Home Joy The Joy and Light In Aharon’s Choshen (Breastplate)

The Joy and Light In Aharon’s Choshen (Breastplate)

by Meir Elkabas

In Parshat Tetzaveh, we delve into the intricate details of the vestments worn by the Kohen Gadol, examining each component meticulously, from the attire of the high priest to that of his sons, along with the rituals of inauguration. One particular garment of significance is the Choshen, positioned, as explicitly stated in the Pasuk, on Aharon’s heart.

Rashi, in Parshat Shemot, sheds light on why Aharon deserved the Choshen on his heart. In that earlier portion, when Moshe Rabbeinu expressed reluctance to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, citing his apprehension about overshadowing his older brother, Hashem assured him that Aharon’s reaction would be different. Despite the potential for rivalry, Aharon, a recognized prophet in Egypt, would genuinely rejoice in his heart upon Moshe’s return. Hashem affirmed that Aharon’s sincerity and lack of jealousy were remarkable virtues.

Rashi notes this rare and sincere joy as the reason for Aharon’s merit to wear the Choshen Mishpat. This breastplate, adorned with twelve stones arranged in four rows of three, symbolized the twelve tribes. Each stone, of diverse colors and precious materials, bore the engraved names of the tribes, along with those of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov.

The question arises: why connect Aharon’s joy to the breastplate? The breastplate, known as Choshen Mishpat, had an inside flap, intricately folded after being knit into a single piece. The exterior displayed the twelve stones, while within the fold rested Hashem’s holy name, the Ineffable One, which could not be erased. When the Kohen Gadol, a descendant of Aharon, was consulted by a king, or chief prophet on matters of decision-making, the response would illuminate the 22 alphabet letters found within the names of the twelve tribes, Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov.

This divine guidance was termed Urim and Tumim, where ‘Urim’ suggested light, and ‘Tumim’ conveyed clarity, simplicity, and completeness. The Urim VeTumim correlated to the broader light of life—the Infinite Light. The Choshen Mishpat, radiating guidance for the Jewish people, signified the concept that each Jew gains personal clarity. For an individual, achieving Urim VeTumim in personal life mirrors gaining clarity. The idea is that the Infinite Light of Hashem provides profound clarity, resolving doubts, skeptics, and frustrations. Such resolution constitutes the greatest joy in life.

Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, found in Likutey Moharan, Lesson 24, highlight that Simcha (joy) is the key to reaching this Infinite Light. Simcha starts in the heart and eventually extends to joy in performing mitzvot. As King David articulated in the verse, “Natata Simcha Belibi,” meaning, “You have placed joy in my heart.”

The Torah underscores this principle in various instances, with one notable occurrence in Parshat Vayetze. After Yaakov’s dream of the ladder, where Hashem promised protection and a safe return to the land, Yaakov, brimming with confidence, made an oath to offer certain sacrifices upon his return. The verse describes his joy, stating that his heart lifted his legs, allowing him to traverse swiftly to Paddan Aram, to Laban, where he eventually married Rachel and Leah. Rashi points out that the joy in Yaakov’s heart lightened his steps, illustrating that momentum in life originates from the joy within the heart.

In our context, Aharon experienced a similar joy in the role of his brother Moshe Rabbeinu, who was chosen to lead the Jews out of Egypt—a significant mitzvah. Aharon’s rare and genuine joy for his brother’s mission earned him a unique merit. Despite the societal norm of older siblings harboring jealousy toward younger ones, Aharon’s exceptional joy stood out. Rebbe Nachman emphasized the rarity of such an attitude, affirming that holding onto this mindset leads to an unparalleled state of fulfillment.

Aharon displayed an exceptional level of Simcha, as the verse highlights: “And he will see you, [Moshe Rabbeinu, coming back to Egypt], and he’ll be happy in his heart.” Aharon’s joy surpassed jealousy. He embraced his unique mission, recognizing that each individual has a distinct purpose. His happiness for Moshe’s success reflected a profound understanding that different roles and missions coexist harmoniously, and one’s success does not diminish another’s worth. Aharon’s exemplary attitude invites reflection on the challenge of overcoming jealousy and embracing joy in the success of others.

