibit “honor and beauty” (ibid. 28:2). Being British, it’s hard for me to imagine the Queen of England opening Parliament wearing a bell. So, why the bells, and what does this have to do with honor?
The solution to this riddle is found in understanding honor. For many, attaining honor is something of an enigma. You have probably encountered people who think they are entitled to more honor than perhaps they deserve. These people demand that their name be pronounced properly at all times, that they get a seat commensurate with their “station” in life, and other conspicuously little (or sometimes not so little) details.
Our Sages tell us “He who chases honor will have honor flee from him.” In other words, the more we demand respect, the less we get it. Honor comes from respecting others. As Ben Zoma (Pirkei Avot 4:1) explains, “Who is the one to be honored, the one who honors others.”
What do clothes of honor look like?
As our Sages explain, the high priest would wear bells to alert people of his presence in advance so that he would never walk in on someone unexpectedly and potentially make him feel uncomfortable. In fact, our Sages say even a person in his own home should knock before entering a room for the same reason.
The more we value, respect, and honor others, the more honor returns to us. That is true honor, bell or no bell.
By Rabbi Stephen Baars
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. An educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years, Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.