Torah for the Times

Friday, March 2 , 2012 - 8 Adar, 5772

Torah Reading: Tetzaveh
Candle Lighting Time: 5:30 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:31 PM

The Missing Jewel

The Twelve Jewels

This week’s parsha, Tetzaveh, discusses the special garments the Kohanim-priests were required to wear when they performed the service in the Temple. Of all the garments, the Choshen or Breastplate stands out for its uniquely colorful nature, both literally and figuratively. The Chosen, which wasworn only by the Kohain Gadol-the High Priest, consisted of four rows of jewels, three stones in each row, for a total of twelve. These stones corresponded to the twelve tribes. Indeed the names of each of the twelve tribes were etched into these twelve jewels.

The very last stone was the yashpeh, translated as jasper. According to the chronological order of the twelve sons this gem corresponded to the youngest, tribe that of Benjamin.

There is a fascinating story in the Jerusalem Talmud (Peah 1:1) concerning the extreme to which one must go to honor one’s father that involved—it would appear only incidentally—the yashpeh jewel.

Jaspers and Red Heifers

The Talmud relates that once, during the Second Temple Era, it occurred that the yashpeh was missing from the Choshen. The Sages heard that a certain Roman official who resided in Ashkelon named Dama ben Nasina owned such a jewel. When they came to him and offered him a handsome sum for the jewel he turned them down. He said that the key to the box in which the jewel was kept was in his father’s possession and since his father was sleeping, he could not get the key and he thus had no acces to the jewel. The rabbis offered to double the amount, thinking that he was using his father’s sleep as an excuse to raise the price. Again he demurred. Even when they offered to raise the price yet further and pay an exorbitant amount for the jasper, Dama refused. The rabbis realized that Dama was not going to sell the gem for any price and they left.

As soon as his father awakened, Dama quickly retrieved the jewel and caught up with the rabbis, finally offering to sell the jewel to them. The rabbis offered to pay the final amount that they had offered, but Dama refused to profit for honoring his father and so would only take the original sum that had originally been proposed.

For his financial sacrifice for honoring his father, G‑d rewarded him with the birth of a red heifer on his farm. This animal was used for the purification ritual of a person who has been in contact with the dead. This breed was so rare that it earned him the sum that was equivalent to the amount he forfeited because of the honor he extended to his father.

Benjamin’s Jewel

Nothing in life happens by coincidence. Divine providence dictates that even the most minute and seemingly trivial detail happens by design. This is certainly true about the Torah. Everything the Torah relates to us has meaning and must convey an important message. In light of this we must try to understand what the connection is there between the missing yashpeh stone in the Choshen to the Mitzvah of honoring one’s father? What is the significance of the fact that this stone in particular was lost? And what lesson can we learn from the details of this story?

Obviously, a key lesson from this story is how far we must go to honor our parents, which is, of course, the main point of that Talmudic discussion. But what additional lessons can be gleaned from the seemingly trivial details?

Commentators point out that Benjamin, who is identified with the yashpeh stone, was the only one of Jacob’s sons—the progenitors of the Jewish people—who was not involved in the sale of Joseph. Even Joseph was tainted by his own sale, although he was the victim, because of the way he provoked his brother’s jealousy of him. Benjamin had absolutely no role in the sale of Joseph.

The Ultimate Honor of Parents

Perhaps one of the greatest sources of pain that children can cause to their parents, is when they don’t get along with each other. Our parents’ greatest wish is to see their children treat each other with love and respect. The more strident and vitriolic their divisions are, the greater the pain that a parent will experience. And, conversely, the greater the love and the lack of jealousy among them is what causes parents the greatest joy and satisfaction.

The Psalmist exclaims, “How goodly and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together.” The Talmud (Kerisus 5b) applies this verse specifically to Moses and Aaron. Elsewhere (Shabbos 139a) the Talmud states Aaron rejoiced in his heart when Moses, his younger brother, was chosen to be the liberator of the Jewish people. For his lack of jealousy and the great joy he experienced in his heart, Aaron, the first Kohein Gadol, was rewarded with the Choshen to wear over his heart.

The Choshen thus represented the idea of brotherly love and respect, those feelings which brings the greatest joy to our parents.

