Drash on Parashat Tetsaveh / Zachor
Rabbi Kim Ettlinger
Temple Beth Israel
St Kilda, Victoria
The Ringing Bells
Let me begin by asking the question: What bells are ringing in your head? I’m hoping people are not answering with the statement – “OH its my tinnitus!”, a medical condition, sometimes explained for annoying ringing in one’s ear, or perhaps other sounds.
But, that is not my question. The question is what are the bells ringing in your ears, your head and your heart. What I mean by that is what is it that you should do, but you are procrastinating, avoiding either the inevitable, or the necessary.
In this week’s parashah, Tetzaveh Zachor, we learn in detail about the clothing of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. The detail is beautiful, exacting and excruciating. I’ve seen several diagrams that have tried to interpret these holy words. For me, I’m happy to see the Sifrei Torah adorned in the clothing and majesty of the Kohen Gadol. It is enough for me as a reminder of our biblical ancestors and history.
In Exodus 28:33-35 we read, “On its hem …make a golden bell and pomegranate , a golden bell and a pomegranate all around the hem of the robe…. so that its sound could be heard when he (Aaron) would enter the sanctuary to come before Adonai and when he goes out.”
The ringing of these bells informed the community that Aaron, the High Priest, was about to enter the sanctuary to begin the daily Service. I’m sure this demanded the attention of the people and potentially stirred in them great passion.
Our rabbis offer different reasons for the bells. One I heard in rabbinic school, was that the Holy of Holies was so sacred, it was to alert the Holy One that a priest was about to begin. Another interpretation is that it warns us not enter a room without receiving permission. Hence it is forbidden to enter a closed room without first knocking on the door and being invited in. If the door is open, we are to wait to be welcomed before entering.
But, for me the bells are something different reading to the question at the beginning of this drash. They signify an internal discomfort with something, and it is more than which errand we need to do. Albeit that is sometimes the case. Did we forget the challah before Shabbat? Did we complete that task at work? These things are not urgent, important yes, but not urgent.
The bells toll for something much deeper. On one level, perhaps it is a wrong we need to right with a family member, a colleague or a friend. Perhaps our behaviour was not perfect. Trust me, it has been known to happen. The bells remind us that we must rectify our wrongs, not unlike the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, which calls us to action.
And, the bells remind us constantly of the injustices in the world. I write this drash knowing that it will soon be international women’s day. What does this mean? It means that we must bring to the forefront of our minds, we must let this bell toll the loudest as it reminds us of the many issues facing women in the world. For example, pay inequity in many companies and organisations. There is also sex slavery, which is … In not all parts of the world, are women able to gain an equivalent education to their male counterpart. Sex and human trafficking is also a major issue. According to the UN, it is a A$32 billion annual industry with about 2.5 million people around the world who are caught in the web of human trafficking at any given time. Sadly, mostly these are women.
There are many other issues affecting women around the world, including, but not limited to reproduction rights, family violence, poverty, homelessness and hunger, inadequate health care and parental leave. This list should also include the underrepresentation of women in high level business positions and in politics. And, I am only scratching the surface.
As we consider International Women’s day on 8 March, let the bells ring loudly to draw our attention and let us consider how we can right these major acts of injustice. And, let us be like Esther, as we celebrate Purim, in doing our part. Small steps lead to great achievement.