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Wednesday
Feb292012

THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING JEWEL

THE TWELVE JEWELS

This week’s parsha, Tetzaveh, discusses the special garments the Kohanim-priests were required to wear when they performed the service in the Temple. Of all the garments, the Choshen (Breastplate) stands out for its colorful nature, both literally and figuratively. This was worn only by the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest). The Choshen consisted of four rows of Jewels, three stones in each row, for a total of twelve, the number that corresponded to the twelve tribes. Indeed, the names of each of the twelve tribes were etched into these twelve jewels.

The very last stone was the yashpeh, translated as jasper. According to the chronological order of the twelve sons, this gem corresponded to the youngest tribe, that of Benjamin.

There is a fascinating story in the Jerusalem Talmud (Peia 1:1) concerning the extreme to which one must go to honor one’s father, that involved—it would appear only incidentally—the yashpeh jewel.

JASPERS AND RED HEIFERS

The Talmud relates that once, during the Second Temple Era, it occurred that the yashpeh was missing from the Choshen. The Sages heard that a certain Roman official who resided in Ashkelon named Dama ben Nasina owned such a jewel. When they came to him and offered him a handsome sum for the jewel he turned them down saying that the key to the box in which the jewel was kept was in his father’s possession and that his father was sleeping so he could not sell them the jewel at that moment. The rabbis offered to double the amount, thinking that he was using his father’s sleep as an excuse. Again he demurred. Even when they offered to raise the price and pay an exorbitant amount for the jasper he refused. They realized that he was not going to sell the gem, and they left.

For his financial sacrifice for honoring his father, G-d rewarded him with the birth of a red heifer on his farm. This animal was used for the purification ritual of a person who had been in contact with the dead. This breed was so rare that it earned him the sum that was equivalent to the amount he forfeited because of the honor he extended to his father.

BENJAMIN’S JEWEL

Nothing in life happens by coincidence. Divine providence dictates that even the most minute and seemingly trivial detail happens by design. This is certainly true about the Torah. Everything the Torah relates to us has meaning and must convey an important message. In light of this we must try to understand what the connection is between the missing yashpeh stone in the Choshen to the Mitzvah of honoring one’s father? What is the significance of the fact that this stone in particular was lost? And what lesson can we learn from the details of this story? We can certainly learn a lesson from this story as to how far we should go to honor our parents, which is, of course, the main point of that Talmudic discussion. But what additional lessons can be gleaned from all the “minor” and seemingly trivial details?

Commentators point out that Benjamin, who is identified with the yashpeh stone, was the only one of Jacob’s sons—the progenitors of the Jewish people—who was not involved in the sale of Joseph. Even Joseph was tainted by his own sale, although he was the victim, because of the way he provoked his brother’s jealousy of him. Benjamin had absolutely no major or even minor role in the sale of Joseph.

THE ULTIMATE HONOR OF PARENTS

Of all the ways one can hurt their parents, as well as show a lack of concern and respect for them, is for brothers and sisters to not get along. Our parents’ greatest wish is to see their children treat each other with love and respect. The more strident and vitriolic their divisions are the greater the pain that a parent will experience. And, conversely, the greater the love and the lack of jealousy among them causes parents the greatest joy and satisfaction.

The Psalmist exclaims, “How goodly and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together.” The Talmud (Krisus 5b) applies this verse specifically to Moses and Aaron. Elsewhere (Shabbos 139a) the Talmud states that Aaron rejoiced in his heart when Moses, his younger brother, was chosen to be the liberator of the Jewish people. For his lack of jealousy and the great joy he experienced in his heart, Aaron was rewarded with the Choshen to wear over his heart.

The Choshen thus represented the idea of brotherly love and respect, those feelings which bring the greatest joy to our parents.

A JOLT

During the second Temple era, especially near the end, at the time when the Roman Empire controlled Israel, the Jewish people degenerated into sinas chinam-senseless hatred. Their internecine divisions were at their worst level at that period in history and were the eventual cause of the destruction of the Second Temple as recorded in the Talmud.

In those very discordant times, the Jewish people had to be reminded of what they were missing. They might have deluded themselves into thinking that they were doing fine in terms of their relationship with G-d, their Father in heaven. To jolt them into realizing that they had failed in their honor for their physical parents, as well as for their Father in heaven because of their divisions, they lost the yashpeh jewel. The Choshenwhich symbolized brotherly love, was missing its key component — the one jewel that corresponded to the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who was not involved in the sale of Joseph.

Apparently, the mysterious disappearance of the yashpeh stone did not accomplish its objective. This bizarre occurrence should have awakened the Jews to do some serious soul searching and to make them realize that they were missing the “Benjamin” mode of honor which is achieved only when we are united.

However, when the requisite conclusions were not drawn, divine providence alerted them to this lesson in a novel and circuitous way. A Roman official, whose very position was emblematic of the potential for exile, was to impress upon them the need to shore up their filial responsibility. By owning the gem that symbolized brotherly love and by the unusual sacrifice he had made for his father, Dama ben Nesina served as the Divine agent to inspire them to recognize that they were missing the spiritual dimension of the Choshen in general and the yashpeh in particular.

To further impress upon them what their course of action should be, Divine Providence alerted them to the phenomenon of the Red Heifer that was born on the farm of Dama. The enigmatic ritual involved sprinkling the ashes diluted with spring water on the person who was made ritually impure by contact with the dead. What is so enigmatic about this ritual is that the people involved in the preparation of the ashes would become impure while the person upon whom the ashes were sprinkled would become purified.

The message should have been unmistakably clear. The way to generate brotherly love and respect for our parents is by going out of our way to help bring purity to our brothers and sisters even if it means that we sacrifice some of our own purity. Only the sacrifices that we will make for one another are the key to reconnecting to our Heavenly Father.

BECOME A CHOSHEN AND RED HEIFER

The word Choshen has the same numerical value as the word Moshiach. It is symbolic of Moshiach because in it we have all the Jewish people represented in the context of jewels. In the Choshen we have the feeling that we are all G-d’s jewels, and we would feel incomplete should we lack even one of them. The Baal Shem Tov taught that each Jew is a “land of desire” because of the infinite treasures buried within each of our souls. The Rebbe would stand for hours and distribute dollars for tz’daka and blessings to thousands of Jews. When asked how he could endure such a strain and not tire, his famous response was, “When you count diamonds you do not get tired.”

But as long as even one jewel is missing, the Choshen is incomplete. Particularly if the jewel that is missing is the yashpeh, which symbolizes the lack of division, it causes our father in Heaven to shed tears and makes the exile for Him and for us more unbearable.

Now is the time when the lesson of the Choshen and the Red Heifer is most needed. Now is the time for each one of us to reach out, or, more accurately, reach in, to every Jew to discover and expose the Jew(el) within them, even at the expense of our own material and spiritual comforts.

This is the hallmark of identifying Moshiach. In addition to his other qualifications, Moshiach, according to our Sages, is a Jewish leader who sees the good in every one and dedicates himself to helping us actualize the diamond, or yashpeh, within. Moreover Moshiach is the ultimate expression of the Red Heifer mindset of putting the needs of his people ahead of his own.

Our mission is to emulate Moshiach’s traits. And the power to accomplish this we derive from the spark of Moshiach within us. This, in turn, will hasten the imminent Redemption when we will see Aaron wearing the Choshen with all of the jewels intact!

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