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The Importance of Etiquette

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"The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe. Aaron must wear it when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the LORD and when he comes out, so that he will not die." - Exodus 28:34-35

The Torah portion for this week is Tetzaveh, which means "contributions," from Exodus 27:20-30:10, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 43:10-27.

Some people say that folks aren't as polite as they used to be. Some blame it on the Internet; it's so easy to hide behind a computer screen and say things that one would never say to someone face to face. Others place the blame on our fast-paced society - who has time to be polite? However, as this week's Torah portion teaches us, etiquette is imperative. No matter the circumstances, we need to be refined, dignified, and polite.

In describing the clothing that the priests were to wear while carrying out their duties, we aren't told about their particular purposes or symbolic meanings. However, there is one notable exception. When it came to the High Priest's robe, we are told that the bottom of the garment was required contain a row of woven pomegranates interspersed with bells. The purpose, Scripture tells us, was so that the bells would signal when the priest entered the Holy of Holies.

The purpose of the bells on the priest's robe is equivalent to knocking on a door before entering a house or a room. In fact, based on this verse, the Jewish sages teach that one must knock even before entering one's own home so that the other people present will know that someone is about to enter. This is a lesson in etiquette. We've become a very comfortable and informal society - sometimes too comfortable. At times, it is important to be formal in order to preserve the privacy and dignity of others.

However, if God wants to teach us about interpersonal relationships, why here, where the discussion is mainly about our relationship with God? Moreover, surely God would know when the priest was entering the Holy of Holies - He certainly didn't need any warning!

The sages explain that God chose this particular portion to teach us about the importance of politeness so that we might understand that there is no situation where politeness is not required. Sometimes, we might think that our mission is so important, it's OK to cut some corners. We try to justify driving aggressively through traffic or elbowing our way through a crowd thinking that the ends justify the means. However, there is nothing more important than communing with God as the High Priest did in the Holy of Holies - and even there, precisely at that moment, etiquette was necessary.

This week, let's take the time to be polite. It's the little things, like opening the door for another person or giving up your seat on public transportation to an older person, that make our character all the more refined. As part of our service to God, let's remember that while it's nice to be important, it's more important to be nice.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President


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