Every Kohen (priest) who served in the temple wore four special garments, including a shirt, pants, belt, and turban, all of which were made of white linen. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) wore an additional four golden garments, including the mantle, the apron, the breastplate, and the headplate. Attached to the bottom of the mantle were 72 hollow ornaments in the shape of pomegranates alternating with 72 golden bells. The bells tinkled to announce the arrival of the Kohen Gadol to the sanctuary. There are several lessons we can learn from the tinkling of the bells.
The Chasam Sofer, comments that the bells remind us that the leaders of Israel at times have to make their voices heard. Although silence is certainly a highly valued trait in the life of a Jew, sometimes the leader has to make his view known — he has to make noise — when the holiness of the Torah is under attack. He needs to speak in a loud voice against any possible desecration of Hashem’s name.
The mantle and its bells, as stated by the commentators, were an atonement for the sin of lashon hara, evil speech. Why is this so? A possible answer can be found when we look at the purpose and nature of the bells. The sound of the bells announces ones presence before entering and this illustrates sensitivity towards others. If one is sensitive towards another’s feelings, he will surely refrain from speaking evil against him.
The bells also teach us a general lesson of derech eretz, good manners. The Midrash comments on the entrance of the High Priest into the mishkan stating that we should give advance notice of our visits to people, not entering someone’s house unexpectedly. This applies even upon entering one’s own home.
Furthermore, Rabbi Chaim Shmulewitz, adds that even if we are doing a praiseworthy deed, whether it be the priestly service in the Temple or collecting charity outside of it, we need to display sensitivity towards others by telling them ahead of time of our arrival. The High Priest was dressed in clothing which represented these good manners. He only entered the mishkan with notice, his entrance being announced by the bells. We see from here that not even a worthy cause can justify going against the imperative to have good manners. One should realize that when we hear the sound of the Kohen’s bells, the bells toll with a message for us!