Friday, February 18, 2005 - 9 Adar I, 5765

Torah Reading: Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)
Candle Lighting time: 5:16 PM
Shabbat ends: 6:17 PM
Inherited and Inherent Jewels
Among the eight garments the Kohein Gadol (the High Priest) wore when he performed the service in the Temple-described in this week's parsha of Tetzaveh-was the Choshen Mishpat, the Breastplate of Judgment. This Breastplate was comprised of twelve jewels on which were engraved the names of the twelve tribes.
In addition to the names of the twelve tribes, there were other words that were etched into these twelve stones. There are two opinions cited in the Midrash as to what the other words were. One opinion states that it also had the names of the Patriarchs. This opinion bases itself on a play on words: The Hebrew word for stones, Avanim is a composite of the two words, "Av and Banim," meaning father and children. The other view states that in addition to the names of the twelve tribes, the Breastplate of the High Priest also contained the names of the jewels themselves. This opinion is based on an alternate translation of the verse that prescribes the obligation to engrave the names of the Children of Israel: Instead of rendering the verse: "The names of the children of Israel should be on the stones." the verse is now rendered: "The [names of the] stones shall be together with the names of the children of Israel."
Whenever there is a difference of opinion about the interpretation of a certain aspect of Torah, the Talmud teaches that "Both opinions are the words of the living G‑d." While in actuality only one opinion may be historically accurate, both opinions are conceptually valid, each contributing a different spiritual nuance. The Breastplate worn by the High Priest served as an oracle. Whenever there was a major dilemma in the Land of Israel, the answer would be Divinely communicated via the Breastplate. The Kohein Gadol would ask a question of G‑d, and the answer would be conveyed by G‑d having the various letters of the Breastplate illuminate, thus forming the answer. For example, the Bible says that at one point there was a question as to which tribes should participate in a certain battle. The answered received from the Choshen was, "Yehudah Ya'aleh -the tribe of Judah should go up (to the battle.)"
But why would G‑d communicate through the names of the Tribes? Weren't there other ways for G‑d to answer our questions?  To understand the dynamics of the Breastplate and its connection to the names of the Jewish people, we have to view G‑d's communication through these stones as His way of showing us that He has a healthy relationship with His people. Frequently problems that arise in a relationship are caused by the lack of communication. When G‑d responded to their questions, and communicated with them, He was affirming that the relationship He has with Israel was solid. To underscore that He was communicating with-not talking down to-us, G‑d's answer came through the names of the Jewish people as they were etched in the precious gems. G‑d was commenting on the condition of the Jewish people. He was in effect saying that they were gems, worthy of His love and closeness.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a custom to personally distribute dollars for charity to thousands of people from all walks of life who would line up for hours every Sunday. When a relatively young woman reached the Rebbe and realized that the Rebbe-who was then in his early nineties-was alert and spry, she remarked to the Rebbe in amazement: "I'm so much younger and I've been standing on line for a few hours and I'm so weary. How do you stand on line for so much longer and not tire?  The Rebbe answered with a fatherly smile: "When one counts diamonds, you don't get tired." 
The question can be asked. What is it that makes us so precious? And to this we have two answers. One answer is that the link that has been forged by our parents, who passed down the Torah’s teachings to the next generation, has made us into precious jewels. The true definition of  (precious) stones (Avanim) is father and children-together.  We can then become the vehicles though which G‑d communicates through us and to us. 
But one may ask - the terrible circumstances of exile have at times strained the spiritual bonds that connect us with our past. Under those circumstances is it still possible for a Jew to be a conduit for G‑d's communication? The second opinion therefore teaches us that there are times that the breastplate has the names of the tribes without the names of the fathers, and nevertheless it remains an intact, proper vehicle for G‑d to use for communication. Instead of the names of the forefathers, the names of the tribes stand together with the names of the gems, as if to say that every Jew-even we who are at times so far removed from our past- retains his jewel status. And while we acquire some of our holiness from our forebears, we possess a reservoir of G‑dly energy within our own souls that is no less potent, provided we write the names of the gems next to our names, i.e., we appreciate the fact that we are gems.
A message for our times: Whether we point to our connection to the past as the source of our strength, or we appreciate our own, inborn gemlike value as Jews, we are no less worthy and are capable of achieving the same goal-getting G‑d to respond to our needs, including the most pressing need, to bring an end to exile and all of the negative energy it brings, and to usher in the Age of Moshiach
Moshiach Matters
As is widely known, in future times, Jewish law will follow the view of the school of Shammai. The question thus arises: If Moshiach arrives on the eve of Chanuka, will this reversal in legal rulings take effect immediately, so that on the first evening of the festival we will kindle eight lights? (The Rebbe, on the eve of Chanuka, 5750-1989)
Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit
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