By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
Make a Choshen Mishpat-justice breastplate. It shall be of patterned brocade, like the ephod. Make it out of gold; sky blue, dark purple and crimson wool and twirled linen. … Set it with four rows of mounted gemstones.
… And the gemstones shall be upon the names of the 12 sons of Israel, one for each of the 12 stones. Each one’s name shall be engraved as on a signet ring to correspond to the 12 tribes.
Thus, Ahron will carry the names of the sons of Israel in the Choshen Mishpat over his heart when he comes into the sanctified site; it shall be a constant remembrance before HaShem. Place the Urim and Thumim in the Choshen Mishpat and they shall be over Ahron’s heart when he comes before HaShem. Ahron will bear the just-decision instrument for the children of Israel upon his heart, before HaShem, perpetually.
This [the Urim and Thumim refers to a] writ bearing the explicit Name, which he [Moshe] would place within the folds of the Choshen, through which it would illuminate words on the gemstones (מֵאִיר) and perfect (ומתמם) those words. [i.e., the Urim and Thumim lit up letters forming words, and those words like an incontrovertible halachah/mishpat, were dependable. (Yoma 73b)] … Because of that Name-bearing-writ, the Choshen was called “justice,” as it is said: “and he shall seek the just-decision of the Urim before HaShem on his behalf” (BeMidbar. 27:21).
Conventional wisdom understands the power of the Urim and Thumim to illuminate the letters of the gemstones embedded in the settings of the Choshen Mishpat-justice breastplate as some kind of a sanctified Ouija Board, chalilah-Heaven forefend. The questions would be put to it and it would, miraculously, “predict” future events. According to this understanding the destiny of K’lal Yisrael–the Nation of Israel, is fungible. As an entity existing entirely in the “now”, any number of alternative histories and futures are possible.
As is often the case, conventional wisdom fails to convey the deeper meaning. Not only does it give the wrong impression the mechanism of the Urim and Thumim, the Choshen Mishpat and the “battery” that powered it but it misconstrues K’lal Yisrael as a temporal entity rather than as the eternal being that it actually is. Transcendent of time, K’lal Yisrael is not subject to alternative histories.
Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, teaches that the “power cell” that activated the mechanism of the Choshen Mishpat was the very heart of Ahron the Kohen Gadol-the High Priest, not merely the writ bearing the explicit Divine Name. His explanation for how it functioned follows the pasuk and midrashic excerpts:
HaShem’s wrath blazed against Moshe, and He said, “Is not Ahron the Levi your brother? I know that he knows how to speak; moreover, observe, he is setting out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart.
… Your suspicions about your brother, that he would resent you for your eminence as My spokesman, are unfounded. On the contrary, he will be happy for you. Rabi Shimon bar Yosee taught: “the heart of he who rejoiced in his brother’s eminence will wear the Urim and Thumim as it is written: ‘ … and they shall be over Ahron’s heart’”
-Midrash Rabbah Shemos 3:17
The opposite of love it is not hatred. Very often, hatred is the same deep, passionate emotion as love, inverted. As William Congreve wrote “”Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” The true antithesis of love is envy.
Love seeks to give to others and grows more tender and warmer with the success, happiness and fulfillment of the loved one(s). In stark contrast; envy seeks to take away what others have and grows more venal and bitter with the success, happiness and fulfillment of the envied one(s). Ahron’s heart was devoid of pettiness and was aflame with the love of Israel. As there is no greater success imaginable for human being than to be HaShem’s spokesman and agent, his heart had withstood the definitive litmus test determining if one is a giver or a taker in the crucible of the most extreme potential for envy; sibling rivalry. Exulting in his younger brother success, he proved his heart to be utterly empty of envy and brimming with ahavas Yisrael-the love of Israel.
Unrequited love is the exception to the rule. The default setting for love, as it is for all human emotions, is reciprocity. Shlomo the king put it best when he wrote “as the face that is replicated in the reflecting pool, so is ones man’s heart to another”(Mishlei 27:19). This axiom is borne out by the mutual and reciprocal of love that existed between Ahron and the people of Israel. When Ahron the Kohen Gadol died … “The whole congregation saw that Ahron had expired, and the entire house of Israel wept for Aaron for thirty days. “ (BeMidbar 20:29) All of the people loved him intensely.
As Rashi, citing Chazal, says: [both] the men and the women [loved him], for Ahron had pursued peace; he promoted love between disputing parties and between man and wife.(Avos d’Rabi Nassan 12:4). Loving all the people and realizing that their own success and fulfillment depended upon their loving one another, the greatest gift that Ahron could bestow upon them was to eliminate the pettiness, envy and disputes and that drove them apart. Loving them, he gave them the ultimate gift of love for each other.
It is in the nature of those in love to share secrets with one another. In some instances this is because only those who love us will continue to accept us and not be too harshly judgmental when they discover our darkest secrets. But, more often, it is our noblest secrets, our loftiest and dreamiest ambitions that we only feel comfortable sharing with those whom we love and who love us. Those things about us that are closest to the core of our beings can only be revealed within the framework of love.
As a great twentieth century Torah sage explained; this may be because the supreme expression of love is, itself, a secret. Chazal interpreted the pasuk “It is the glory of Elokim to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Mishlei 25:2) to mean that matters pertaining to the Genesis narrative-hishavus haOlamos, are shrouded in mystery and must remain hidden away. G-d brought the cosmos into being as an expression of His love. As human beings are b’Tzelem Elokim– in the image of the Divine , tznius-top-secretiveness is apropos for the supreme expression of interpersonal love in that it is the closest that human beings, the Tzelem Elokim, will ever come to emulating Elokim’s act of creation.
As we stand in the present moment, our most ancient past, lost in the mists of time, and our concealed and our unknowable futures, are secrets. Just as those in love share their most intimate secrets with one another, so too K’lal Yisrael bared her secrets to the human heart that most loved her. It was the loving heart of Ahron, the Kohen Gadol, that served as the “power cell” that activated the Urim and Thumim to illuminate the letters of the gemstones embedded in the settings of the Choshen Mishpat. The Choshen was not handicapping probabilities or predicting the future. The letters that glowed and grew salient on the Choshen’s gemstones sounded the silent, soundless whisperings of eternal, transcendent, beloved K’lal Yisrael revealing her secrets to and through the loving heart of Ahron.
Sisrei Torah-the secrets of the Torah, are very much in vogue today. Everyone wants to learn, Kabbalah. Lamdanim-Talmudic theoreticians, have long known that even within nigleh-the more revealed, less mystical component of the Torah, there are hidden secrets; gems waiting to be unearthed. What many fail to realize is that a kabbalistic text and, in a larger sense, any Torah text, is an encoded message. Merely setting one’s eyes upon the text and reading, or even intermittent and halfhearted attempts at deciphering, will no more force the Torah to yield any of her secrets than will with futile efforts of a third party who had intercepted love letters trying to grasp the hints and cryptic terms of endearment that these missives contain.
The Lubliner Kohen maintains that what is true for all interpersonal relationships informed by love and, writ large, what is true for K’lal Yisrael, is equally true for TorasYisrael. The Torah must be wooed and pursued. Sisrei Torah are not for weekend-warriors — semi-committed dabblers who can take the Torah or leave it. Those who ardently love the Torah are loved by the Torah in return. As Shlomo the king taught: “Does not Wisdom call out … ’I love them that love me, and those that seek me earnestly shall find me.’”(Mishlei 8:1,17) One’s heart must be ablaze with the love of Torah. Torah must become a passion, an obsession and an infatuation, only then will the Torah reveal her innermost secrets.