ונשא אהרן את שמות בני ישראל בחושן המשפט על לבו בבאו אל הקודש לזכרון לפני תמיד. ונתת אל חושן המשפט את האורים ואת התומים וגו'
“And Aharon placed the names of the sons of Yisroel on the breastplate he wore on his heart when he entered the Sanctuary as a memorial. And he placed inside the breastplate the Urim and the Tumim…” (Shemos 28:29-30)
Why does the Torah say that the names on the breastplate were a memorial? In a previous verse, it says, “And you shall place the two stones on the Ephod as a memorial for the Jewish people.” Rashi comments on that verse: “As a memorial – so that Hashem should see the names of the tribes written before Him and He shall remember their righteousness.” Likewise, by inscribing the names of the tribes on the gemstones on the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate, Hashem will remember their righteousness.
The need for a reminder about the righteousness of the ten tribes is a bit difficult to understand. After all, Hashem knows and remembers everything that transpires and does not need any reminders. We say in our prayers, “There is no forgetfulness before Your Throne of Glory,” and we repeatedly assert that Hashem “remembers everything that has been forgotten.”
It is also interesting to note that the verse specifically instructs Aharon to be the one to “remind” Hashem by inscribing the names of the tribes on his breastplate. Why does the Torah emphasize that it must be Aharon?
The verse continues: “On the Urim and the Tumim.” Rashi explains that this is Hashem’s Holy Name which was placed inside the breastplate. What is the connection between the Name in the breastplate and the “memorial” mentioned before?
This week is Shabbos Zachor, when we read in the Torah the portion that begins, “Remember what Amalek did to you.” The Torah speaks in singular form, addressing every single Jew directly: you shall remember what Amalek did. This shows us that Amalek has harmed every single Jew; none of us has been spared their insidious influence. What did Amalek do to us? “Asher korcha baderech – he met you on the way.” The word “korcha – met you” can also mean “he made you cold” (see Rashi). The commentators compare what Amalek did to someone who jumps into a hot bath, cooling it off on contact. Even though he gets scalded, the next person who enters will have a cooler bath and others will now dare to enter. Likewise, Amalek “cooled” off the fear of all the nations, who trembled in awe of Bnei Yisroel. No nation would have dared attack the Jewish people after witnessing the mighty wonders that Hashem did for them in Egypt. After Amalek’s attack, the nations were no longer in such awe of the Jewish people, even though Amalek was actually defeated. Amalek opened the door for other nations to persecute the Jewish people.
Our holy sefarim give another explanation of the word korcha - he cooled you off: Amalek cooled off the Jewish people’s fervor when serving Hashem. The power of Amalek is to make us complacent and laid back, to extinguish the burning fire of ahavas Hashem that is in our hearts. Every Jewish person is innately drawn to Hashem and craves to serve Him with his entire being. It is in our very DNA to serve Hashem with passion and vigor, and to perform all mitzvos with enthusiasm. But Amalek tries to cool us off and introduces a chilled attitude towards Torah and mitzvos.
How does Amalek get us in this area? “And he destroyed all the weak ones among you…. and didn’t fear G-d.” The yetzer hara, the ultimate Amalek, convinces us that “everyone is weak.” He causes us to look upon others as lacking in avodas Hashem. He makes us see the faults in others and discount all their virtues. This brings a person to neglect his own service of Hashem, for if “everyone” is weak in mitzvos, why should he be better than everyone else? Furthermore, the yetzer hara causes us to belittle our Torah leaders and tzaddikim. “Today there are no righteous people,” he tells us. This causes us to lose our fear of Hashem. Our sages have said: “And the fear of your teacher should be like the fear of Heaven.” These two fears go together; if we have no fear of our great Torah leaders and teachers, we end up losing our fear of Heaven, G-d forbid. On the other hand, someone who is in awe of his teachers will also be G-d-fearing.
The Baal Shem Tov gives a very meaningful explanation of the verse, “And you shall not place your hand together with the wicked to be a witness for sin.” The yetzer hara reports all our sins to Hashem, the Baal Shem Tov says, but Hashem discounts his words because he is only one witness. In order to prosecute a person for his wrongdoings, there must be at least two witnesses. So the yetzer hara gathers all words of lashon hara, the evil words one person speaks about his fellow, and presents it to Hashem as an additional witness! Now that the yetzer hara’s words are corroborated by the evil speech of another Jew, the Heavenly Court is able to prosecute the person who committed the wrongdoing.
This is why the Torah is warning us not to place our hand together with the wicked Satan to join him as a witness for sin. The Prophet said (Yeshaya 33:15): “He closes His eyes from looking at evil.” Hashem does not want to see the sins of His beloved children; He only wants to see the good in us. However, if one Jew speaks evil of his fellow Jew, he causes Hashem to pay attention to our sins. The way we think of each other and the way we judge each other, is responsible for the way Hashem thinks of us and judges us.
Aharon was the paradigm of shalom and love towards every fellow person. He “loved peace and pursued peace; he loved all people and brought them closer to the Torah” (Avos 1:12). He always looked at the positive qualities of every Jew, even if that person wasn’t the most learned scholar or had other shortcomings. His heart was full of love towards every single person. This is why he was the one to be commanded to place “upon his heart” the names of the tribes when he entered the Sanctuary, “as a memorial.” Because Aharon looked favorably upon everyone, he was creating a memorial in Heaven of the righteousness of the Jewish people. Hashem doesn’t need any reminders, but He chooses to mirror our behavior in this area, and if we “remind” him of our fellow Jews’ righteousness, He will remember their virtues.
Rashi explains that the Urim v’Tumim was the Holy Name of Hashem. The Maor V’Shamesh writes that the Holy Name represents Hashem’s love. Aharon had true love towards Klal Yisroel, and this is why Hashem’s Name, the Name representing Divine Love, was carried in his breastplate. Because Aharon was full of love towards every Jew, he inspired Hashem’s love for us and brought many blessings upon the Jewish people.
On Purim, we try to obliterate Amalek. Amalek’s weapon is strife – he cools off our passion for mitzvos and introduces in our hearts a coolness to each other. We must overcome Amalek’s influence by serving Hashem with enthusiasm, and by looking upon every Jew with sincere love. If we will judge each other favorably and see only the good in each other, Hashem will judge us favorably and see only the good in all of us, Amen.