This week's Torah portion is devoted primarily to describing in intricate
detail the special vestments worn by the kohanim and kohen godol when
performing their service in the Bais Hamikdash, and the manner in which
these garments were to be crafted.
Of these, the most magnificent was the choshen, the breastplate worn by the
kohain godol. On its surface were attached 12 precious stones with the name
of a tribe engraved on each one. Within the choshen lay the urim v'tumim,
the slip of parchment upon which Hashem's name was inscribed. This name gave
the choshen its sublime power through which the individual letters of the
tribal names would light up (signified by the word "urim" meaning light).
When the illuminated letters were properly aligned, they provided the
answers to questions of national import posed by the kohen gadol to Hashem.
Various letters of the breastplate would become luminescent, allowing the
high priest to unite them into words, in order to read Hashem's response
(signified by the word "tumim," completeness or wholeness).
This miraculous Divine form of communication remained with the Jewish people
until King Yehoash hid the urim v'tumim at the time of the First Temple's
destruction, to ensure that it would not fall into enemy hands.
Our sages point out that Aharon Hakohen merited to wear this wondrous
vestment as reward for a particularly noble deed. When Moshe was chosen as
the redeemer of the Jewish people, he was worried that his older brother,
Aharon, would feel a tinge of jealousy at his being passed over for this
exalted role. Hashem testified to him (Shmos 4:15) that, on the contrary,
Aharon rejoiced in his heart at his brother's appointment to greatness.
It was due to this noble and selfless joy at his brother's lofty position,
says the Midrash, that Aharon merited to become the bearer of the choshen.
We cannot fail to marvel at Aharon who exhibited such amazing selflessness
towards his younger brother. But why was he rewarded specifically with being
able to wear the choshen? Couldn't Hashem have alternatively showered him
with wealth or longevity as a reward?
The manner in which Hashem communicated his message to His people through
the choshen provides us with a fascinating clue as to why this particular
reward was most appropriate.
Whenever Hashem responded to a question from the kohain godol, the answer
was conveyed through the choshen's illuminated letters. But the response had
to be deciphered by aligning the glowing letters in a particular sequence,
so that the words they formed would correctly determine Hashem's precise
answer. It required a great measure of temimus, pure faith and wholeness of
heart, to correctly interpret the Divine communication.
On various occasions we read in the Talmud that the message of the choshen
was misread and misinterpreted, often with dire consequences. To correctly
decipher the code required a rare degree of pure-heartedness and
objectivity. By expunging every trace of ego and demonstrating that he was
capable of rejoicing in his brother's good fortune, Aharon attained this
degree of selflessness.
Aharon's quintessence reflected his loving embrace of his fellow Jews.
Because he saw each Jew as a beloved brother, he excelled in uniting others,
in fostering peace and harmony between people. Untainted by envy or
self-aggrandizement, he knew how to draw forth the best in others and how to
build on these strengths.
Aharon perceived no evil in anyone for he truly saw the inner light that
ennobled every Jew. He was thus capable of using the illuminated letters of
the urim v'tumim, and interpreting them as Hashem desired.
In our own lives we, too, can strive to attain a degree of Aharon's noble
trait of being able to rejoice in another's good fortune and to discern
their special virtues. By emphasizing the inherent goodness of our family
members, our neighbors and co-workers, we too will merit the skill of
interpreting life's message appropriately and communicating directly with
our Divine source.