A Jolt

During the second Temple era, especially close to the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE when the Roman Empire was in control of Israel, the Jewish people degenerated into sinas chinam-senseless hatred. Their internecine divisions were at their worst level at that period in history and were the eventual cause of the destruction of the Temple as recorded in the Talmud.

In those very discordant times, the Jewish people had to be reminded of what they were missing. They might have deluded themselves into thinking that they were doing fine in terms of their relationship with G‑d, their Father in heaven. To jolt them into realizing that they had failed in their honor for their physical parents, as well as for their Father in heaven because of their divisions, they lost the yashpeh jewel. The choshen, which symbolized brotherly love, was missing its key component; the jewel that corresponded to the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who was not involved in the sale of Joseph, did not participate in the sibling rivalry and thus excelled at honoring his parents.

Apparently the mysterious disappearance of the yashpeh stone did not accomplish its objective. This bizarre occurrence should have awakened the Jews of the time to do some serious soul searching and to make them realize that they were missing the “Benjamin” mode of honor which is achieved only when we are united with our fellow Jews.

However, when the requisite conclusions were not drawn, divine providence alerted them to this lesson in a novel and circuitous way. A Roman official, whose very position was emblematic of the potential for and the onset of exile, was to impress upon them the need to shore up their filial responsibility. By owning the gem that symbolized brotherly love and by the unusual sacrifice he had made for his father, Dama ben Nesina served as the Divine agent to inspire them to recognize that they were missing the spiritual dimension of the Choshen in general and the yashpeh in particular.

To further impress upon them what their course of action should be, Divine Providence alerted them to the phenomenon of the Red Heifer that was born on the farm of Dama. The enigmatic ritual involved sprinkling the ashes diluted with spring water on the person who was made ritually impure by contact with the dead. What is so enigmatic about this ritual is that the people involved in the preparation of the ashes would themselves become impure while the person upon whom the ashes were sprinkled would become purified.

The message should have been unmistakably clear. The way to generate brotherly love and respect for our parents is by going out of our way to help bring purity to our brothers and sisters even if it means that we sacrifice some of our own purity. Only the sacrifices that we will make for one another can be the key to reconnecting to our Heavenly Father.

Become a Choshen and Red Heifer

The word Choshen has the same numerical value as the word Moshiach. It is symbolic of Moshiach because in it we have all the Jewish people represented in the context of jewels. In the Choshen we have the feeling that we are all G‑d’s jewels, and we would feel incomplete should we lack even one of them. The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that each Jew is a “land of desire” because of the infinite treasures buried within each of our souls. The Rebbe would stand for hours and distribute dollars for tzedakah and blessings to thousands of Jews. When asked how he could endure such a strain and not tire, his famous response was, “When you count diamonds you do not get tired.”

But as long as even one jewel is missing, the Choshen is incomplete. Particularly if the jewel that is missing is the yashpeh, whichsymbolizes the lack of division, it causes our father in Heaven to shed tears and makes the exile for Him and for us more unbearable.

Now is the time when the lesson of the Choshen and Red Heifer are most needed. Now is the time for each one of us to reach out –or, more accurately—reach in toevery Jew to discover and expose the Jewel within them, even at the expense of our own material and spiritual comforts.

This is the hallmark of identifying Moshiach. In addition to his other qualifications, Moshiach, according to our Sages, is a Jewish leader who sees the good in every one and dedicates himself to helping us actualize the jewel, or yashpeh, within. Moreover, Moshiach is the ultimate expression of the Red Heifer mindset of putting the needs of his people ahead of his own.

Our mission is to emulate Moshiach’s traits. And the power to accomplish this we derive from the spark of Moshiach within us. This, in turn, will hasten the imminent Redemption when we will see Aaron wearing the Choshen with all of the jewels intact!

Moshiach Matters
When the Israelites were unable to endure the harsh exile in Egypt, they cried out to G‑d. Indeed, G‑d heard their cry and sent Moses to redeem them. So it is with us in our present exile. When we cry out, "Take us out of exile and bring Moshiach!" G‑d will certainly hear our cry and send the Redeemer. Moreover, merely being in a state of readiness to call upon G‑d is already enough for Him to respond, as it states in Isaiah, "Before they call, I will answer, and while yet they speak I will hear." (The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Tavo, 5751)

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