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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 ehavior.

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).


Label the three diagrams below.



1. Turban (Mitznefet)
2. Headplate (Tzitz)
3. Robe (Me'il)
4. Jacket of 'tashbetz' - box-like knit
5. Blue thead (p'til techeilet) - to attach the breastplate to the Ephod (apron-like garment)
6. Ephod
7. Lower part of robe
8. Bells and pomegrate shaped ornaments - on the lower hem of the robe
9. Blue thread - to attach the headplate to the turban
10. Breastplate (Choshen)
(11. - Tephillen of High Priest - see Rashi to 28:37)
12. Shoham Stones - on which were engraved the names of the Twelve Tribes


1. Headdress
2. Robe
3. Girdle
4. Linen Breech (invisible on picture as it is covered with the robe)


1. Horns of the altar
2. Golden ring for stave
3. Surface (literally, the roof - 30:3) of the altar
4. Golden crown forming the perimeter of the surface of the altar
5. Staves for carrying the altar


1. Why, according to Ibn Ezra, did the olive oil used for the Menorah have to be of exclusively high quality?

2. Why. according to Rashi, is the High Priest's breastplace called the 'Choshen Mishpat' (28:15) - the Breastplate of Judgment?

3. Why, according to the Ramban, are the orders concerning the Urim and Tumim mentioned in this Parasha, but not in Parashat Pekudei, which records the actual construction of the Priestly Garments?

4. After G-d declares that He will reside with the Israelites, He adds "I shall be for them as G-d", (29:45) - but then in the very next verse repeats: "I am the L-rd their G-d". What may be learnt from that repeat according to the Ohr Hachayim?

5. Why, according to Sforno, does the command to make the Inner Altar come at the very end of this Parasha, instead of the more natural place in Parashat Teruma?


1. Ibn Ezra emphasizes that the requirement of absolute purity for the olive oil forms the setting for the selection of Aaron and his descendants as Priests. For they, too, must remain pure, and exclusive to the rest of the nation - in that they may not let unauthorized people take part in the Divine Service.

2. According to Rashi, the High Priest's breastplace is called the 'Choshen Mishpat' (28:15) - the Breastplate of Judgment - for the following two reasons. Firstly, it atoned for errors in judgement made in good faith by the Courts. Secondly, through the Urim and Tumim (28:30), it was a means of indicating G-d's judgement in particular situations - which would be relayed to the people.

3. According to the Ramban, the orders concerning the Urim and Tumim are mentioned in this Parasha, but not in Parashat Pekudei, because they were not made by Betzalel and his artisans - who form the subject of Parashat Pekudei. Only Moses had the spiritual greatness to know how the actual physical link between G-d and His People should be constructed in the Urim and Tumim - only Moses could write the actual Name of G-d.

4. According to the Ohr Hachayim, G-d's repeated declaring that He will reside with the Israelites includes the following. Even if their transgressions cause His Presence to leave them, He remains the G-d of the Israelites, and the Israelites remain His people.

5. According to Sforno, the command to make the Inner Altar comes at the very end of this Parasha, instead of the more natural place in Parashat Teruma, to teach the following. The Tabernacle structure, detailed in Parashat Teruma, bought G-d's glory to the Israelites (25:8). The Divine Service, carried out by the Priests, created the meeting place between G-d and Israel (29:43). Only when the Tabernacle and its sevice brought the Presence to the Israelites, could the incense be used to welcome G-d and show Him honor. So as the incense altar required the successful completion of the entire Tabernacle, it is described at the end.


1. What was the central function of the Mishkan according to (a) the Ramban (b) the S'forno (c) the Rambam?

2. What are the meaning of the following, according to Hirsch?
(a) The word 'teruma'. (25:2)
(b) 'They shall make a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them'. (25:8)

3. How may G-d's command to make the Cherubim (25:18) be reconciled with His prohibition against making graven images, according to Abarbanel?

4. What is the significance of the golden crown around the Table (25:24), according to the Ramban?

5. The lights of the Menorah were to face its central stem (25:37). What may be learnt from this rule, according to the S'forno?


The Almighty suddenly changes the style of command within the process of giving the instructions for the Melechet Hamishkan. Whereas in the previous Parasha - and later on in this one - He used ve-asisa - you shall make, at the beginning of the Parasha, He expressed the instruction to make the pure olive oil far more powerfully with 've-ata tetzaveh - you shall command' (27:20-21).. Why is the opening of Parashat Tetzaveh marked by this sudden change in language? After all, in Parashat Teruma the Israelites were asked to part with much more expensive items - gold and silver (25:3) very much included. There He used the softer language - Speak to the Israelites, rather than Command.

My efforts at tackling the issues raised in #1 and #2 may be found on the Shema Yisrael website for Parashat Tetzaveh for 5761.

Please note that the three diagrams are adapted from 'Melechet Machashevet' - issued by the Vaad L'Ezras Chinuch of Gateshead, UK (1974).

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.


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