They shall make the ephod…
You shall make the choshen of judgment
When understood correctly, the details of the mishkan and the bigdei kehunah teach powerful lessons about our relationships with Hashem, and with our fellow man. The same holds true for the words of the Rishonim.
Rashi on the first of our two pesukim explains his strategy in commenting on the ephod and the choshen. Following his usual practice of providing a line-by-line commentary, he observes, would be confusing to many, who would not be able to assemble the different pieces of the puzzle accurately. Better, he says, to first offer the bottom line – a complete description of each of the vestments “so that the reader will be able to run through it quickly,” and only then return to each verse separately.
Rashi’s words shed light on his teaching at the beginning of parshas Mishpatim. Commenting on the words “These are the laws that you shall place before them,” Rashi explains that Moshe was charged with conveying the Torah to the Bnei Yisrael clearly, in a user-friendly manner. The lessons should be as ready to digest as a meal set before those gathered around the table.
We ask, however, why this should be so? Why shouldn’t students be encouraged to figure things out for themselves? Why shouldn’t they share some of the hard work of polishing up, and elaborating on, the principles of a lesson? Why not have them share in the labor?
Our Rashi reveals his mindset to us – an approach that continues throughout his commentary on Tanach. The instruction at the beginning of Mishpatim, he thinks, is not limited to Moshe alone. It was not a one-off because he was speaking to that first, crucial generation that received the Torah. Instead, he sees it as imperative for every Torah teacher in the future. They, too, must prepare their lessons so precisely and sharply, that the student needs only to ingest the, like food at a set table. That should be the way Torah is taught.
In the second of our pesukim, Rashi explains, “Judgment: by clarifying its words, and showing that they are true.” He means the following. Litigants often present themselves to the courts with conflicting claims. One of them says, “You promised me X!” The other responds, “Sure, I readily admit that. But you misread my intention. What I meant was Y!” From Rashi we see that mishpat requires that words should be framed unambiguously. They should not leave room for different explanations and false impressions. When a person does not precisely clarify his words, then his words can be said to lack emes!
- Based on Daas Torah by Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, Shemos pg. 262 ↑
- Shemos 28:6 ↑
- Shemos 28:15 ↑
- Shemos 21:1 ↑