The greatness of Aharon lies in his specific merit to don the Choshen Mishpat, a breastplate that brought clarity, all thanks to his exceptional joy. This message extends to all of us, emphasizing that through Simcha, we gain access to the Infinite Light.

The 12 stones represent different aspects and activities, guiding us from Simcha to the Infinite Light

Now, the Choshen Mishpat featured 12 stones, corresponding to the 12 tribes. The question arises: Why did this breastplate, tasked with providing clarity, require a specific arrangement of 12 stones when the 12 tribes were already engraved on the two stones on the shoulders? Reb Noson offers insight, highlighting how each of the 12 tribes serves as a stepping stone, connecting from joy to gaining access to the Infinite Light.

Reb Noson explains that Reuven, whose name means “see, between my son…” symbolizes the ability to sift out something good from the chambers of evil. Reuven’s differentiation from Esav – by loving his brother Yosef – showcases navigating the realm of evil and finding something positive.

Shimon, named for “Hashem heard,” reflects Leah’s feeling of being hated and mocked. Despite the negativity, Hashem listened to her plea.

In Jewish society, those often deemed “hated” are the ones who rebuke, such as a Rabbi ascending the podium to preach. People may resist being told what to do, yet this rebuke is necessary to maintain the honor of Hashem. Despite the discomfort, it’s an obligation to address wrongdoings, etc. The act of rebuking, while disliked, serves a crucial role in awakening and positively influencing individuals. Rebbe Nachman teaches that when mitzvot are done with Simcha, they have the power to wake up the entire world.

Shimon, signifies the discomfort that comes with rebuke. People may acknowledge the correctness of the rebuke, yet accepting it can be challenging. The mitzvah’s awakening, like Shimon, can be bittersweet.

Levi, as Rebbe Nachman explains, activates blessings when mitzvot are done with Simcha. The hands, the source of blessings, are associated with the Kohanim, who come from the tribe of Levi. Simcha in performing mitzvot unleashes blessings.

Yehuda, whose name reflects giving thanks, demonstrates one of the greatest forms of joy—hoda’ah or gratitude.

Yissachar, the tribe of Torah scholars, represents the unparalleled joy found in learning Torah. The verse underscores that the Torah’s edicts are straightforward and bring joy to the heart.

Zevulun, engaged in business to support Yissachar’s Torah study, faces the challenges of the working world. Despite the difficulties and the grind of the exchange chambers of business, Zevulun finds joy in contributing to his brother’s Torah learning.

Dan, named after Dinim or judgments, signifies the ability to alleviate strict judgment and sadness through Simcha. Dan successfully navigates the realm of strict judgment, showcasing the concept of emerging from its influence.

Naftali, compared to a swift hind, symbolizes the momentum and speed created by mitzvot, similar to Yaakov’s hastened steps in joy.

Gad, known as the warrior who cut off arms and heads in one blow, signifies the ability to cut off the negative aspects of the hands, allowing for the positive blessings associated with doing mitzvot joyfully.

Asher, expressing gratitude with the exclamation “Ashreinu – Fortunate are we,” reflects a person’s happiness and appreciation, emphasizing the joy in giving thanks to Hashem.

Yosef represents the idea of “Hitlahavut,” a new spirit of wind that blows away the dust of sadness and depression, rejuvenating a person’s spirit and enabling joy in serving Hashem.

Binyamin is associated with the Holy Temple, the place of revelation of the Urim VeTumim from the Kohen Gadol’s vestments. It symbolizes the main site where the Infinite Light shines for all of Israel.

Thus, the 12 stones, each corresponding to a tribe, represent different aspects and activities, providing a comprehensive guide on how to transition from Simcha to experiencing the Infinite Light. The goal is to activate all 12 attributes in our lives, reflecting the 12 months and accessing various tools and advice to unlock the Infinite Light through joy.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom!
Meir Elkabas

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