Restoring the Urim V’tumim in Our Lives
One of the main garments that the High Priest of Israel donned was the
jewel-bestudded breastplate – choshen - that he wore upon his chest. This
breastplate contained twelve precious jewels of different colors and on each
of the stones was engraved the name of one of the tribes of Israel.
In addition to these stones there were two large elongated diamond stones
that were embedded in the shoulder straps of the apron – eiphod – that the
High Priest wore. Engraved on those shoulder strap stones were the names of
the Patriarchs of Israel and a reference to all of the tribes of Israel.
Thus all of the twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet were to be found
on these stones in the breastplate and on the shoulder straps.
This allowed these stones and their engraved letters to serve as the urim
v’tumim – the means of prophecy by which important national issues could be
decided with Divine help and intervention. Though the letters of the answer
shone on the stones, the ability to string the letters together correctly
and coherently into the necessary words and message depended upon the
prophets of Israel who “read” the urim v’tumim accurately.
This was symbolic of the symbiotic relationship, so to speak, of God and the
Jewish people in pursuit of the national and spiritual goals of Israel. Only
by this interaction of Heaven and humans could the message of the urim
v’tumim have any constructive meaning. Heaven alone never completely
determines our future. We must also work and strive, interpret and analyze,
study and act in order to see our future realized successfully.
In the pocket of the choshen there was inserted a piece of parchment with
the ineffable name of the Lord written upon it. This was the engine that
powered the miracle of the urim v’tumim. Without its presence the choshen
was a lifeless collection of jeweled stones. This significance is part of
Beauty and expensive value are only relevant when they are somehow inspired
and created for a lofty purpose of spirit and service. King Solomon wisely
said that “if the Lord builds not the city then those that have constructed
it have toiled in vain.”
In Second Temple times, the choshen was present on the breast of the High
Priest. But the urim v’tumim was no longer in effective operation. The human
element of service and dedication was already lacking. There were no longer
prophets present amongst Israel and the choshen therefore was merely an
ornament, part of the uniform of the High Priest but no longer a Godly guide
to the future and a source of instruction to the people of Israel.
Because of this, the great men and rabbinic leaders of Second Temple times
in the Land of Israel recognized early on that this Temple was ultimately
doomed to be destroyed. The necessary interplay of Heaven and earth, of God
and His creatures were no longer present. In such an environment, no matter
how beautiful the structure or how handsome the jewels may have been, the
whiff of eternity upon which all Jewish life is based was absent. It is our
task to somehow restore the very same urim v’tumim in our personal and
Rabbi Berel Wein