Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana
bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
Tetzaveh deals with God's command concerning the fashioning of the
priestly garments and the sanctification of the
opening command with regard to the priestly garments
are the garments that they shall make: a breastplate and an efod and a
robe and a quilted undercoat, a mitre and a belt; and they shall make holy
garments for Aharon, your brother, and for his sons, that he may minister to
Me." (Shemot 28:4)
first of the special garments that the Torah specifies to be worn by the Kohen
Gadol is the choshen – the breastplate. Why is it specifically this that is
Ezra comments on this verse as follows (in his long
are the garments' – it mentions the breastplate first, for it was worn over the
efod, which in turn is worn over the undercoat. After it comes the robe and the belt
that secures it, and the mitre upon his head."
to this explanation, the reason for the breastplate being mentioned first is
that it is the outermost of the garments.
In other words – a technical reason. Our impression in reading the verse,
though, is that the order in which the garments are mentioned is more than
simply a technical matter.
Parashat Teruma, when God commands the fashioning of the vessels of the
Mishkan, the first vessel to be mentioned is the Holy Ark. Rashbam, commenting on 25:10,
God's command it was necessary to elaborate on the construction of the Ark and
the Table first, for it is for the sake of the Holy Ark – which is the crux of,
'They shall make Me a Sanctuary' – that it was necessary to build the
may assume that the breastplate is similarly mentioned first out of all of the
priestly garments, owing to its importance.
Ibn Ezra himself – in his short commentary – has this to
breastplate is mentioned first (out of all the garments), just as the Holy Ark
is mentioned first (out of all the vessels), for it holds the judgment of the
urim, and it is placed upon the heart, and the heart is more honorable
than the two shoulders. And I have
not found the word 'choshen' occurring anywhere other than in connection
with the Sanctuary."
Ibn Ezra draws a comparison between the Holy Ark and the breastplate, noting
that both are mentioned first in their category because of their
is the breastplate, and what is its great importance?
Fashioning of the Breastplate
detailed commandment as to the fashioning of the breastplate is to be found in
chapter 28, verses 15-30:
shall make the breastplate of judgment – an artistic work;
the work of the efod shall you make it: with gold, blue, purple, scarlet,
fine twined linen shall you make it."
is this article called a "choshen mishpat" – a "breastplate of
Rav Saadya Gaon's view, the term means, "A breastplate that is planned out"
(i.e., built "ke-mishpato," according to its plan).
most of the commentaries regard the word "mishpat," usually meaning
judgment, as defining the function of the breastplate. What is the "judgment" that is referred
to here, and how is it achieved by means of the breastplate? This is not yet
clear; we shall continue to examine the verses in order to arrive at an
understanding of the fashioning of the breastplate and of its
first verse describes the basis of the breastplate: a fabric made of five
different kinds of thread that are woven together into a single threat that
includes all of them.
shall be a doubled square, a span in length and a span in breadth."
fabric from which the breastplate is made is "doubled" – i.e., folded in half,
so as to create two layers of fabric.
Rashbam explains: like a sort of pocket.
is this formation necessary? Further on in the verses we discover the function
of this pocket, but in the meantime we are left without any
you shall set in it settings of stones, four rows of stones; the first row shall
be a ruby, a chrysolithe, and a beryl; this shall be the first
the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond.
the third row shall be a ligure, an agate, and a jasper.
the fourth row shall be an emerald, a shoham and a jade; they shall be
set in settings of sold.
the stones shall be named after Bnei Yisrael – twelve, by their names, like the
engraving of a signet; each one shall be with its name, for the twelve tribes."
doubled fabric bore twelve stones in gold settings.
The names of the tribes were engraved on the stones, with each stone
representing one tribe.
next verses (22-28) describe the attachment of the breastplate to the
efod. Let us examine just
the last verse of this description:
shall attach the breastplate with its rings to the rings of the efod
using a thread of blue, so that it may sit upon the wrought efod, such
that the breastplate will not be loosened from the efod."
in his commentary on verse 6 (where he elaborates on the fashioning of the
efod and the breastplate in general) explains as follows the words, "Such
that the breastplate will not be loosened (lo yiza) from the
back of the breastplate should adhere to the wrought efod, so that it
does not move above and become separated from it."
other words, the breastplate must be placed upon the efod and firmly
attached to it.
