Rabbi Zvi Teichman
If you ask the average ‘man on the street’ what their goal in life is, you’re more than likely to hear them respond; ‘finding happiness’. We all want to be happy, the question is how to achieve it.
There is only one instance in the entire Torah where someone is described as genuinely ‘happy’.
When Moshe upon returning from Midyan hesitates to assume the role of leadership that was held until then in the hands of his brother Aharon, G-d assures him not to worry for when he [Aharon] sees you [accepting authority], ושמח — he will rejoice in his heart. (שמות ד)
What great secret to ‘joy’ lies in this sole portrayal of — שמחה happiness?
As a reward for this display of generosity of spirit towards his brother, Aharon merited to wear the remarkable Choshen, the Breastplate of Judgment, upon his ‘heart’. (
It was at this episode due to Moshe’s reluctance, that G-d decided to reverse his original intent and rather now give Aharon the כהונה — Priesthood, and Moshe the role of a לוי — Levite. The designating of the Choshen to Aharon then seems to be symbolic of the כהונה — Priesthood in general. What is its special quality?
There were two sets of stones that served the vestments of Aharon and all subsequent High Priests.
The two אבני שהם — Shoham Stones, that had engraved on each of them, six of the names of the twelve tribes — were attached to the end of the woven straps of the Efod, an apron like garment. These straps rose up the back of the Kohen Gadol from the waist upward, ending up on the shoulders of the High Priest.
The Torah states that these אבני זכרן — Stones of Remembrance, were borne by Aharon, and he shall carry their names before Hashem on both his shoulders as a remembrance. (כח)
The second set were the twelve stones that were set into four rows on the Choshen, which was worn on his chest. Each gemstone was of a different type and was engraved each with a name of one of the tribes. Additionally, the names of the Four Patriarchs — Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, as well as the phrase שבטי ישורון — Tribes of Yeshurun [Israel] were engraved in them as well.
These letters would light up to communicate messages from G-d when inquired by the Kohen Gadol. Here too, a similar sentiment is expressed — Aharon shall bear the names of the children of Israel on the Breastplate of Judgment on his heart… as a constant remembrance before Hashem. ( שם כט),
The two garments housing these stones were connected, with a turquoise woolen cord, so they would not separate.
There are two unique characteristics that are described regarding the engraving of the names on these stones. Firstly, the Torah directs the stones, תהיינה — to be, על שמות — on the names of the children of Israel. Secondly, it requires the names to be etched in like the engraving of a signet ring. ( שם יא וכא)
This formula seems odd. Weren’t the names engraved on top of the stones? Why does the Torah tell us the stones were ‘to be on the names‘? Even more intriguing is the similarity to the letters on a signet ring. Aren’t the letters of a signet ring implanted backwards and in their mirror image, so that when they are impressed into the wax they appear in proper direction and order!?
The great and brilliant Gaon, the Maharil Diskin, suggests a fascinating solution.
The names were indeed engraved inversely at the base of the stones where they rested on the Efod or Choshen. Being that the stones were translucent, when viewing the face of these stones upon the garments, the stones indeed were literally, atop — on the names, but nevertheless readable in the normal way due to the letters having been engraved at their base, exactly like a signet ring!
What is the mystery behind the unusual nature of this process of engraving?
Aharon bore the names of the people on his shoulders and on his heart. The shoulders represent responsibility. The heart signifies love. One can only bear the burden of duty to his fellow man if his heart is filled with love for them equally. The heart of Aharon didn’t view the nice and neat external image but rather the implied confused state and complexity of their ‘inverted status’. He understood them well, and embraced them all, flaws notwithstanding!
Their ‘remembrance’ before G-d is contingent on an equal dose of ‘remembrance’ between fellow man, as modeled by the great אוהב ישראל — Aharon.
But there is much more to it than that.
One who truly wants to understand his fellow man must ‘don his clothes’ and ‘stand in his shoes’. One must be able to perceive another from inside out. Too often, we judge the outer layer without delving beneath the surface. One can only comprehend another human if he develops a sincere ability and desire to fathom the other person’s perspective.
Most of our unhappiness, especially in relationships, stems from not fathoming the other person’s outlook correctly. Aharon was happy because ‘וראך’ — and he saw ‘you‘, he melded totally into the other person’s perspective, without concern for his own personal emotions.
No wonder he epitomized, projected, and instilled so much happiness!
There is a custom to wear costumes on Purim. There are many theories as to the significance of this tradition. Perhaps we can offer that on Purim we strive for new levels of true שמחה — joy, by showing our willingness to step out of our own assumptions, our own ‘garments’, and don clothing that is not ours so that we may gain a more profound appreciation of another’s perspective, by looking from within outward. May we rise to this challenge in deepening our appreciation for one another, and in that newly gained ‘light’, may we merit to experience absolute an