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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Tetzaveh, Shemos 28:30. The Urim VeTumim, Halacha, and Another Ancient Minhag Explained

Rashi Yoma 73b- the Urim VeTumim was the written name of Hashem, placed within the folds of the Choshen, by means of which the Choshen was enlivened with divine knowledge. The Ramban says that the Kohen Gadol would concentrate on the "Urim" names of Hashem, and letters would light up on the Choshen, but he would not yet understand what the letters signified. He would then concentrate on the "Tumim" names, and this would inspire him with the understanding of how to combine the letters and what they meant. Rashi in Yoma understands it differently; that Urim means the letters lit up and made a statement that the Kohen Gadol immediately should understand, and Tumim means that the message thereby received was Tamim- immutable and permanent. But everyone agrees that the Choshen was a line of communication with Hashem, and the statements of the Choshen/Urim VeTumim were a message from Hashem.

Targum Yonasan in passuk 15 says that the Choshen would reveal dinim that were concealed from the Poskim, the judges. In passuk 30, too, he says that the Kohen Gadol would seek Hashem's teaching through the Choshen.

With this, we understand the passuk in Malachi 2:7-- "ki sifsie Kohen...vetorah yevakshu mipihu ki malach Hashem...hu." The Baal Haturim in passuk 15 says that Eifod is gematria malach; the Medrash in 38:3 says that hte kavod rendered to Aharon was that he was dressed "kimalachei hashareis." The malach in the passuk in Malachi is the Kohen Gadol, whose bigdei kehunah, the Choshen, enabled him to answer hitherto unanswerable questions.

So that's the Targum Yonasan. But does everyone agree? Of course not.

There is a stirah in Rashi's shittah itself. Rashi in Eiruvin 45a says "midi de'isur ve'hetter lo mesha'ali be'urim vetumim," matters of isur and hetter were not asked of the Urim VeTumim. But Rashi in Eiruvin 63a says "she'haya asid Yehoshua li'hyos tzarich lish'ol devar halacha mei'Eliezer." The implication is that the questions to Eliezer would be answered by the Urim VeTumim, contrary to Rashi on 45a.

Similarly, the Brisker Rov in Temura 16a: In the Gemara about the three thousand halachos that were forgotten in the days of mourning for Moshe Rabbeinu's death, the Gemara says that the people told Pinchas "She'al!", "Ask". The Griz says pshat that it is impossible to say that the "ask" meant to ask for the forgotten halachos by means of nevu'ah, because no navi can ask Hashem questions except Moshe Rabbeinu, who said "Imdu vi'eshma'a mah yetzaveh Hashem." Nevi'im don't ask, they passively hear what Hashem chooses to impart. Instead, the "She'ahl" meant that he should ask through the Urim VeTumim, and Pinchas answered that he could not do that, because "Lo Bashamayim Hie." That works well with the second Rashi in Eiruvin, and not so well with the first, and not at all with the Targum Yonasan.

The Maharit'z Chiyus discusses this issue to some extent in his pirush on Ta'anis 4a, and he also has a sefer, Toras Hanevi'im, in which he discusses all these sources except for the Targum Yonasan, as well as how Asniel ben Knaz was able to re-create the forgotten halachos; he brings from Rashi in Ta'anis (ibid) that Asniel used Ru'ach Hakodesh, and he brings from the Yefei To'ar in Chayei Sara that Ruach Hakodesh is okay, while Nevuah is not, and he argues both misvara and from a Gemara in Yoma.

As for the Targum Yonasan, unfortunately, textual issues and questions of authorship have rendered it of zero citational authority. And the second Rashi in Eiruvin might mean that Eliezer simply was a bigger talmid chacham, or remembered certain things that Yehoshua forgot. In any case, the only clear raya we have is the first Rashi in Eiruvin, which stated that the Urim VeTumim could not answer halachic questions, and the Griz's assumption that this is what the Gemara in Temura means as well. Thus, the only questions one could ask the Urim VeTumim were matters of fact or safety or success. If the question revolved on issues of halacha, the Urim Vetumim could not be consulted.

