Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pomegranates In The Temple Service

This is a Pomegranate-Flower photo I took from my friend Mike's unique orchard. To me it looks like a Magen David.
The following paragraph is from Dr. Asher Eder’s book The Star of David, which was published in 1987 in English in Jerusalem by Rubin Mass Ltd. The publication here is courtesy of Oren Mass. This version includes corrections and new materials that do not appear on the printed

How could Moses, our teacher, give expression to the above ideas of leaving Egypt not merely geographically, without denying altogether the nature forces it represents, but rather utilizing them in the future build up of the Land of Promise under the guidance of the Lord and his Torah? Was there a simple, yet instructive symbol which would show this aspiration? If there was one, how could it be applied without deceiving the people to deify and worship it?
For many years I wondered about the reason for the commandment to fix “pomegranates and shells at the priest's hem". (Gen. 34:28
The pomegranate is known as one of the seven minim, the so-called holy fruits of the country enumerated in Deut. 8:8. It is the only fruit whose image was a permanent constituent in the Temple service. Images thereof were added on the High Priest`s robe on the command of Moses:
"And they made upon the hem of the robe pomegranates of blue, and purple, and scarlet, twined; and they made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates...a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate round about the hem of the robe to minister in; as the Lord commanded Moses" (Exod. 39:24-26).
While many ears could hear the tinkling of the bells, few eyes could see the colorful little pomegranates. Maybe it was for this reason that pomegranates were also put on the chapiters of the pillars named Boaz and Yakhin in Solomon's Temple, and were thus made visible to all: "And four hundred pomegranates for the two networks... to cover the bowls of the chapiters of the pillars" (2.Kings 7:42).
Folklore links the pomegranate to wisdom and plenty ("may your wisdom, or your good deeds, be as plenty as its kernels"); but only the fruit's round shape and its calyx were visible.
It was probably the calyx which made the pomegranate eligible for a permanent Temple utensil that could serve as such a symbol as mentioned above.
We may deduce this from the ivory pomegranate of the 8th Century B.C.E. now at display in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. This artifact has an impressively oversized calyx with six sepals (four still existing, two broken but well discernable). While its inscription which reads in English "Holy (to the) priests of the House of the Lord", has been exposed as recent forgery, the message of that artifact seems to remain undisputed.
The artist who designed this ivory pomegranate, was most likely inspired by the shape of the young fruit when it begins to develop right after the flower:
It is remarkable that he chose this design, and that in addition he emphasized the calyx even more. That may also be the reason for accepting it originally as authentic.
What is more, this ivory pomegranate with its six-pointed calyx is quite different from similar artifacts of that period (from the l2th to the 6th Century B.C.E.) also on display in the Museum. Canaanite ones have five- or seven-pointed calyxes and are normal-sized, while Edomite ones from Qidmit in the Northern Negev, also of the 7th - 6th Century B.C.E., hanging on an incense burner, have four sepals, and are normal sized, too.
We may conclude that it was probably the calyx which made the pomegranate eligible for a permanent place in the Sanctuary, upon the priest’s hem.
All these numbers are in accordance with nature; for indeed the number of the sepals which form the pomegranate`s flower cup can range from four to nine. Most common, however, are those with five, six, or seven sepals. Consequently, the calyx of the fruit can be also five-, six-, or seven-pointed. The fact that the calyxes of the Canaanite images have five or seven points, and the Edomite ones have four (so-far, none is known with six points), while the one in discussion, probably a Hebrew one, has six, seems rather significant. The numbers five and seven may relate to phenomena in nature, e.g. five fingers, five senses, the Druidical and the Babylonian pentagrams and what they symbolize; or the seven colors; seven tones in music; etc. The number four may just be symmetric, or simply ornamental, or may relate to the four directions of the rose.
The six-pointed calyx, however, can easily be seen as forming a symmetric hexagram, a geometric design which we know as Magen David, the Shield of David, or Star of David.
As we saw in the main chapters of the book, the hexagram is composed of two interwoven equilateral triangles which may symbolize Creation's polarities in their interaction and balance (e.g. Creator and creation; male and female; spirit and matter; heaven and earth).
So far, no remains from the First Temple were discovered. Yet, would it seem too far fetched to conclude from the above mentioned artifact of the First Temple period that there existed an affinity of the Hebrews to the six-pedaled pomegranate? An affinity which in turn may have led them to fix pomegranates of that design on the chapiters of the columns Yachin and Boaz visible to those who enteed the Temple; and then on the hem of the High Priest’s who served in the Sanctuary?
If so, the pomegranate as one of the seven minim with its six-pointed calyx could remind the people of these polarities, and draw their attention beyond the physical cosmos betokened by the pyramid and the cosmic numbers it represents.
Being a permanent Temple constituent, it could help bring the worshipper constantly to the awareness that man is the only being in which both aspects, spirit and matter, can be found from the very day the Lord breathed the neshamah, the Divine soul, into him.
Contemplating on the pomegranate with its oversized six symmetric pedals could induce the worshipper to reflect on all the polarities in and around him, and on the Lord God, the Creator of all whom he confesses in his worship, as One.


zeevveez said...

Jerusalem artist Chanan Mazal
"writes about his depiction of the pomegranate, [It] is one of the Seven Species of the land of israel, listed in Deuteronomy 8:7-8...Not only is this lovely fruit associated with the Promised Land, but it is a symbol of the Torah itself and of the multiple good deeds of its followers. To understand why, we must take a good look at the fruit itself. The most obvious external element is the crown, which is unique to the pomegranate. This reminds us of the Mishna in the "Sayings of the Fathers". "Rabbi Simon said: There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty, but the crown of a good name exells them all."...the numerous seeds became a symbol of fertility, but their number has a greater meaning. By tradition, the pomegranate has 613 seeds, the same as the number of Mitzvot, the Commandments...In preparation for this work, I opened a pomegranate across its equator - and was surprised to find that the seeds formed a Star of David"

Chanan said...

What a complement... someone actually reads my descriptions!
Nice collection in your Hebrew blog.
Kol Hakavod