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   by Jacob Solomon

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You shall attach the Breastplate from its rings to the rings of the Ephod with a turquoise woolen cord… so that the Breastplate will not be loosened from the Ephod (28:28).

By way of introduction: the Ephod was the garment that the High Priest wore over his tunic and robe. As Rashi describes, it was similar to an apron – but worn in reverse: namely that it covered his back from the lower rib cage to the ground. Its shoulder straps – with two Shoham stones – were connected to the Breastplate, as above. The Breastplate, hanging on the front of the High Priest, contained twelve different valuable stones – each representing a tribe of Israel. It also served as G-d’s medium of communicating matters of national importance - through the Urim and Tumim.

The Chinuch reads the statement, ‘so that the Breastplate shall not be loosened from the Ephod’ as a commandment: he enumerates it as mitzva #100 in his reckoning of the 613 Mitzvot. In explaining it, he suggests that the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) gave the Israelites an opportunity to come near to G-d though physically perfecting those areas in which His Presence was at its strongest. A static, rather than loosely swinging Breastplate would promote even more dignity to the work and aura of the High Priest and the Tabernacle/Temple. The Chinuch, however, appears a little uncomfortable with this explanation, writing, ‘until we hear something better, we shall make do with this’.

As an alternative explanation for this mitzva, consider the following.

The Talmud (Arachin 16a) brings the tradition that the High Priest’s wearing of the Breastplate atones for improper judgements in money matters, and his being clothed in the Ephod expiates the sin of idol worship. The association of idol worship with deliberate perversion of justice is stated in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 7b). There, the text explains the juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated laws in the Torah: the obligation to appoint judges, and the prohibition of planting an Ashera (a tree for the specific purpose of idolatry). (Deut. 16:18,21) It links the two with the following statement: "Whoever appoints an inappropriate judge is considered to have planted a tree of idol worship….” The Chatam Sofer develops this idea, linking it to the Breastplate (judgment) and the Ephod.(against idolatry). The Torah says that these two items which the High Priest wears must not be separated one from the other, as a constant reminder that these two interdictions are of equal importance.

R. Moshe Feinstein (in Derash Moshe) develops the connection between these two prohibitions. When a person (who, after all is the initial ‘judge’ of his own affairs) conducts his business against the Halacha, he demonstrates a characteristic that is a step in the direction of idolatry – by showing a lack of full faith in the Almighty. For the Talmud (Beitzah 16a) states that He fixes every person’s annual income in the period between Rosh Hashanah to the Yom Kippur. [The exceptions to this rule are personal expenses for Sabbaths and Festivals observance, and in instructing one’s children in Torah. These, G-d assures, will paid back to him in full according to his outlay: if he spends less he will be paid back less, and if he spends more he will be paid back more]. Thus the sin in cheating in business – including unfairly exploiting employees - is rooted in failing to come to terms with the power of the Creator: feeling that one stands to gain in the long term through one’s own cunning. So the coupling of unjust dealings in money matters with the sin of idolatry (in all degrees) teaches us that when one repents for the former, one must also repent for the latter.

The following story in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 83a) illustrates the Torah’s high ideals and standards in business ethics [symbolized by the Breastplate] and how they are part of ‘coming to terms with the power of the Creator’ [symbolized by the Ephod]. For the Creator, who put Man at the pinnacle of the Creation, desires that people respect the needs and circumstances of each other even where the cost is high and where socially one could ‘get away’ with a lower standard of behavior.

The porters engaged by Rabba bar Bar Chanah broke one of his casks of wine. As a penalty, he took their coats from them. They went and complained to Rav who ordered him to restore their garments. He asked, “Is that the law?” Rav replied, “It is. For it is written, ‘So that you may walk in the ways of good people’” (Prov. 2:20). The laborers then said, “We are poor and we have toiled… {transporting a cask of wine which never reached its destination!) and we are hungry and destitute.” Rav said to him, “Go and pay them their wages.” He asked, “Is that the law?” He replied, “It is. For it is written, “…and keep the paths of the righteous” (ibid).

I am indebted to Zvi Akiva Fleisher (Shema Yisrael Website – 5759) for drawing my attention to various sources, including those of the Chatam Sofer and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.



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