Tetzaveh 5784


Pomegranates, bells, and tzitzis[1]

ועשית את-מעיל האפוד כליל תכלת: ועשית על-שוליו רמני תכלת וארגמן ותולעת שני על-שוליו סביב ופעמני זהב בתוכם סביב
You shall make the me’il of the eiphod entirely techeiles. You shall make on the bottom of it pomegranates of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani, on the bottom all around, and golden bells amongst[2] them all around[3]

One of the garments of the Kohen Gadol is the me’il, a type of blue cloak. There’s a dispute about exactly how it looked. Some say[4] it was like a regular long shirt. In contrast, the Rambam describes[5] the me’il as not having sleeves. Rather, it was divided into two corners from the neck downwards. Meaning, it is not attached except adjacent to the neck. This sounds similar to what our tallis katan looks like today, which is a four cornered garment[6]. One of the unique features of the me’il is the bottom of it had threads spun and woven together to resemble pomegranates, as well as golden bells. The latter were there so all would hear the Kohen Gadol as he came[7].

There’s a question about the exact placement of these pomegranates[8]. The Torah describes them as being on the bottom of the me’il, but where exactly was that? Was it at the very very bottom? That’s problematic, for that would make it necessary to make the actual garment of the me’il slightly shorter. In that case, the Kohen wearing the me’il wouldn’t be entirely covered by the garment as they should be. This would disqualify the garment. We can’t say that the bottom of the garment would be measured from the bottom of the pomegranates, as the Torah commands making the me’il, and only then describes the pomegranates. It sounds like the me’il is a separate entity to the pomegranates. Instead, one could suggest that the pomegranates were sewn on a little higher in the garment, in such a way that the bottom of them aligned with the bottom of the meil.

Some have noted[9] that this interpretation precludes an answer to a different question. As stated, the Rambam’s understanding of the me’il is something similar to our tallis katan. One could then ask[10] on the Rambam, why didn’t they put tzitzis on the me’il? We don’t find anywhere any mention of such a thing, and yet it’s a four cornered garment[11]. Some answer[12] simply that we know that a borrowed garment is exempt from tzitzis[13], and the me’il was Temple property. As such, it was not obligated in tzitzis[14].

However, some suggest[15] a different answer. A potential source for the Rambam is the Zohar[16], which explicitly says that the me’il had four corners[17]. The Zohar compares the me’il to a tallis with tzitzis. It says that the four corners of the tallis are like the meil, with its bells and pomegranates at the bottom. It says these bells and pomegranates were at the corners of mitzvah, which are the five knots[18]. The implication is that the pomegranates, which were woven from threads of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani were in place of tzitzis, which are normally just white and techeiles threads. It’s no wonder then why we don’t find tzitzis in the me’il, as the pomegranates took their place[19].

However, this approach doesn’t square with the earlier interpretation of the location of the pomegranates[20]. Due to lack of an alternative, the conclusion was that the location of the pomegranates was higher up on the me’il. They were located such that the bottom of the pomegranates reached the bottom of the me’il. If that’s so, then it would be impossible to use them as tzitzis, which are supposed to hang below the garment. It would seem then that these approaches can’t both be true. Either their location was indeed at the bottom of the me’il, or the me’il simply didn’t have tzitzis. Either way, hopefully we now have a better understanding of the me’il, its look, and its various interpretations.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Shalal Rav to Exodus 28:31

[2] Rashi ad. loc. understands the me’il to have alternating pomegranates and bells. Ramban ad. loc. translates בתוכם as within them, and thus understands the bells to be inside the pomegranates

[3] Exodus 28:31,33

[4] Rashi ad. loc.

[5] Mishneh Torah Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 9:3. Ramban loc. cit.  understood the same. The Ra’avad ad. loc. is unsure where the Rambam got this from. Perhaps the Ra’avad understood like Rashi. Kesef Mishnah ad. loc. suggests the Rambam and Ramban had a baraisa we no longer have.

[6] Radvaz ad. loc. Cf. Mirkeves HaMishnah ad. loc., who disagrees with this interpretation of the Rambam and Ramban and posits that according to them the me’il did not have four corners.

[7] Exodus 28:35

[8] Sefas Emes to Zevachim 88b

[9] Shalal Rav credits this to Rav Yitzchak Weinberg

[10] Minchas Chinuch § 99

[11] The Minchas Chinuch adds that Arachin 4a discusses the novelty that Kohanim are obligated in tzitzis, because since they (or, at least the Kohen Gadol) are exempt from sha’atnez (which is related to tzitzis), I would have then thought they were also exempt from tzitzis. According to the Rambam there’s a simpler approach the gemarra should have said: I would think Kohanim are exempt from tzitzis since the Kohen Gadol wore the me’il without tzitzis!

[12] Ibid; Teivas Gomeh ad. loc. § 1 by the Pri Megadim. The question doesn’t start for the Mirkeves HaMishnah loc. cit.

[13] Chullin 136a

[14] The Minchas Chinuch says this answer is so obvious that he didn’t even need to write about it, as the question was never a question. Nevertheless, he writes that when he shared this question to people, they were astounded at the brilliance of it. He therefore had to clarify the matter

[15] Ein HaTecheiles 1:44, by Rav Gershon Chanoch Henoch Leiner, the Radzyner Rebbe who discovered the cuttlefish as a potential source for techeiles in our days. He doesn’t like the Minchas Chinuch’s answer since once we know that the garments of the Kohanim are permitted for personal benefit (Mishneh Torah ad. loc. 8:11), they should be considered “your” garment. Rav Yerucham Fischel Perla, in his comments on Ein HaTeicheles (brought by Torah Sheleimah XXIII Miluim § 13) brings many sources which prove that despite the permit of their use, the garments are still considered property of the Almighty

[16] Tikkunei Zohar § 10, brought by Yalkut Reuveni ad. loc. § 56

[17] The consensus of most commentators is that the Rambam never saw the Zohar or its related works of Kabbalah. See Sedei Chemed Klalei HaPoskim 5:22 for a major discussion on this. See also Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s Kiryas Melech which cites over 100 times where the Rambam’s rulings have a source in the Zohar

[18] The Radzyner primarily brought this Zohar to show that the custom of five knots in the tzitzis is very old

[19] See also Menachos 41b. The Radzyner suggests that this is the source for those who are cautious to spin their tzitzis strings eight times, as this is how the pomegranate threads were made (Yoma 71a), something we find in no other vessel or garment in the Temple

[20] Rav Yitzchak Weinberg