Function of the Breastplate
far, the text has described the breastplate in great detail. Next comes a verse of
shall bear the names of Bnei Yisrael that are on the breastplate of judgment
upon his heart when he goes in to the holy place, as a remembrance before God at
all times." (29)
preceding verses described the breastplate as a plaque with the names of the
tribes of Israel. Verse 29
concludes the discussion by describing its purpose: when Aharon comes to the
"holy place" he wears the breastplate, inscribed with the names of the tribes of
is the significance of entering the "holy place" wearing this
Kohen Gadol is the only person who enters the Holy of Holies, but when he enters
he does so not as a private individual, but rather as the representative of all
the tribes of Israel. When he
enters the Holy of Holies, he wears the breastplate, thereby bringing the entire
nation in together with him, as it were.
Kohen Gadol enters the Holy of Holies as the representative of the nation of
Israel, and it is necessary that he maintains this consciousness. For this reason he must wear the
breastplate, which bears the names of Bnei Yisrael; he thereby represents a
constant, walking memorial of Bnei Yisrael before God.
breastplate symbolizes the status of the Kohen Gadol as the representative of
all of Israel when he enters the Holy of Holies. The purpose of the breastplate, then, is
to serve as a constant reminder of Bnei Yisrael before God, and to "bring them
into" the Holy of Holies before God when the Kohen Gadol enters
this conclusion of the subject of the breastplate – the description of its
function - we would expect the Torah to move onto the next subject. However, the following verse adds a
further detail to the fashioning of the breastplate that has not been
you shall place on the breastplate of judgment the urim and the
are these to be placed?
us go back to verse 16.
fabric of the breastplate is doubled over, forming a sort of pocket. It is inside this pocket that the
urim and tumim are placed.
are the urim and tumim?
Torah does not explain what these urim and tumim, that must be
placed in the breastplate, are. (We
shall discuss this matter below.)
noting that the urim and tumim must be placed in the breastplate,
the Torah once again summarizes the entire subject of the breastplate, in
language very similar to verse 29:
and they shall be upon Aharon's heart when he comes before God, and Aharon shall
bear the judgment of Bnei Yisrael upon his heart before God at all
two verses of summary (29 and 30) are very alike:
29 – summary A:
shall bear the names of Bnei Yisrael on the
breastplate of judgment upon his heart when he comes to the holy place,
as a memorial before God at all times."
30 – summary B:
shall be upon Aharon's heart when he comes before God, and Aharon
shall bear the judgment of Bnei Yisrael upon his
heart before God at all times."
words that appear in both verses are: "Aharon shall bear," "Bnei Yisrael," "upon
his heart," "when he comes," and "before God at all times." These words sum up
the function of the breastplate: the Kohen Gadol bears Bnei Yisrael upon his
heart when he comes before God.
this not then a superfluous repetition? Obviously not: the Torah cannot be
repeating words for no reason. Why,
then, is the conclusion of the subject of the breastplate presented
Torah describes separately two aspects of the breastplate. First, it describes the breastplate
itself, as a plaque inset with stones; it then concludes by stating that the
function of the breastplate is so that the names of Bnei Yisrael will be borne
as a remembrance before God.
the Torah speaks of placing the urim and tumim in the breastplate,
and then concludes once again, at the end of verse 30, the function of the
breastplate with the urim and tumim:
aspect of the breastplate:
16-28 – the fashioning of the breastplate (fabric, stones, attachment to
29 – summary and function
aspect of the breastplate:
30(A) – the urim and tumim
30(B) – summary and function
the two verses of summary parallel one another and contain the same words – as
demonstrated above – a close look reveals several differences between them. It is specifically the great similarity
that serves to highlight these differences:
29 (Summary A):
shall bear the NAMES of Bnei Yisrael… upon his heart when he comes
to the holy place as a remembrance before God at all
30 (Summary B):
shall be upon Aharon's heart when he comes before God and Aharon
shall bear the JUDGEMENT of Bnei Yisrael upon his heart before God at
verse 29, we read: "He shall bear the names of Bnei Yisrael," while in verse 30
it is "the judgment of Bnei Yisrael" that Aharon carries with him. This tells us that the urim and
tumim gave the breastplate an additional function: that of judgment. The breastplate is referred to already
in verse 15 as the "breastplate of judgment," but only in verse 30 do we
discover that the matter of "judgment" is related to the urim and
tumim that are part of the breastplate.
