Dedication of Breastplate for Torah

March 8, 2008

 Today we dedicate a new breastplate for the Torah of Congregation Etz Chayim.  Our breastplate is made of silver and includes the Two Tablets from Sinai and two lions of Judah guarding them, surrounded by lovely decorations.

Why does the Torah have a breastplate, as well as many other adornments?  What answers do you suggest?

One answer is we glorify Torah when we dress it in these adornments.  It is a way of showing that we honor Torah.  It is a physical decoration that corresponds to the spiritual one - we most honor Torah when we live our lives in accordance with it.

Another answer is that the adornments of the Torah correspond to the different elements worn by the High Priest, described in Exodus 28.  In ancient Israel the High Priest was the center of worship, both sacrifice and prayer, and the Torah is our center of worship today.

The High Priest wore a breastplate.  The original breastplate worn by Aaron is described coincidentally in this week's Torah reading, Pekudei (Exodus 39:8).  It was made by the great artist Bezalel.  He set into it 12 stones to represent the 12 tribes (Exodus 39:14). 

It also contained a kind of oracle known as "Urim and Thummim" that could be asked a question and then the High Priest would look at the lights flashing on the 12 stones to decipher the answer.  I don't think that our breastplate will do that, although beneath it is the Torah - and there is a tradition that you can find the answer to any question by searching and discovering the light of Torah (Proverbs 6:23), as Pirkei Avot (5:25, ben Bag Bag) says: "Turn it over and over, for everything is in it."

For other Torah adornments, the mantle is like the High Priest's tunic, the belt is like his sash, the crowns are like his miter.  The wooden rollers from which the breastplate hangs are called Etz Chayim, "Tree of life" to symbolize that the Torah is the eternal source of life for the Jewish people.

We are grateful to Fred & Karen Shectman, whose donation enabled us to acquire the breastplate for our Torah.  Their gift will be a constant reinforcement of how beautiful and precious our Torah is.  They are also good friends, and a fine adornment of the Jewish community.


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