Yesterday, we noted the Gemara’s remark (Zevachim 88b, Arakhin 16a) that the me’il – the robe worn by the kohen gadol – serves as atonement for lashon ha-ra, negative speech about other people. The Gemara establishes the connection between the me’il and the particular violation of lashon ha-ra on the basis of the bells which lined the bottom rim of the robe. The sound produced by the kohen gadol as he walked atoned for the forbidden sounds of lashon ha-ra that people had spoken.
It is perhaps significant that the me’il is the only one of the priestly vestments which is described by the Torah as having a “peh” (“mouth”). The Torah uses this term in reference to the opening through which the kohen gadol’s head protruded as he wore the robe (28:32). Interestingly enough, the “mouth” of the me’il was at the opposite end from where the sound of the me’il was produced. The “mouth” was situated on the top of the me’il, but the sound was produced by the bells which lined the bottom rim. The “mouth” and the source of the sound were located at opposite ends of the me’il – the mouth was near the kohen gadol’s head, and the sound emanated from near the kohen gadol’s feet.
We might suggest (“al derekh derush”) viewing this arrangement as part of the association between the me’il and lashon ha-ra. The bells of the me’il perhaps teach us that the majority of the “sound” we produce should come not from our mouths, but from our feet – from our actions. If we want to be “heard” and have an impact, then we need to act, to work, to engage in the kind of behavior and activities that will positively influence the people around us. Speech, of course, can be a very valuable asset, but the primary “sounds” we should produce should emanate from the way we conduct ourselves, not from the words we speak.
Lashon ha-ra, oftentimes, is an impulsive and small-minded reaction to things we find disturbing. We disapprove of something that somebody has done, and so we feel a need to speak about it. The me’il perhaps reminds us that the more correct approach is “emor me’at va-asei harbeh” – trying to do our share to improve the world primarily through action, though personal example, rather than through the mouth, through verbal condemnation. Just as the kohen gadol’s sound was produced very far from his mouth, from near his feet, we, too, should produce more “sound” from the way we conduct ourselves than from our mouths.