My husband Duncan has adopted the considerate habit of making a subtle noise, like snapping, when he walks into whatever room I’m in. It’s because he knows I startle easily in one very specific way. Spiders don’t usually scare me, and loud noises are more annoying than frightening, but for some reason I never hear Duncan approaching from the hallway to our bedroom, and when he suddenly appears or starts talking, I’ll scream and jump as though he was a stranger. My “mom ears” are so attuned to the noises our children make that it doesn’t happen with them. And at work, I can always hear the sound of shoes in the hallway at Neveh Shalom outside my office to know when people are approaching. However, after too many times of my own husband startling me, he has started snapping his fingers when he’s coming into a room when I’m alone so that I’ll know he’s coming. It’s a subtle, but incredibly helpful gesture. It’s all the little things we do that make a marriage work, right?
Believe it or not, this tactic is also taught in our Torah portion this week. Our Torah reading this week comes from Parshat Tetzaveh, which details the specific clothing items that a priest and those close to him are to wear. This is special attire that distinguishes them from others in their service to God. These clothes are meant to add an aura of holiness to the priests as they complete their sacred duties. Since these vestments and garments are to be used for such a unique purpose, God also gives a special instruction regarding who is to make them. After we receive these specifics, we learn about the details of what is on each garment.
As Aaron is given directions for the clothing to wear when he enters the Holy of Holies, we learn that he needs to attach bells to his outfit. While it seems clear that the bells serve an auditory function, why would that be necessary? If we believe in an all-knowing God, is it not strange that God wouldn’t know where Aaron was at all times? And if God is everywhere, how could Aaron be coming from a room where God wasn’t already present?
The common interpretation is that the bells are a general act of both courtesy and respect. First, no one, not even God, should be startled when “walking” into a space. Second, announcing ourselves is a way of respecting others by expressing kindness through greeting. And finally, by requiring that Aaron does this for God’s benefit, it’s the Torah’s way of modeling that it should be done for all people, as we are beings made in the image of God.
Yes, marriages are built on honoring the other individual through all the little things we do, but so are entire communities. The reassurance of even a wordless greeting is just one way we show we’re in partnership with each other.