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December 28, 1990 - Image 23

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-12-28

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE
MYSTERY
What were the Urim and the
Thummim? Why were they
used and what was their
significance?

Exodus 28 describes the
design of the priestly
garments for Aaron. They
are to include a robe with
elegant trimmings of gold,
blue, purple and scarlet.
God also commands Aaron
to don a "breastplate of
judgment" bearing the
names of the children of
Israel. Verse 30 reads, "And
thou shalt put in the
breastplate of judgment the
Urim and the Thummim;
and they shall be upon
Aaron's heart, when he
goeth in before the Lord."

T

he Urim and
Thummim were much
like divine oracles, ac-
cording to Rabbi Zev
Shimansky, executive direc-
tor of Yeshivat Akiva. Worn
only by the Kohen Hagadol,
the High Priest, they
answered questions of • na-
tional significance.
The name Urim comes
from the word ora, mean-
ing to shed light;
Thummim is a derivative
of tam, meaning complete.
Thus the Urim and
Thummim mean "to give a
complete and perfect light
(answers)."
No one knows exactly
what the Urim and
Thummim looked like,
Rabbi Shimansky says.
Some scholars believe it
consisted of a parchment;
others, including Rashi,
say it was made of a cloth
woven of gold and silver.
All agree it bore the name
of God, and some suggest
that name had been
written by Moses.
The Urim and Thummim
were located behind the
priest's breastplate. Most
Torah scholars believed it
generally responded only
to questions that could be
answered "yes" or "no."
But at times, the Urim and

Thummim replied to more
complex questions by illu-
minating certain letters on
the breastplate to spell out
words or names.
The Urim and Thummim
always answered one ques-
tion at a time, Rabbi
Shimansky says. "And if
someone asked two ques-
tions at once, the Urim and
Thummim would answer
only the first, unless the
second was essential."

Mentioned just once in
the Torah (in Exodus
28:30), the Urim and
Thummim were said to
have been used by Saul,
Samuel and Joshua.
Joshua turned to the
oracles when searching for
the man who stole booty in
battle, thievery God had
strictly forbidden. In this
case, the Urim and
Thummim spelled out the
name of the culprit.

Some say the Urim and
Thummim could be read
only by the High Priest,
the sole individual allowed
to own them, Rabbi
Shimansky says. The only
others allowed to ask ques-
tions of the oracles were
kings.
Rabbi Shimansky says
the Urim and Thummim
cannot be regarded as
magic or fortune-telling
devices. The nature of their
use was specific, he says.
No personal issues could be
addressed; only questions
affecting the Jewish nation
could be asked.
Sources differ as to when
the Urim and Thummim
were last used. Some say
they disappeared after the
reign of King David, while
others believe they existed
for several hundred years
afterward, into the First
Temple period, Rabbi
Shimansky says.

THE
MYSTERY

Why did God choose Avraham to
found the. Jewish people?

R

abbi David Selmar,
instructor in Talmud,
college division, at the
Yeshivah Gedolah, says that
many Jews have a childhood
image of Avraham. "We
think of him as a nice man
and picture him somewhere
in the desert talking to God.
It's a simple image that re-
mains with us from our
youth. But in fact, it's quite
inaccurate."
Avraham, Rabbi Selmar
says, was "a profound
thinker, a sophisticated
philosopher, a man constant-
ly involved with others."
One midrash states that by
the time he was 3, Avraham
already had recognized God.
That Avraham on his own
became cognizant of God
played an important role in
his relationship with the
Almighty.
Avraham grew up in
Babylon in a world of idol
worshipers, a time one could
truly characterize as "the
Dark Ages," Rabbi Selmar
says. Avraham's own father
made and sold idols for a liv-
ing.
Young Avraham was fas-
cinated by nature. First, he
postulated that the sun was
responsible for the workings
of the universe; later, he
realized "there had to be a
supreme being who controll-
ed everything," Rabbi
Selmar says.
Avraham's concept of only
one deity was a radical no-
tion for its time. "Avraham
stood alone against the
whole world," Maimonides
wrote.

But it was Avraham's rec-
ognition of a supreme being
that so endeared him to God.
"Why did God choose
Avraham? Because
Avraham chose Him first,"
Rabbi Selmar says.
It wasn't until Avraham
was 70 years old that God
first spoke to him. God told
Avraham to go forth from
his birthplace and spread his
knowledge to other peoples
of the world. By this time
Avraham not only had an
abiding faith in God, he
understood God's desire that
man should emulate His
kindness. Consequently,
Avraham developed a
tremendous sense of
goodness toward his fellow
man, Rabbi Selmar says.
Avraham's kind heart
served him well when he
went out to tell the world
about God. He always hosted
lavish meals, after which he
would speak with the male
guests; and his wife, Sarah,
would talk to the women
about God. Maimonides said
these gatherings resulted in
tens of thousands of converts
to the way of God.
Like his belief in God,
Avraham's benevolence was
extraordinary for his times,
Rabbi Selmar says. More
typical of his generation was
Sodom and Gemorrah,
where kindness was con-
sidered a sign of weakness.
Laws in the cities forbade
hosting guests for meals.
One midrash says a girl who
did otherwise was put to
death.
Avraham also was a brave
man, Rabbi Selmar says.

Whenever he came to a new
city — invariably filled with
idol worshipers — he led
public debates to encourage
belief in God. His conviction
and the wisdom of his
arguments won over many
to the ways of God.
God was impressed by
Avraham's ability to
transmit his values and
beliefs, Rabbi Selmar says.
Other righteous men had
walked the face of the Earth,
but few had been able to
guarantee future genera-
tions of Jews, as did
Avraham.
The Torah relates that God
said of Avraham, "I love him
because I know he will com-
mand his children and his
household after him to
follow the ways of God, lov-
ingkindness and justice."
Avraham's recognition of
God long before God reveal-
ed Himself to Avraham, his
tremendous kindness, his
determination to spread the
message of Judaism and his
ability to transmit that mes-
sage to future generations
were the reasons he was
chosen to lead the Jewish
people, Rabbi Selmar says.
So profound was
Avraham's influence that it
is felt even now, according to
Rabbi Selmar.
Jews defined as "students
of Avraham" exhibit three of
the patriarch's characteris-
tics: kindness, humility Sand
diligence.
"It was really Avraham
who exemplified these
qualities and made them
part of Jewish tradition,"
Rabbi Selmar says.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

23

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