Torah Fax
Friday, February 14, 2003 - 12 Adar I, 5763

Torah Reading: Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)
Candle Lighting Time: 5:10 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:12 PM

The Roman Jeweler

One of the most striking features of the special garments the High Priest wore, described in this week's parsha, is the Choshen, the breastplate, that contained twelve jewels. Each of these jewels represented one of the twelve tribes. Indeed, the names of the tribes were engraved onto the twelve stones.

The last of the twelve stones was (according to many opinions) jasper, referred to in the text as Yashpei. This stone represented the tribe of Benjamin. Commentators point to the fact that the word yashpei shares a numerical equivalency with the phrase, Binyamin Ben Ya'akov, Benjamin the son of Jacob.

The Talmud relates an interesting story concerning this jewel. Once, the Sages sought to replace the yashpei of the High Priest's breastplate, which had been lost. A certain Roman official, Dama ben Netinah, who resided in Israel, had such a jewel. But when they approached him to purchase his yashpei for the Temple, he refused to sell it - even at a very large profit - not because he was against selling his jewel to the rabbis, but simply because the key to his safe was under his sleeping father's pillow and he refused to awaken his father to get the key. The Talmud extols this Roman official's profound level of Kibbud Av, respect for his father.

The Ba'al Shem Tov taught us that nothing happens by chance. Rather, everything that transpires is b'hashgacha pratis, directed by Divine Providence. Why, commentators have wondered, was the lesson of honoring parents conveyed specifically through an event that was associated with Benjamin?

The answer given by commentators was that when Joseph was sold by his brothers, they caused their father Jacob untold anguish - the very antithesis of honoring a parent. But Benjamin did not participate in that event. Hence the lesson about honoring a father came about through the jewel associated with Benjamin.

When the Talmud relates that the yashpei of the High Priest was lost, it may be interpreted to mean that the Jewish people were losing touch with their roots (meaning their parents, their connection with the past) and were gradually drifting away from their heritage. More and more disputes arose amongst the Sages, because - as the Talmud states - they did not serve their teachers adequately. To help them restore this "jewel," G‑d orchestrated matters so that a Roman official - the very people who dominated the Jews, who ultimately destroyed their Temple and who ushered in the longest period of exile - would reinforce their connection to their past.

Commentators also have made the observation that the Hebrew word for the Breastplate is Choshen, which has the numerical value of 358, the same as the word Moshiach. The Breastplate's complete name was Chosen Mishpat. The word Mishpat has been translated as either justice or the laws of the Torah that form the basis of Jewish justice. The connection between Mishpat and the Messianic Age is that only then will justice be fully restored.  It follows then that each of the twelve stones of the Choshen represents the twelve approaches that one can take towards the attainment of the highest ideals of justice and Torah knowledge.

The last jewel, yashpei, associated with honoring parents, thus alludes to the need to respect the Torah tradition. It does not suffice to learn Torah and master it. One must forge a link between oneself and the generations of the past. In the words of King Solomon: "listen my son to the words of reproof of your father and do not forsake the teachings of your mother." Our Sages comment that "father" and "mother" in this regard refer to the Written Torah and Oral Torah respectively. However, by using the metaphor of father and mother, King Solomon was telling us that when one studies, he must always go back to the previous generation of Torah teachers to get the deeper insights contained within the Torah.

Torah study, though it is an intellectual exercise, is also an attempt at retracing our steps to Sinai. In order for us to capture the spirit of Sinai - and the G‑dly connection that was made there - we cannot rely on our own understanding of the Torah. It is crucial that we speak to our fathers and mothers, our teachers and masters, for they form the link between us and the Sinai experience.

One of the characteristics of Moshiach, Maimonides records, is for him to be steeped in Torah as "his father David." It does not suffice for him to have mastered the Torah independently, he must also feel his link to his "father." To usher in the coming of Moshiach, thus, every one of us must awaken the spark of Moshiach within ourselves and connect to our ancestors. And when we feel we may have lost this "gem" our "Breastplate of Judgment" is incomplete. To bring Moshiach, we must look for every possible way to reconnect to our forbears, our parents and teachers, through whom we reconnect to the Sinai experience.

Moshiach Matters

"The final redeemer is just like the first redeemer (Moses). Just as the first redeemer revealed himself and then was temporarily concealed (after Moses’ first discussions with Pharaoh, Moses left Egypt for 6 months before he returned and brought about the 10 plagues) so too will Moshiach be temporarily concealed from the Jewish people before he brings about the final redemption." (BaMidbar Rabbah 11:2)

Moshiach - Its a Jewish issue. For more info, visit www.moshiach.com

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