February 25, 2015
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #963, Parsha Thought, Tetzaveh

Garments play an important role in the life of a Jew. But in no area of Torah learning is the significance of clothing more pronounced than in reference to the Bais HaMikdash. When a Kohen offered sacrifices or lit the Menorah, he had to wear the four Priestly garments. The High Priest could not officiate without an additional four garments.


The Priestly garments endowed the Kohen with dignity and beauty and pointed to an ultimate state of perfection in which the external appearance mirrored the internal.

The Talmud ascribes another quality to the priestly garments. Each of them brought atonement for a specific sin.

The M’il-the Robe with its bells, the Talmud (Erchin 16a) states, atoned for lashon ha’ra-slander. “The Holy One, blessed is He, said, ‘Let something that emits sound come and atone for acts of emitting sound.’”

One is entitled to ask how does the mere wearing of a garment effect atonement for any sin, let alone the sin of lashon ha’ra, which our Sages equate with idolatry, adultery and bloodshed?

It may be suggested that the answer is actually provided in the very detailed requirements of the robe mentioned in this week’s parsha:

You should make the Robe of the Apron entirely out of t’cheiles (turquoise wool). Its collar at the top should be hemmed inside, the work of a professional weaver, like the collar of a coat of armor. It must not be torn. On its bottom edge you should make pomegranate shapes… and golden bells… [W]hen he performs the service, and its sound should be heard when he enters the Holy Place before G-d…


The first description of the robe in this verse is that it was associated with the Ephod-Apron. It was worn underneath the Apron. The Apron, the Talmud states, atoned for the sin of idolatry.

The message then is to enrobe and envelope ourselves with a holiness that will sensitize us against seeing the faults of others; we must negate idolatry in all of its forms, particularly self-worship. When a person is full of himself he all too easily sees the negative in others. Sadly, by exposing the other’s negative aspects he enhances and justifies his own sense of importance.

To wean ourselves off the need to see and speak of the deficiencies of others, we must garb ourselves with the power to remove every vestige of self-glorification from our heart. 


The second trait of the robe described in this verse is that it had to be made entirely out of t’cheiles.  In Chassidic literature this material is seen as a metaphor for love of and fear/reverence for G-d. T’cheiles is related to a word that means to be consumed with passion for G-d. Conversely, the Talmud sees the bluish color of the t’cheiles as a vivid reminder of the blue heavens above which helps foster our awareness of and reverence for G-d.

Thus, to buttress our efforts at combating the obsession with seeing the negative in others we must transform our emotions of love and fear and redirect them toward G-d. Without that redirection we risk allowing our hearts to focus on our own interests and fears. When we are full of anxiety we conjure up enemies that don’t exist; we see the negativity in others. When we are consumed with self-love we feel compelled to justify it by demeaning others. This makes us feel that we look good and are worthy of our self-love.

When we channel our love toward G-d and G-dly things we no longer have the need to look down at others, the root cause of lashon ha’ra.


The third aspect of the Robe is that its collar should be hemmed at the top.

The Chassidic work Oheiv Yisroel provides a novel interpretation of the symbolism in this requirement, following its literal rendition:

Its head shall be inside its mouth; a hem shall be made around its mouth.

This, the Oheiv Yisroel states, is to suggest that we must place our heads in our mouths. We do that by thinking before speaking and thereby create a hem, a guard and protection for the words that flow from our mouths.


The fourth requirement of the Robe is that it must be the work of a professional weaver.

Creation of the Robe that transforms our idolatrous way of thinking and self-serving emotions cannot be left to amateurs. We must seek the counsel of professionals. As our Sages state (Ethics of the Fathers Chapter one): “Make for yourself a teacher.” Every individual has to look for someone who can inspire, guide and support this transformation.


The fifth characteristic of the Robe is that it must be like the collar of a coat of armor.

The preceding four measures are based on the need to transform ourselves by ceasing idolatrous self-worship and redirecting our passion and anxiety with the assistance of our mentors.

