One End, A Variety of Means

Tetzaveh 5780
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, we continue dealing with the preparations for the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the Jewish nation’s temporary temple.  The Torah goes into great detail describing the clothing of the kohanim, the priests, who served in the Mishkan.  One of the unique items of clothing belonging to the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, was called “Choshen HaMishpat” which the kohen wore on his chest.  Twelve precious stones were embedded in it etched with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel:

One row: odem, pitdah, and bareketh; thus shall the one row be. The second row: nofech, sappir, and yahalom. The third row: leshem, shevo, and achlamah. And the fourth row: tarshish, shoham, and yashpheh…And the stones shall be for the names of the sons of Israel twelve, corresponding to their names; [similar to] the engravings of a seal, every one according to his name shall they be, for the twelve tribes.
(Exodus 28, 17 – 21)


We might have thought that the stones representing the different tribes in the nation would be identical to each other in order to express everyone striving for one common goal.  But it was intentional that twelve different stones were chosen to serve as the symbols of the tribes that differed from each other in character and occupation.  This principle, which we learned toward the end of Genesis when Jacob blessed his sons with different blessings, is now being expressed with the “Choshen Hamishpat”.

The Kohen Gadol was committed to wearing symbols of, and loyally representing, the entire nation, with its various streams and subgroups.

But these precious stones weren’t the only stones embedded into the Kohen Gadol’s clothes, nor were they even the only ones etched with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel! The Kohen Gadol carried two additional stones on his shoulders, each stone etched with the names of six tribes:

And you shall take two shoham stones and engrave upon them the names of the sons of Israel. Six of their names on one stone and the names of the remaining six on the second stone…And you shall put the two stones upon the shoulder straps of the ephod as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel, and Aaron shall carry their names before the Lord upon his two shoulders as a remembrance.

(Ibid Ibid, 9 – 12)

The difference between the two stones on the Kohen Gadol’s shoulders and the twelve stones on his chest needs to be explained.  Why, on the shoulder stones, are the names of all the tribes etched together on two identical stones, while on the chest stones, each tribe’s name is etched on a separate, unique stone?

The stones on the Kohen Gadol’s shoulders represented the nation serving G-d.  When the Kohen represented the nation before G-d, he presented one unit aimed at the express purpose of the Jewish nation – a nation carrying a responsible role in the history of humanity, and the Kohen Gadol served in the Temple as a representative of the entire nation.  As such, he represented the unifying aspect of the nation striving for a lofty and common goal.

The stones upon the Kohen’s heart also contained this aspect of “remembrance” before G-d.  But this remembrance had a complicated nature:

…and Aaron will carry the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the Lord at all times.

(Ibid Ibid, 30)

Meaning, the main issue that these stones represent is “the judgment of the children of Israel”.  In order for the Kohen Gadol to represent the Temple before the nation, he could not treat the entire nation as one unit.  He had to recognize the fact that the nation was diverse. The different stones reminded him at all times that the nation was composed of tribes, of groups and of sub-groups, with each having its own unique characteristics and varied ways of expressing and striving for the common goal.

So, the parasha teaches us this: Suitable leadership recognizes the differences among various groups within the nation.  But these groups might separate from one another.  Alienation and estrangement, let alone hatred and incitement, can take over public discourse.  This can’t happen if the entire nation, with all its varied diversity, stands before G-d as one unit, for one purpose, expressed in a variety of means.


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