The Choshen and the Urim ve’Tumim

וְנָתַתָּ אֶל חֹשֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֶת הָאוּרִים וְאֶת הַתֻּמִּים וְהָיוּ עַל לֵב אַהֲרֹן בְּבֹאוֹ לִפְנֵי ה' וְנָשָׂא אַהֲרֹן אֶת מִשְׁפַּט בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל לִבּוֹ לִפְנֵי ה' תָּמִיד

You shall place in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Tumim, and they shall be on Aharon’s heart when he comes before Hashem, and Aharon shall bear the judgment of the Bnei Yisrael constantly before Hashem (28:30)

Foreshadowing History

The Urim ve’Tumim, mentioned in the first half of the verse, were names of Hashem that were placed in the folds of the Choshen (breastplate).[1] When comparing the two halves if our verse, a discrepancy seems to emerge:

·      In the first half, when describing how the Urim ve’Tumim will be on Aharon’s heart, it does not use the word “tamid - constantly”.

·      The concluding words, which describe the general function of the Choshen itself, do use the word “tamid”.

What lies behind this change?

The Meshech Chochmah explains that this is an allusion to the idea that the Urim ve’Tumim would not always be present within the Choshen, as indeed, the Gemara states that in the time of the second Beis Hamikdash, the Urim ve’Tumim were absent.[2] Hence, the word “tamid”, which denotes constancy, is not used with reference to the Urim ve’Tumim, but only with regards to the Choshen itself, which was always present in the Beis Hamikdash.

Carried, or Resting on the Heart?

With the above idea in mind, the Meshech Chochmah proceeds to suggest that this will explain another discrepancy within the verse:

·      The first half, which describes Aharon wearing the Urim ve’Tumim, says that “they will be on his heart”, but does not describe him as carrying them.

·      The concluding phrase, which describes the Choshen, states, “Aharon shall bear etc.” i.e. carry it.

He draws our attention to the fact that there were certain items which, by virtue of their sanctity, did not need to be carried, for they bore their own weight. For example:

1.   The Gemara states that the Aron carried itself – and even carried those who carried it![3]

2.   Similarly, the Midrash relates that when Moshe originally received the luchos, he did not have to carry them, on account of the Divine script that was engraved upon them. It was only as he approached the camp where the people had made the Egel, that the script flew off of the luchos, at which point Moshe needed to exert effort in order to bear their weight.[4]

This special property, says the Meshech Chochmah, also existed within the Urim ve’Tumim. By virtue of the sanctity of the Divine names of which they were comprised, they carried their own weight, as well as that of the Choshen in whose folds they were placed. For this reason, the first half of the verse states only that they shall be on Aharon’s heart, but not that he will carry them. It is only the second half of the verse which, as we have seen,[5] refers to the time when there are no Urim ve’Tumim in the Choshen, that the verse refers to Aharon bearing, i.e. carrying it before Hashem.

[1] See Rashi s.v. es.

[2] Yoma 21b.

[3] Sotah 35a.

[4] Avos de’Rabbi Nosson 2:3.

[5] Through its use of the word “tamid”.