They do not necessarily protect us from external threats, however. We must therefore create spiritual armor that will deflect the poisonous arrows of hatred and division that come at us from the Galus environment.

There are two ways of creating a protective shield. The first is to withdraw from society, live a totally insular life and shun all influences from the outside world. 

The problem with this approach is that it cannot fully succeed in preventing the outside influences from getting through. A bullet-proof vest can shield one’s torso from an assassin’s bullet, but it doesn’t protect the head. Without even realizing it, the insidious hostile influences of the world find ways of entering our minds and then from our minds creep into our speech and taint every other part of our lives.

This is particularly true in this day and age, when it has become virtually impossible to keep all of the most negative influences from entering our homes and schools and affecting our children.


There must be another form of armor for our complete protection.

This approach is based on a Biblical verse that describes tz’daka as armor. The Talmud (Bava Basra 9b) cites the prophet Yeshayahu’s declaration: “And he garbed himself with tz’daka as a coat of mail…” as an ode to the power that tz’daka has to shield us from moral harm.

We must learn how to protect ourselves by considering the lesson of a famous adage which goes, “the best defense is a good offense.”

When we reach out to others and give them material and spiritual tz’daka, we become impervious to malign outside influences.

When we do so, we are too busy reaching out to others with a positive message to have the time and energy necessary to absorb the negative vibes. To paraphrase a Talmudic principle regarding the kosher laws: When a pot is busy spewing out its contents it cannot simultaneously absorb new flavors.

Second, little by little, every effort at spiritual tz’daka neutralizes, refines and transforms the environment.


The sixth element of the Robe is that it must not be torn.

There are people who, in the process of influencing others, need to rip them. This is not the way to get rid of the negativity in others. We may not rip the Robe. Some folk even apply the idea of “ripping the Robe” when dealing with their own negative traits and actions. While Judaism advocates that we rebuke others along with serious soul-searching and repentance on our own part, it does not want us to rip the other or ourselves in the process. Our efforts at strengthening our defenses must not be destructive.


The seventh point of description of the Robe is that it had to have woolen pomegranates and golden bells on its bottom edge. These bells were designed to ring when the High Priest would enter the Holy Place.

The Rebbe explains that the bells worn by the High Priest convey a message, specifically, for these last days of exile. Our mission today is to bring the light of Torah and Mitzvos to those who have yet to appreciate their value. These Jews are represented by the pomegranates, about which the Talmud states, “Even the sinners among you are filled with Mitzvos as a pomegranate is filled with seeds.”

We cannot be content with quiet and deliberate action to reach all of our lost brethren. We must employ all forms of publicity and fanfare to reach the largest number of Jews and bring them back into the fold. The way we educate them must involve making a lot of noise, as represented by the bells on the bottom of the Robe.

This message assumed even more importance after the Rebbe told us that our mission now is to prepare ourselves and the entire world for the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption. To accomplish this we have to harness every form of modern technology and ring all the bells of our Robe.


The parsha’s lesson of how to deal with lashon ha’ra through wearing the Robe is especially pertinent today. Galus is one ceaseless lashon ha’ra experience. We Jews, our Torah and our G-d are continually slandered by the enemies of Israel. The connection between lashon ha’ra and Galus can be understood mystically as well. Divine speech, which was responsible for the creation of the world, is now muted, allowing evil to exist and flourish.

To counter the slander, and usher in the ultimate age of lashon tov-positive speech, we must take the seven steps discussed above:

a) Negate idolatrous self-worship.

b) Redirect our passion and anxiety into love of G-d and fear/reverence for Him.

c) Put our heads in our mouths by having our minds control our speech.

d) Avail ourselves of the help of mentors.

e) Wear protective armor. Mount a vigorous offense by reaching out and transforming the dark world.

f) Avoid ripping others or ourselves.

g) Avail ourselves of every means at our disposal and with as much fanfare as possible, to go on the offensive and introduce the world to Judaism, with particular emphasis on preparing for Moshiach.


Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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