commenting on verse 15, writes:
of judgment' – [it is referred to thus] because the urim and tumim
are placed in the breastplate and these answer questions of law and need for
Israel, as it is written: 'He asked him what the urim ruled,' and
therefore it is called (the breastplate of) judgment."
verse 29, the matter of "He shall bear… of Bnei Yisrael" is mentioned first;
only afterwards does the verse go on to talk about Aharon coming to the holy
place. In verse
contrast, the idea of coming to the holy place appears first, and only
afterwards the matter of "he shall bear… of Bnei Yisrael."
verse 30 the Torah speaks of Aharon coming "before God," rather than "to the
holy place" as in verse 29.
is it that Aharon bears upon his heart when he comes to the Holy of
to verse 29, when he comes to the Holy of Holies Aharon carries on his heart the
names of Bnei Yisrael.
to verse 30, however, when Aharon comes before God he carried upon his heart the
urim and tumim.
is the significance of these differences?
differences teach us an important lesson about the urim and
tumim. Looking at verse 29,
Bnei Yisrael appear to be the focus: Aharon brings Bnei Yisrael with him, as it
were, into the Holy of Holies. The
breastplate itself, as a plaque bearing the names of all the tribes of Israel,
symbolizes Aharon's role as the representative of Israel when he comes to the
formulation of verse 30 is such that the focus is on standing before God. The urim and tumim that
are placed inside the breastplate imbue it with a further dimension: the
dimension of standing before God.
urim and tumim, then, add to the breastplate the function of
"judgment" and the "standing before God."
is this "judgment"? How is "judgment" achieved through the urim and
tumim? And in what way do the urim and tumim symbolize
standing before God?
of this is made explicitly clear in the text.
we compare the textual description of the breastplate to that of the urim
and tumim, it is striking that the instructions for the breastplate
itself are clear and detailed. In
contrast, there is no explanation as to what the urim and tumim
are, how they are made, and what the connection is between them and the
"judgment" that is mentioned as a function related specifically to
we are told about placing the urim and tumim in the breastplate
(here in Parashat Tetzaveh, and again in the command concerning the
breastplate in Vayikra 8, when Aharon is garbed in his special garments:
"He placed the breastplate upon him, and put the urim and the
tumim in the breastplate").
But nowhere are we told what the urim and tumim are made
of, what shape they should be, what size, how or by whom they are
Parashat Pekudei, which describes the fashioning of the priestly garments
by Betzalel, the urim and tumim do not even feature among the list
of garments that are made.
then, are the urim and tumim?
to Rav Hai Gaon (Otzar ha-Geonim, Berakhot, simanim 4-6),
the urim and tumim are the actual stones of the breastplate. While this interpretation does explain
the absence of any description of the urim and tumim, it raises a
difficulty: according to verse 30, it seems that the urim and
tumim are not the stones of the breastplate but rather some other object
that adds something to the breastplate that has been described thus
Ezra disagrees with the above opinion and asserts (in his commentary on verse
30): "After the breastplate is set with the stones that are mentioned, the text
says, 'You shall place in the breastplate the urim and the tumim'
– in the same way that we read, 'You shall place in the Ark the testimony'… and
afterwards it says of Moshe, 'He placed the breastplate upon him and placed in
the breastplate the urim and the tumim.' Hence, they are not the
stones that are mentioned (as being ordered) in the four rows."
Rashi's view (commenting on verse 30) – one with which most of the commentators
agree – the urim and tumim are:
inscription of God's Name, which is placed within the folds of the breastplate;
by means of this [the Kohen Gadol] illuminates And makes whole (me'ir
u-metamem) his words."
(on verse 30) accepts Rashi's view, and expands on it:
if we accept Rashi's view, then God's Name is written and placed between the
folds of the breastplate, and it if for this reason that [the fabric] must be
folded in half. Proof for this is
that no mention is made of the urim and tumim in the description
of the artisans' work, nor are they mentioned in the command or the
we see that none of the vessels that have been mentioned thus far appear with
the heh representing the definite article; rather, it is written, 'They
shall make an Ark…' (25:10); 'You shall make a Table' (Ibid. 23); 'You shall make a Menora' (verse
31), and so on… Here, with regard to the urim and tumim, the text
says, 'You shall place THE urim and tumim in the breastplate.'
