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Shabbat Parashat Tetzaveh 5775

Parashat Hashavua: Choshen Without Mishpat?

Harav Yosef Carmel

We have written many times about the chronological connection between the sin of the Golden Calf and the construction of the Mishkan and the former’s impact on the Mishkan’s operation. We will take a further look this week, specifically focusing on the choshen mishpat, the special breastplate intended for the kohen gadol to wear on his heart.

Rashi (Shemot 28:15,30) explains what this element of the kohen gadol’s clothes has to do with mishpat (judgment). The Holy Name of Hashem was inserted into the choshen mishpat, and it would help clarify what the proper ruling or punishment was for each case. The choshen was present at the time of all the Temples. However, in the second Beit Hamikdash, while the choshen was present (without it, he would be missing a garment necessary for him to serve), the Name was not in it, and the miraculous feature did not exist.

Rashi identifies but does not fully explain the particulars of the connection between the choshen and the apparatus of justice. Let us explore a thesis of the students of the Gra, which distinguishes between what transpired before and after the sin of the Golden Calf and the great spiritual fall that it caused.

While the discussion of a choshen mishpat and the Name that enabled miracles is found in the command to prepare the Mishkan’s provisions, in the description of its actually being made (ibid. 39:8-21), which took place after the Golden Calf, these crucial elements are left out. It is called just a choshen (without “mishpat”), and it is not described as being on Aharon’s heart.

We have written in the past how King Shlomo tried to return the nation to its level before the colossal sin. Therefore, for example, he made four keruvim instead of two in the Holy of Holies. Likewise, the gemara (Rosh Hashana 21b) says that Shlomo sought to judge people based on his heart, without the need for witnesses or warnings. However, a voice from the heaven warned him not to do so. Based on these introductory points, let us suggest the following.

Before the Golden Calf, Bnei Yisrael were on a level in which they could use the choshen mishpat that was to be on Aharon’s heart to determine true justice miraculously. Aharon’s high level, which would have enabled this feat, stemmed from the high level of the nation, which was similar to that of Adam before his sin. Unfortunately, we slipped again, and “matters of the heart” were once again inadmissible as evidence. The choshen had other purposes to serve, but it no longer was valuable for mishpat. Only proofs that are based on strict logic or valid testimony can be used. That is the only way to receive justice.

Let us pray that batei din throughout the world, including our own Eretz Hemdah-Gazit, will merit in reaching the truth with the tools the Torah puts at our disposal.

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