Welcome to our Shabbos Table!We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“You shall place the Urim and Tummim in the breastplate of judgment, and they shall be upon Aharon’s heart when he comes before Hashem, and Aharon will carry the judgment of the Children of Israel upon his heart before Hashem at all times” (Shemos 28:30).
The breastplate of judgment (choshen mishpat) was one of eight priestly garments worn by Aharon, the Kohen Gadol. Inside the breastplate was the “Urim and Tummim,” a parchment inscribed with Hashem’s name. This inscription caused the letters of the breastplate to light up, revealing the answers to Bnei Yisrael’s questions.
The “breastplate of judgment” was so called because Bnei Yisrael would ask about the “judgment” of a given matter, i.e., how to proceed with it (Pesikta Zutrasa ad loc., cited in Lekach Tov). As Rashi comments on our pasuk, “the judgment of the Children of Israel” refers to that which they are judging and debating whether or not to do.
Rashi connects “Urim” to the Hebrew word or, light, and “Tummim” to tamim, perfect, because the Urim and Tummim would illuminate and perfect the answers conveyed by the breastplate.
Tamim also means “sincere,” for the Urim and Tummim responded only to sincere inquiries. If someone asked a question of the Urim and Tummim without necessarily intending to heed its words, he would get no response.
Where to Turn
Sadly, we no longer have the Urim and Tummim to answer our questions, but we do have other ways of clarifying Hashem’s will when we’re in doubt. The Vilna Gaon, for instance, would open a chumash or Tanach at random, taking direction from whatever pesukim he found there. Rabbi Aryeh Levin used this method, known as the Goral HaGra (the Vilna Gaon’s lottery), to identify the corpses of twelve Jews who died in defense of Eretz Yisrael. And when the Chafetz Chaim was unsure whether to set out on a fundraising trip to Russia, he opened a chumash and found the answer: “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again”(Bereishis 46:4). Taught by the Chafetz Chaim how to perform the Goral HaGra, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian used to say that – like the Urim and Tummim – it works only if one promises to accept whatever answer he receives.
Our greatest rabbis also function much like the Urim and Tummim, for their counsel is Divinely inspired. But here again, they can access Hashem’s will only if we’re prepared to obey it, i.e., to follow their advice. If we’re simply shopping around for a second opinion, we forfeit the clarity our sages can provide. (Ta’am VeDa’as, Tetzaveh, pp. 199–200)
Question for Discussion:
Life involves so many decisions and dilemmas, and clarity can be hard to come by. Although the Urim and Tummim could be asked only questions of national significance by the Kohen Gadol, if you could ask the Urim and Tummim one question, what would it be?
This Shabbos we had a group from Machon Shlomo, a yeshivah in Yerushalayim, and the following fascinating dialogue ensued:
Matt Perlmutter (and others at the table): I’d ask what my mission in life is.
Austin a.k.a. Avraham Glicher: I’m not sure that’s the right thing to ask, because that’s really part of what you need to figure out in life. Part of our task and test is for us to try to figure out our mission. By asking that question, you’d be taking away a lot of what we need to try to accomplish. We shouldn’t be finding the easy way out of something as significant as that.
Aiden, our 16-year-old: Even if you’d ask and figure out what your mission is, you’d still have to accomplish it: to figure out how to work efficiently toward it, get over the obstacles and hurdles, and execute your mission. So you’d still have that challenge in life, which is significant, although you’d know the direction of what you’d want to accomplish.
Then our other two daughters chimed in with the questions they’d ask:
Moriya, 12: When is Mashiach coming, and what can we do to bring him earlier?
Ayelet, 14: What’s the cure for cancer? The Talmud tells us that if you save one Jew, it’s as if you’ve save the whole world. So since cancer afflicts so many people, I’d want to find out how to save them.