Thursday, February 18, 2016

Parashat Tetzaveh ("you shall command") Exodus 27:20-30:10

Parashat Tetzaveh ("you shall command")  Exodus 27:20-30:10

This parasha describes the sacred Choshen Mishpat ("Breastplate of Judgment"   or  “Decision”.   that was to be worn by the High Priest. 

Was this symbolic item a reminder to HaShem of his “Judgement” upon Israel or His “Decision” to have mercy?

Despite some colourful imaginative displays, the Choshen was not like an armoured breastplate but rather was a linen ephod.   “Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it.”  Exodus 28:15

 The precious and significant gems were to be woven into it.

According to the Temple Institute, the actual gems used is a bit of a mystery.  There are 30 options!
Thankfully we can be fairly confident in which colours were used thanks to Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7) where it states that each tribe's stone on the breastplate matched the background colour of its flag.

  1. Ruby - Reuben - Red
  2. Jade - Shimon - Green
  3. Agate - Levi - Red, White, and Black Striped
  4. Carbuncle - Judah - Bluish-Green
  5. Lapis-Lazuli - Issachar - Blue
  6. Quartz Crystal - Zebulun - Clear
  7. Turquoise - Dan - Blue
  8. Amethyst - Naftali - Purple
  9. Agate - Gad - Grey
  10. Aquamarine - Asher - Blue-Green
  11. Onyx - Joseph - Black
  12. Opal - Benjamin - A Stone Possessing All the Colours.

Of course, Josephus disagrees with this and had his own list.

1.         Ruby
2.         Topaz
3.         Emerald
4.         Carbuncle
5.         Jasper 
6.         Sapphire
7.         Agate - Gad - Grey
8.         Amethyst -
9.         More Agate
10.       Chrysolite
11.       Onyx
12.       Beryl

And of course the good ol’ New King James version has it’s own list… EEP!

"And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row. And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond. And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst.  And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper.”  Exodus 28:17-20

The next instruction from HaShem was to inscribe the names of the tribes of Israel.
"The stones shall contain the names of the twelve children of Israel, one for each of the twelve stones; each one's name shall be engraved as on a signet ring, to represent the twelve tribes." Exodus 28: 21)

“So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the Lord continually.”  Exodus 28:29

But how was one to inscribe the name of the Tribe without a human tool or if a human tool could be used, how would one inscribe the name once it was set into their golden settings whilst "in their fullness"?

According to the Gemara (Sotah), the "shamir" was a miraculous worm, which died out after the First Temple was destroyed, as small as a grain of barley, that was used to engrave the names of the tribes on the stones.

"Initially, the words are written on the stones in ink. Then the stones are simply exposed to the shamir, and the letters are cut into the stones automatically, of their own accord... like a fig which ripens and splits open in summer; it splits open but yet no part of it is missing. And a valley splits open during the rainy season, but it too lacks nothing." (BT Sotah 48:B) - thus the stones remained "in their fullness."

Interesting, but I can’t back that up.  J

Finally, we come across the mystery of Urim and Thummim.  

“And you shall place the Urim V’tummim in the breastplate of judgment, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he comes before God” Exodus 28:30

The breastplate was made of two pieces - which included a pouch.  The High Priest could look down and see the two stones, the Urim (lights) and the Thummim (perfections).
These two stones were used to learn of HaShem the will for His people.  Despite several reference in Scripture about the Urim and the Thummim, there are no descriptions of the stones themselves.

“And of Levi he said: “Let Your Thummim and Your Urim be with Your holy one, Whom You tested at Massah”  Deuteronomy 33:8.

1 Samuel 14:41 - “Therefore Saul said to the Lord God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.”  So Saul and Jonathan were taken but the people escaped.”

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, this text was retranslated by Wellhausen and Driver who used the latest translations of the Septuagint:
 “and Saul said: Lord, God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant this day? If this iniquity be in me or in Jonathan my son, Lord God of Israel, give Urim; but if it be in thy people Israel, give Thummim. Then Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot; and the people escaped.”  (Driver, “Notes on the Hebrew text of the Books of Samuel. pg. 89. Oxford, 1890)

These stones(?) were used in deciding outcomes of His will and yet we find later that the counterfeit was used to try and go against His will – Purim.  (Urim / Purim).

“In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur before Haman to determine the day and the month, until it fell on the twelfth month,  which is the month of Adar.” Esther 3:7

Despite the mysteries that surround the “Breastplate”, one thing is for sure, that the mind of HaShem is always on His people.

Jon Eaton

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