Letters April 2008

Doug: Thank you again for another wonderfully enlightening class today.  

As follow-up, my understanding of the reason why the Urim and Tumim were used when the nation had to decide whether to got out to war is as follows. 

Since the entire world was created by Hashem, then it all belongs to Him.  We are only allowed to use it to the extent that we have permission to do so.  Hence, as Rabbi Chait has related, saying a blessing before food serves in part to remind us of the permit we have been given by the Creator to partake of that food.  Without that permit, we wouldn't be allowed to eat, because the food belongs to the Creator, and taking it without permission would be theft.

So too, this principle would apply to taking a life.  Courts are given certain "permits", if you will, to execute people under certain circumstances, after rigorous investigation and a thorough judicial process.  Apart from that, man is not given a permit to take another man"s life, except in bona fide cases of self defense.

But what about war, can the nation of Israel unilaterally decide to go to battle against another nation?  If a battle takes place, it's almost a certainty that humans will be killed.  Does the nation have a "permit" to do that?

It seems that the Urim and Tumim serves that purpose.  By consulting the Urim and Tumim before the nation goes to war, the nation is acknowledging that they must have Hashem's permission to undertake the battle.  Otherwise, the killing that would result could be unlawful, since the nation wouldn't have permission from the ultimate "Owner" to dispatch the targeted group.

On another subject, while researching the above, I noted a very interesting idea related to the Rashi on Numbers 27:22.   This is where Joshua is being installed as the leader of Israel as a successor to Moses.  In Numbers 27:22, it says regarding Moses, that "He took Joshua and stood him before Elazar the Kohen and before the entire assembly."  In a footnote, the Artscroll edition of Rashi states that,

"Sifrei 141.  G--  told Moses only to persuade Joshua by telling him how fortunate he was to be the leader of God's nation (see Rashi to v. 18), but Moses went beyond that, and informed Joshua additionally of the reward he would receive in the World to Come (Mizrachi; Sifsei Chachamim)." 

Note that use of the word "persuade".  Moses had to persuade Joshua to lead the nation – Joshua didn't jump at the chance.  People in our society spend millions to gain leadership positions.  Here Joshua is offered – free – the opportunity to lead God's nation and he has to be "persuaded".

In reflecting on this, I can't think of a single instance in Torah where someone who is considered wise and righteous actively vies for a leadership role.  The exact opposite is the case.  Moses didn't want to lead the people and tried to talk Hashem out of it.  Here, the commentaries are indicating that Joshua apparently also wasn't automaticaly inclined to take on the leadership role, and Moses had to talk him into it. 

The only time that I can think of where someone actively sought out a leadership role is the rebellious Korach.  While I can't claim to know all of what was going on in his head, it would seem that ego and the desire for power was at least a part of his motivation, if not the overwhelming reason.

Contrast all of this with the situation in our society today where – in business, politics, and other arenas – people compete, maneuver, and spend untold sums of money in order to obtain leadership positions.  Witness our current political scene, where candidates almost throw rocks at each other in order to gain the upper hand.  Scores of books are written on leadership, and people are sometimes admonished that they should all strive to be leaders.  The amount of ego and fantasy that we, as a society, seem to have around assuming leadership roles appears to know no bounds.

How different is the Torah approach, where leadership roles were avoided, except when individuals recognized that they were the best equipped for the job and/or when there was no one else appropriately qualified to assume the role.  Perhaps this is because the driving force behind the lives of those individuals centered around the opportunity to study and learn, and the responsibilities of leadership were realistically seen as a distraction from the real purpose of life, rather than its main goal.

Best wishes for a great week.


Kal: Rabbi – Again you have tickled my brain to want to find meaning to the topic of conversation surrounding the Urim and Tumim in this morning’s class.  The one word that my mind keeps coming back to is “patterns”, as in, look for the patterns.  The other phrase that comes to mind is “hierarchy to Hashem”.  

I particularly resonated with the description you gave to the black stones on the shoulders representing the twelve deceased sons of Jacob and that the colored stones represented the living descendants of each of the twelve.  The “hierarchy to Hashem”, that I mentioned, seems that through the righteousness of the patriarchs, by studying their actions and what they represented, we are we able to see how Hashem relates to man – establishing a system to be passed on through generation to generation.  Even though the patriarchs are gone, the communication can continue to be passed on through the living.

Getting back to the contents of the Breastplate, the living descendants (life) is represented by the colored stones and it is only through the correct understanding of how Hashem relates to man that that “life” can become illuminated with the knowledge/wisdom of Hashem as passed down through the patriarchs (the letters lighting up on the colored stones).  

The “Ineffable Name” of Hashem was placed on a piece of parchment into the pouch-like pocket in the breastplate by Moses, (from a commentary I read in The Stone Edition of the Chumash, referring to Rashi from Yoma 73b).  Again, this identifies another pattern that Moses was the only man to receive direct communication from Hashem.  By Moses, placing The Name in this pouch, was man able to receive this communication from Hashem in the form of lit up letters. 

Yet man, in his relationship to Hashem must use his intelligence – that which separates us from all of Hashem’s other creations, to “unscramble” or gain the insight/wisdom from Hashem in particular situations.  We mentioned in class that this communication through the Urim and Tumim for “particular situations” was only used for seeking Hashem’s wisdom in defending the Jewish nation from its enemies.  This implies the importance of the preservation of this system being maintained through the preservation of the Jewish nation.

The other pattern I see here is that Hashem is “complete” or one.  He doesn’t need anything or anyone to exist.  He also doesn’t need a physical form, thus, he used fire to communicate his existence at Sinai and in the pillar of fire in the desert because anything physical would be consumed by fire.  He is the source of all knowledge bringing light to our understanding of all things.  The name of Urim and the Tumim represents these facts about Hashem in that “Urim” means light and “Tumim” means complete or perfect. 

Man, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.  For example, even from his creation he needed a mate.  He also needed “completion” in his relationship with Hashem and those ideas pertaining to “man’s perfection” were attained through circumcision.

This also takes us back to the “hierarchy to Hashem” in that man was never meant to exist alone.  As an effective leader, man needs to have advisors.  The breastpate was worn by the High Priest and not the king, preventing the danger of man’s emotional tendency to become arrogant with perceived power and knowledge.

Even Moses, the only man to have direct communication with Hashem, had his place in this “hierarchy”.  How often we see that man attaches inappropriate significance to certain people through religious emotion (i.e., Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, etc.), through his need for security, (i.e., Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, etc.), and his need for fame/recognition/attention (i.e. various movie stars, models, etc.). Without reference to the patriarchs in both physical lineage for the setting up of the Jewish nation as well as communication from Hashem through the Torah, Moses would not exist or have purpose.  Man is dependent on Hashem for life and fellow man for his continued existence.  Only Hashem exists independent of anything and at the top of this hierarchy for man.

Respectfully submitted,

Kal Taylor