Kingdom of Priests

Back when my first book came out, there was another memoir also about a Jew returning to Judaism that was published around the same time. It was Turbulent Souls by Stephen J. Dubner, who has since gone from strength to strength as co-author of the Freakonomics books. The title of his earlier book is apropos of my previous post on Glenn Beck and all Beck’s noisy talk about alcoholism and recovery. I don’t mean that unkindly. Spiritual journeys of return and repentance are often turbulent, noisy. 

The point comes out on in the context of this week’s Torah reading, Tetzaveh, which includes the description of the priestly garments God commanded the Jews to fashion for use in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. The high priest wore a robe furnished with bells on its edges. The bells were intended not merely as a decoration but that they should be heard upon the high priest’s entering the holy of holies as part of the atonement of Yom Kippur:

It shall be on Aaron when he performs the service, and its sound shall be heard when he enters the Holy before the Lord and when he leaves, so that he will not die [Exodus 28:35].

That he should “not die”? Why such a harsh warning?
As some understand the Torah verses here, the bells were in the shape of pomegranates. Why pomegranates? On the basis of a verse in Song of Songs that compares sinners to that particular fruit, since even a sinner in Israel is assumed to have merits like the seeds in a pomegranate. On the verse in Exodus, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the high priest was strongly cautioned to have in mind not only those among the people who have a relatively easy time being good but also those of us who struggle — sinners, penitents, and would be penitents — with our “noisy” personal stories.
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