Control and Justice
- In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem
Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z’L)
The High Priest (Kohen Gadol) wore eight pieces
of clothing during his service, including a
breastplate called the Choshen Mishpat. Worn
over his tunic, the breastplate featured a
square double pane of gold. The outer pane had
twelve slots in rows of four across and three
down. Each slot had an exotic stone unique to
one of the twelve tribes whose name was engraved
upon it. The tribes were ordered from right to
left by order of birth. Between the two golden
panes were placed “the Urim and Tumim.” (Exodus
28: 15 -30)
According to Nahmanides (Exodus 28 – 30; Gerona,
Spain 1194 -1270), the Urim was a parchment that
had G-d’s ineffable name. “Urim” derives from
“Or”, meaning light. “Tumim” comes from “Tamim”
– pure or complete. When the High Priest
presented a question to G-d, the Urim would
cause the letters on the stones to glow, giving
According to the Kli Yakar (Exodus 28:16 – 17;
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, Prague 1550 –
1619), Aaron was appointed the High Priest and
privileged to wear the breastplate because he
possessed the characteristics of a proper judge.
Just as the breastplate conveyed G-d’s judgment,
so must the person wearing the breastplate be
qualified to pass judgment.
What were Aaron’s special traits? The Kli Yakar
cites the Talmud (Sabbath 139a): When Moses,
Aaron’s younger brother, was appointed leader of
the Jewish people, Aaron was truly happy without
any resentment that he was passed over. Aaron’s
humility qualified him for the honor of bearing
G-d’s judgment, the Choshen Mishpat.
Why was humility the critical characteristic?
The opposite of humility is arrogance. An
arrogant person seeks to impose his will and
control others. The Kli Yakar explains (Exodus
21:1), an arrogant person is often quick to draw
conclusions because he doesn’t want to create
the appearance of indecision or loss of control.
Indecision and contemplation to an arrogant
person is a sign of weakness.
A modest person does just the opposite. A modest
person prefers to investigate and consider than
rush to judgment. A modest person seeks only to
perform G-d’s will, not his own. A modest person
does not seek any undeserved benefit, not even a
purely emotional benefit. Only such a person
could ever truly qualify to judge others and
thereby merit wearing the Choshen Mishpat.
The High Priest’s breastplate, the Choshen
Mishpat, was a direct vehicle the Jewish people
had for asking questions to G-d, to seek His
judgment. Only someone who was truly humble,
whose sole desire was to serve Hashem and pursue
righteousness, only such a person was qualified
to wear the Choshen Mishpat. In other words,
only someone who shared Aaron’s humility was
qualified to transmit G-d’s judgments.