Parashat Tesaveh: Jealousy and Lashon Ha’ra
Parashat Tesaveh describes the Bigdeh Kehuna – the priestly garments, which include the four special garments worn by the Kohen Gadol, and the four other garments worn by all Kohanim. Our Sages tell us that these garments were laden with special spiritual power, and had the capacity to atone for various sins. Thus, for example, the Kohen Gadol’s Misnefet (turban), which sat on top of the head, atoned for sins involving arrogance and feelings of superiority. The Sitz, which the Kohen Gadol wore on his forehead, atoned for gall and brazenness.
Another garment worn by the Kohen Gadol was the Me’il, or robe, which atoned for the sin of Lashon Ha’ra – negative speech about other people. The robe was lined on the bottom with bells that rang as the Kohen Gadol walked, and the Gemara comments that this "noise" produced by the Me’il atoned for the "noise" of gossip and other forms of inappropriate speech.
Rav Avraham Pam (1913-2001) noted an additional dimension of this function of the Me’il. The atonement for Lashon Ha’ra was achieved not only because of the bells, but also because of the first person who wore the Me’il – Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol. Aharon had numerous outstanding qualities, but perhaps foremost among them was the absence of jealousy. When his younger brother, Moshe, was chosen by God to become the leader of Beneh Yisrael, Aharon did not feel any jealousy, and to the contrary, he rejoiced over Moshe’s good fortune (as indicated by the Torah, Shemot 4:14). He felt no resentment whatsoever, despite the fact that throughout the years Moshe spent in Midyan, Aharon had been working selflessly leading the people who were suffering as slaves in Egypt. Aharon is the prime example of how to avoid jealousy, of accepting G-d’s decisions and one’s lot without envying other people.
This is how the Kohen Gadol’s robe atoned for Lashon Ha’ra – because it was first worn by Aharon, who embodied this vital quality of avoiding jealousy. People generally speak negatively about others because of jealousy. Another person’s success makes us feel uncomfortable and insecure, and so we feel the need to knock him down, to find something critical to say about him. This way, we ease the discomfort we feel over his success or good fortune. In order to avoid Lashon Ha’ra, we need to get to the root of the problem, which is, in many cases, jealousy. We need to look to the inspiring example of Aharon Ha’kohen, who teaches us to accept whatever role and position G-d gives us and gives others. We are to feel content with what we have, knowing that G-d knows best and decided that this is what we need. When we live with this awareness, we will feel content and at ease even if we see others with more, and we will then be able to speak only positively and admiringly about our peers, without the destructive negativity that currently plagues so many of us.