Although he has nowhere been commanded to fashion them, the text mentions them
here with the definite article!...
Because they were not the product of artistic work, nor did the
artists – or the congregation of Israel – have anything to do with making them
or contributing towards them.
Rather, they are a secret that was passed to Moshe from God; he wrote
them in sanctity, or they were a work of God…"
adds to Rashi's explanation, asserting that the urim and tumim
were not the work of any artist, but rather were fashioned by Moshe at God's
command, or perhaps even Moshe himself did not fashion them, but they were "the
work of God."
the majority opinion is that the urim and tumim were in fact the
Tetragrammaton – God's Name - that was placed between the folds of the
helps us to understand the unusual description of the urim and
No mention is made of how they were fashioned – because they were not
fashioned by any artist.
Twice the concept of "before God" is repeated with regard to the
urim and tumim – at the beginning of verse 30 and at its end. The urim and tumim lend
the breastplate the supreme dimension of being "before God," because God's Name
– perhaps inscribed by God Himself – was placed within it!
Role of the Urim and Tumim
attained a clearer grasp of what the urim and tumim were, let us
now try to understand their function.
to the verses in our parasha, we understand that their purpose was
judgment. However, it is not clear
what this "judgment" was, nor how it is achieved through the urim and
may learn more about the role of the urim and tumim from a
different verse in the Torah. When
Moshe appoints Yehoshua to succeed him as leader of the nation, God tells
shall stand before Elazar, the priest, and he shall ask of him the judgment of
the urim before God;
its word they shall go out and by its word they shall come in; he and all of
Bnei Yisrael with him, and all the congregation." (Bamidbar
Yehoshua needs to go out to war (see Rashi on this verse), he must approach
Elazar, the Kohen Gadol, and "ask of him the judgment of the urim before
role of the urim, then, is to serve as a connection between the leader of
Bnei Yisrael and God's will.
expression "before God," which is repeated in the context of the urim and
tumim, appears here, too.
The matter of "standing before God" is central to the concept of the
breastplate and the urim and tumim.
leader of Israel, before going out to war, must stand before God and hear what
God wants. The communication is
effected through the urim.
should be paid to the fact that here, too – as in Parashat Tetzaveh - the
urim are called "judgment." Thus it becomes clear that the "judgment of
the urim" is God's answer to the question posed by the leader of the
"breastplate of judgment" is the breastplate whose role is to allow the leaders
of Israel to make inquiries of God.
The king of Israel, as he goes off to war, is supposed to appeal to God
and ask Him whether and how to conduct the war.
in the Early Prophets we find several instances where such enquiries were made
prior to waging war.
addition, there were also other questions that leaders of Israel addressed to
identity of the sinner
Sefer Yehoshua, when the Israelites fare badly in the war against
Ai, they cast a lot to discover the identity of the sinner who was responsible
for their defeat:
shall approach in the morning by your tribes, and it shall be that the tribe
that is indicated by God will approach by families, and the family that is
indicated by God will approach by households, and the household that is
indicated by God will approach by its men." (Yehoshua
is this lot cast, how is God supposed to "indicate" the identity of the
commenting on verse 15, explains: "'He made Israel approach' – before the
breastplate, where the names of the tribes were inscribed…."
David asks of God where his kingdom should start
"And it was, after that, that David asked of God, saying: Shall I go up
against one of the cities of Yehuda? And God said to him, 'Go up.' And David
said, 'To where shall I go up?' And He said: 'To Chevron.'" (II Shemuel
The division of the inheritances of the land was carried out by
means of a lot (as mentioned both in Bamidbar 26 and in Yehoshua
14). As the Gemara describes
land was divided by lot, as it is written (Bamidbar 26), 'Only by lot';
but (at the same time) it was divided by means of the urim and
tumim, as it is written, 'In accordance with the lot.' How can this be?
Elazar wore the urim and tumim, and Yehoshua and all of Israel
stood before him, with a pile of names of the tribes and a pile of borders (of
the country) placed before him. He,
guided by the Divine Spirit, would say: 'The Tribe of Zevulun has been chosen –
and the area of Akko has been chosen along with it…' and so on, for each tribe."
