FROM THE HEART
A major topic discussed in this week's Torah portion is the uniform of the Kohanim (priests) for their service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
A major topic discussed in this week's Torah portion is the uniform of the Kohanim (priests) for their service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Perhaps the most prominent of the Kohen Gadol's (High priest's) garments was the choshen, the breastplate which contained twelve precious stones, each one corresponding to one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Rashi, the prime commentator on the Torah, tells us that Aaron, the first Kohen Gadol, was rewarded with the honor of wearing the choshen through a unique act of kindness he had done. At the beginning of the book of Exodus, Moses is selected by Hashem to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. Concerned for the honor of his older brother Aaron, Moses urges Hashem (according to Rashi's interpretation) to send Aaron instead. Hashem answers Moses by informing him that Aaron would have an important role in the redemption by serving as Moses' spokesman. Furthermore, Hashem says not to worry about Aaron's feelings being hurt, for he would actually "feel happy in his heart" (Exodus 4:14) when he would see Moses coming to Egypt to lead the people. Rashi asserts that this heartfelt happiness which Aaron felt was the reason why he merited to wear the choshen on his heart.
It seems somewhat strange to make this connection. We know that Hashem rewards "measure for measure". How did this "heartfelt happiness" make Aaron worthy of the choshen?
Rabbi Yaacov Kamenetsky, one of the leading Torah scholars of the past generation, suggested the following solution. The Talmud tells us that not only is the Kohen Gadol the vehicle for national atonement (through the nation's repentance), but that each of his garments atones for a different sin. The choshen atones for errors of court decisions. In fact, the proper name for the choshen, as stated in the Torah, is the "choshen mishpat - breastplate of judgment".
Rabbi Kamenetsky explains that Aaron's "heartfelt happiness", in spite of the fact that his younger brother had been selected over him, was an indication of the goodness of his heart and character traits. Often it may seem that the shrewd judge, the one who arrives at the truth, is not the one with the good heart. It is very tempting to think that a good heart is actually a disadvantage when it comes to uncovering the truth in a court case. Rabbi Kamenetsky states that the opposite is true. The less self-centered one is, and, more generally, the more sterling one's character is, the easier it is to discern the truth. Only such a person can look at the facts presented totally objectively. This is why Aaron, through his "heartfelt happiness", merited the choshen of judgment worn over his heart. As our sages encourage in Ethics of Our Fathers, let us all be students of Aaron!
Rabbi Elie Cohen, who grew up in Atlanta and is a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a founding member of the Columbus, Ohio Community Kollel.
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