The Ketzos in his introduction has a very worthwhile and interesting discussion of this concept. Harav Dovid Goldberg in his sefer on Chumash also discusses the Targum Yonasan and the tzushtell to Sifsei Kohen.

So this is another example of that remarkable rule, Lo Bashamayim Hee. Even thought the Kohen Gadol had access to the perfect truth of divine knowledge, he was not allowed to ask for halachic guidance. The Torah is a Matanah from Hashem, and now it is ours. It's ours to interpret, and guard, and live, and it is we who are to make of it what we can.

Reb Moshe and the Chazon Ish both have said something that, to me, is somewhat similar. They said that Rishonim that have been unearthed in Genizos and libraries have no halachic standing, and can only be used to support a svara said independently. Even if we know for a fact that the same Rashba we rely on in Bava Kamma wrote a pirush on, let's say, Maseches Bechoros, we would not rely on it lehalacha. To have standing in halacha, the sefer has to have gone through the crucible of Klal Yisrael's history. This, too, follows the idea that Klal Yisrael, the nation, its historical experience, and its gedolim, form the reality of the Torah, and nothing can be superimposed on that reality, not historic analysis, not newly discovered evidence of what the Tanaim or Amora'im meant, not Nevi'im with their Nevu'ah, not the Beis Din Shel Ma'alah itself. Emes Mei'Eretz Titzmach.

Life is so strange. Sometimes, we stand in awe, as we realize that we have been exposed to one of those marvelous and mysterious coincidences! Now that we've brought down the interesting limitation on the use of the Urim VeTumim, we begin to understand one of life's great mysteries.
Of all the four parts of Shulchan Aruch, which is the part that people pay least attention to? Which part is so little adhered to that it is like a Sadeh lo avar bah Ish? Well, certainly people honor the laws of Orach Chaim. We are all meticulous in regard to tefilla, chametz, tefillin, and so on. Yoreh Deah? Of course. We would never eat treif or be over on Taharas Hamishpacha. Even HaEzer? Very much so; except for maybe yichud and some harchakos, we are, in general, very careful with these dinim of kiddushin, gittin, Isurei Kehunah, and so on. But what about Dinei Mamonos? Meh. Are we so makpid on Be'yomo titein scharo? Are we meticulous about paying halva'os bizmanam and lo sihyeh lo kenosheh? How about Ani hame'hapeich becharara and Hasagas Gevul? In business, are we as honest as the day is long? Yes, we are. December 21st. But why is this so? Why do so few people take what it says in Choshen Mishpat seriously? Now you know why! Because "Ma'aseh Avos Siman LeBanim!" The original Choshen Mishpat of the Kohen Gadol was not meant to be used for Halacha le'maaseh either! Minhag Yisrael, for millenia, has been that you're not supposed to look at the Choshen Mishpat for shailos in Halacha.

On a serious note: There is a sefer written by Rabbi Yitzchak Sender (author of The Commentator's series) called Machazeh Elyon, about all aspects of Nevu'ah. His very last piece in the sefer deals with this issue, and he shtells tzu many excellent mekoros, such as Mantzepach, where the gemara asks, how could the Anshei KH introduce them, if Lo bashamayim hee, and the Gemara answers "shakchum vechazru veyasdum," and Rashi says ahl yedei ruach hakodesh. He has a very interesting mehalach in the difference between ein navi and lo bashamayim, and cases where neither might apply. It's really worth getting the sefer.


Earlier pieces on Tetzaveh:

http://havolim.blogspot.com/2008/02/tetzaveh-shemos-2942-asher-ivaeid_10.html
Hashem speaks through all of creation, but each person hears the voice in a different place.

http://havolim.blogspot.com/2007/02/titzaveh-shemos-2830-urim-vtumim.html
The Urim Ve’Tumim: An amplifier or a modulator, but certainly not a generator.

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