(Bava Batra 122a)
question that the leader of Israel asks of God at the most critical moments
testifies to the fact that he is standing "before God." Going out to war, which
is done after consulting with God, is not a regular matter of mortal warfare,
but rather the waging of war by God's word.
king of Israel is not a supreme authority who acts independently of God. Rather, he is a leader whose moves are
guided by God and are meant to be directed towards God's
king of Israel is meant to represent God's Kingship in the world, and therefore
when it comes to the most critical decisions for the nation he does not decide
alone. He stands before God, asks
for His guidance, and acts in accordance with God's will.
"standing before God" and the asking of God's will are carried out by means of
the breastplate and the urim and tumim within
is the "judgment of the urim and tumim" achieved? In other words,
how is the answer to the leader's question given?
commenting on verse 30, explains that the urim were in fact God's Name
that was placed inside the breastplate, and by the power of His Name, "The
letters inscribed on the stones of the breastplate would light up and were
visible to the Kohen who asked for their judgment."
example, when the people asked (in Shoftim 1) which tribe should lead
them into war, the stone of Yehuda lit up and the letters yud,
ayin, lamed and heh (forming the word ya'aleh – will
ascend) lit up at different places on the breastplate. The letters did not light up following
the order of the word; the Kohen had to put the letters together to form the
word. How did he do
to Ramban, "There were other holy names there, referred to as tumim; by
virtue of these the heart of the kohen would be focused (tamim) to know
the meaning of the letters that lit up before his eyes… this represents a
measure of Divine inspiration…."
other words, the urim were God's Ineffable Name that caused the letters
to light up; the tumim were other Divine Names that caused the kohen to
be imbued with Divine inspiration, allowing him to form the illuminated letters
in the proper order into words, and to understand the answer given to
Breastplate and the Ark
first vessel of all those that Bnei Yisrael are commanded to make, in
Parashat Teruma, is the Holy Ark. Clearly, it is mentioned first because
of its supreme importance.
first garment that is mentioned among all the priestly garments is the
breastplate – apparently likewise because of its supreme importance in relation
to the other garments.
ark is the vessel in which the Testimony is placed. The breastplate, correspondingly, is the
"vessel" in which the urim and tumim are placed.
the Testimony (the Tablets) and the Name of God are not fashioned by an artist,
but rather are the work of God Himself.
most important vessel in the Mishkan and the most important priestly garment are
"vessels" for "God's work": vessels for revelation of the Divine Presence;
vessels that symbolize the connection between the Divine Presence and Am
Ark the Testimony is placed the Torah – God's message to Israel, the
commandments that He gives the nation, asking that they observe
the breastplate the urim and tumim are placed the Name of God - by
means of which Israel speak to God, express their "standing before God," and ask
for His guidance in questions of national importance.
fashioning of the breastplate is described in the Torah in two separate stages,
representing two aspects of this special garment:
The breastplate is a plaque that bears the names of the tribes of Israel;
its function is to be a constant memorial of Israel before God, and to symbolize
the fact that the Kohen Gadol himself represents all of Israel when he comes
into the Holy of Holies.
The breastplate is also the vessel that houses the urim
and tumim, whose function is "judgment" – asking of God; it symbolizes
standing before God.
of these two functions of the breastplate is of great significance. The breastplate also has significance
that is independent of "asking of God" (and it is for this reason that there was
a breastplate in the Second Temple, too, even though there were no urim
it seems that the two functions of the breastplate are interrelated: asking of
God is not carried out through the use of a board of letters that has no
intrinsic significance (a board arranged alphabetically, for instance), but
rather specifically through the use of the plaque borne on the breastplate, upon
which the names of the tribes of Israel are inscribed. Why is this so?
of God is an approach to God on behalf of the entire nation. Asking of God signifies that the entire
nation is standing before God.
is for this reason that "asking of God" is carried out specifically using a
plaque that bears the names of all the tribes of Israel, and its function is to
bear them "as a memorial before God at all times".
this type of national question must be posed, all of Israel draw near – through
the agency of their representative, the Kohen Gadol, who bears the plaque with
the stones. They stand before God,
God sees all of Israel and is "reminded" of the special connection between
Israel and their Father in heaven.
words that are common to both summaries of the description of the breastplate
(verse 29 and verse 30) are an appropriate summary of the overall function of
shall bear Bnei Yisrael upon his heart when he comes before God at all
by Kaeren Fish