Word of Torah: Parashat T’tzaveh
Written by: Oren Schragger
This week we read the Torah portion T’tzaveh. I will not say this is the most exciting part of the Torah, containing more instruction on priestly duties and process. But one of the big parts that jumps out at me from this portion is the instruction of how to construct the breastplate that the priests should wear. It takes 15 verses of Torah to explain exactly what should be on the breastplate. I think we all know that Torah is not brief but that seems an excessive amount for just one article of “The Sacred Vestments.” However, when a big section of Torah devoted to one single idea like this appears, there is usually a bigger theme at hand.
If we look at Exodus 28:15-28:21 the theme of this section begins to take shape. If you’ve never seen a picture of the breast plate there are gemstones embedded in the front, each gem is different in composition and structure. We read in this section that the 12 stones on the breastplate correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel. Typically in Torah we are given lots of meaning and instruction. (The 15 verses that describe the breastplate are a perfect example.) But in this section we are simply told what stones to use and which tribe they correspond to.
The piece here that is missing is WHY any particular stone corresponds to any particular tribe. I would’ve expected at least 40 verses, to explain that the emerald is to symbolize the tribe of Levi, or that Onyx is for the tribe of Joseph. Instead we are left wondering why each stone was chosen. Which leads me to think that the omission of this information may have been on purpose.
From zodiac signs to personality tests, there are many ways the we all try to classify our own personal characteristics into smaller groups, but if we classify ourselves enough we become alone. What this part of the Torah tells us, by not giving us more detail on why each stone was chosen to represent a particular tribe, is that it doesn’t really matter who you are and where you are from. Just as we are all a part of this earth and have a part to play no matter our skin color, age, gender, no one stone on the breastplate is more important than another, just a different color.