Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on February 25, 2021 (5781) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Now you shall command the Bnei Yisrael that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil.[2]

“Oil and incense gladden the heart.”[3] Chazal refer this verse to Hashem Himself. They take the oil to be that of the menorah, and the incense to be the ketores. These were bound together, in that these two parts of the daily avodah were performed together.

What is the connection? Perhaps we can explain it this way. The ketores contained one foul-smelling ingredient, which Chazal understand as signifying Jewish sinners. When they remain associated with the majority of non-sinners (symbolized by the other ten, aromatic ingredients of the ketores) there is hope for them. Moreover, without them, the ketores is deficient, i.e. the community is lacking if it does not keep its most distant members within the fold.

The lit menorah, on the other hand, signifies the acquisition of wisdom through Divine influence. This gift is usually associated with high spiritual achievers. When performing the avodah of lighting the menorah each day – relating primarily to those who are closer to Hashem – we call on Hashem to remember the weaker members of the nation, and not to leave anyone behind.

Joining them to the body of the Jewish people gladdens His heart.


E Pluribus Achdus

You shall place the Urim V’Tumim into the Choshen HaMishpat. They shall be on Aharon’s heart when he comes before Hashem. Aharon shall bear the judgment of the Bnei Yisrael on his heart constantly before Hashem.[4]

The Breastplate, with its twelve gems and the Urim V’Tumim inside, instantly strikes one as an eye-catching vestment of the Kohen Gadol. But why is it related specifically to mishpat/judgment?

Shlomo HaMelech’s question may give us the answer. “For who can judge this formidable people of Yours?”[5] Judging the Jewish people is difficult and fraught, whether in a formal court of law, or out of it. The Choshen’s twelve stones – all different – bear witness to the stunning diversity of personalities and opinions among Jews. Yet these stones are set on top of the Urim V’Tumim that contains the Shem Hashem. When it comes to honoring Hashem, all those differences are set aside, and Jews come together.

The Choshen is worn over the heart of the Kohen Gadol, reminding him to internalize this great truth: their connection and devotion to Hashem creates a bedrock unity in Am Yisrael.

When the kohen – or any Jewish leader struggling with his role – is reminded of that unity, his job becomes easier and bearable.

  1. Based on Chidushei R. Yosef Nechemia (Kornitzer) (1880-1933), Rav of Krakow
  2. Shemos 27:20
  3. Mishlei 27:9
  4. Shemos 27:30
  5. Melachim1 3:9