In this week’s Torah portion we read “and you will make clothes of honor for Aharon your brother for honor and glory.” Aharon, the 1st Kohein Gadol - High Priest - also represents all future Kohanim Gedolim. The Kohanim wore special garments during their service in the Bais Hamikdosh. The regular Kohanim wore four special garments: a special pants, shirt, belt and head covering. However, the Kohein Gadol wore eight special garments: 4 similar to those of the regular Kohein, a long blue coat, an apron-like garment, a golden plate on which was written the name of G-d, that the Kohein Gadol wore on his forehead and a breast plate.
The breast plate hung on the chest of the Kohein Gadol. It was held by two shoulder straps. On the front of the breast plate were 12 stones on which were written the names of the 12 tribes and the names of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov. The breast plate was composed of two halves, connected at the bottom. The back half was folded over to meet the first half. In between the two halves, a piece of parchment was placed.
On this parchment was written either the 42 or 72 letter name of G-d. This was called the Urim V’Tumim.
If a situation occurred where the king, prophet or head of the Sanhedrin – the Jewish Supreme Court - had to ask a question requiring Divine assistance, they would ask through the Kohein Gadol, who was wearing the breast plate with the Urim V’tumim.
Only one question was permitted at a time. When the Kohein Gadol asked his question, a number of letters lit up. This was the power of the Urim – the lights. However, those letters had to be arranged and deciphered. A set of holy Names appeared, providing the Kohein Gadol with a special ability to decipher the message. This was called the Tumim, similar to Divine inspiration.
Sometimes, the Kohein Gadol made a mistake in his interpretation. The most famous example is that of Eli Hakohein. Chana - who eventually would be the mother of the great prophet Shmuel - was childless at the time. She davened to G-d for a child. Eli, the Kohein Gadol saw her davening but heard no words coming from her mouth. He thought that she was drunk. Chana told him that she was not drunk. Rather she was just bitter that she didn’t have a child.
The Vilna Gaon explains Eli’s error. The letters on the breast plate that lit up were Kof, Shin, Reish and Hei. Eli interpreted these letters to be the word “Shikora” - a drunken woman. However, they really spelled the word “K’sheira” - a proper woman. Eli had the power of the Urim - the lights. However, he did not have the power of the Tumim - the divine inspiration.
Rabbi Yissachar Frand comments that throughout the Book of Shoftim - Judges - we read about the terrible mistakes made by the Jewish people. How could such a holy people make such terrible mistakes? The Nach tells us - “Everybody did what was right in their own eyes.” If there is no true leader who can interpret correctly the Tumim, even the best can go astray.
Rabbi Frand explains that nowadays we have a modern form of the Urim V’Tumim. There are many people who are great in Torah. When asked a question, they look into the Torah and many words, letters and verses light up for them. They feel confident that they can answer the question. This is the Urim. However, only a few people in each generation have the power of the Tumin - the ability to interpret the lights correctly.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the situation that we find ourselves in at the present moment. It is extremely difficult to read every event that is happening in the world and put them all together. Israel threatened from without and within, Iran, anti-Semitism on the rise worldwide, European countries threatening Israeli generals for war crimes that they didn’t commit, the coronavirus and Purim is this coming week.
How do we look at all these events? Unfortunately, we don’t have an Urim V’Tumim and usually, we can’t interpret the events until after they happen. It seems that the only direction to take is the advice from the Talmud “we can only rely upon our Father in Heaven.” We must set aside extra time for davening and learning.
In the Megilla, the month of Adar is described as “the month that was turned from sorrow to happiness, from mourning to holiday.” As we approach Purim, may G-d again turn this month to a month of deliverance and joy.