Possibly the most holy man there can be. A lofty position with significance even greater than the king in certain areas. The man who everyone sings about and focuses on on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. The Kohen Gadol. The High Priest.

The Torah describes his raiment in this week’s portion, and some of it is as we’d expect: rare and valuable dyes, a head-plate of pure gold, and a breastplate covered in precious stones. Yet, one detail sticks out as unusual. At the bottom of the Kohen Gadol’s robe, there are dozens of ringing bells…

Why should the great Kohen Gadol be covered in bells? We think of bells going on cows so we can find them or noisemakers going on clowns so they can be silly. It seems so incongruous to put bells on this most honourable of men.

We can find the answer if we gain a better understanding of honour.

Some people think of honour as something that they deserve based on birthright or station. That it must be paid to them by others and those who do not do so are sinners. That it is owed to them.

Yet, our Sages tell us that “he who chases honour will have honour flee from him.” Therefore those high and mighty people who demand honour are less likely to actually receive it.

So how does real honour come? Ben Zoma tells explains: “who is the one who is honoured? The one who honours others.” His words are all too clear when we look at who people truly respect around them.

Our Sages tell us that the Kohen Gadol would never wish to burst in on someone unexpectedly and make him uncomfortable, so he would wear bells to alert everyone to his presence. Similar to the custom to always knock on a door before entering, the goal is to respect the dignity of your fellow.

The Torah reminds the Kohen Gadol of this lesson wherever he goes so that he can actively honour everyone he comes across.

May we remember this lesson as well, and always put the honour of others before ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Altonaga and the JET Team